THIS week marks the end of Geoff Burdett's remarkable 14-year career with AFL Victoria.
Burdett took the time out to have a chat with Mail-Times sports journalist JORDAN McARDLE on Wednesday about everything from his best memories as AFL Victoria Wimmera development manager, to the future of the Wimmera and district leagues, and the region's next big thing.
Jordan McArdle: So Geoff, it's finally coming to an end after more than 14 years, is it hard to believe?
Geoff Burdett: It has been good and I've met plenty of great kids and great parents through the talent pathway. I've thoroughly enjoyed it and it was a big decision to pull the pin. All good things come to an end and funny enough I finish on the same day as the pope.
JM: What's left on the agenda before you leave?
GB: My last official day is February 28 but I've probably still got three big events to cover after that including the North Melbourne football clinic on Tuesday and the Collingwood clinic later in the month. Then I'm heading off caravaning around Australia with my wife Mary-Anne on March 28.
JM: What have been some of your biggest achievements in the job?
GB: I think we have achieved a lot in Auskick. We went from about 700 to more than 1000 which was fantastic. Seeing a large number of youngsters come through the pathway and getting drafted is always good. I think the under-12s competition has been a massive success. There was nothing like that when I started and now there are about 20 teams.
JM: What will you miss most?
GB: Just working with good people and good kids that are keen. I've got some great colleagues who are all passionate about football. You wouldn't do the job if you wanted the money you do it because of your passion for football.
JM: Who do you think was the best player to come through the Wimmera that didn't quite make it at AFL level?
GB: I know he got rookie-listed but I thought Adam Fisher from Minyip-Murtoa was a standout player. He was a rookie at Melbourne and then went on to play for Glenelg before knee injuries forced him out of the game. I always thought Warracknabeal's Jeremy Clayton was up there, even though he played five games at North Melbourne. He has won four or five best and fairests at Port Adelaide, a Magarey Medal and a J.J. Liston Trophy that he couldn't collect because he was suspended.
JM: How about the players that have come through the Wimmera to play AFL?
GB: You look at someone like Warracknabeal's Matt Rosa and Minyip-Murtoa's Clinton Young who have both played more than 100 games.
JM: How do you see Brett Goodes' future panning out?
GB: It's terrific that he's got the chance. It won't be easy for him but he's got that running ability and a long left-foot kick. I know it's only early in the piece but he certainly didn't look out of place in the NAB Cup.
JM: Who do you see being the next 200-game player from the Wimmera?
GB: I think Edenhope-Apsley's Tom McDonald could have a long career. He's got a strong body and a good work ethic on and off the ground. I remember telling Dean Bailey that if he wanted a great footballer and a great bloke, to give Tom a chance as a rookie. He ended up coming third in the Demons' best and fairest in his second season.
Up and comers
JM: How about the next big thing to come out of the Rebels pathway?
GB: I think Horsham Saints' Keegan Mellington will be exciting and he's certainly hard at it. Tom's younger brother Oscar McDonald is another to watch. Laharum's Keegan Mason has come from a basketball background and not played a lot of footy but he could be anything. He's got those bucket hands, a good vertical jump and a good motor. Out of the 16s, there are a few exciting kids there. Horsham's Billy Lloyd could be anything, Horsham Saints' Darcy Tucker is another and Horsham's Rhona Conboy is very strong so hopefully he can keep developing.
JM: On Darcy Tucker, do you think he'll pursue basketball or football?
GB: I spoke to Darcy's parents about it I told them that he could make it at AFL level. He's a talent, there's no doubt about it. He's exciting and I'm disappointed I won't get the opportunity to see it.
JM: Who do you think will be the next player from the Wimmera to make their AFL debut?
GB: Probably Kalkee's Tanner Smith he could be a really good player. He's more suited to the backline but he's not out of place in the forward line. He's a Dustin Fletcher-like player. Dimboola's Brett Goodes will be up there too.
JM: The delisting of Hopetoun's Lucas Cook without playing an AFL game was one of those sad stories. Do you see him bouncing back?
GB: I've always rated him but he did lack intensity. He didn't get named in the All Australian under-18s for nothing he's got a beautiful kick both sides of his body. I spoke to Mark Neeld about it and he said that Lucas wasn't getting stronger. I think he has been hard done by and I don't think it's the last we've seen of him. If he can play good football this season at North Ballarat he'll get another chance.
JM: How about Adam Goodes where do you think he'll go after footy?
GB: I think Adam could be a hell of an ambassador for the game. A lot of Indigenous people look up to him. He's a guy that has made the most of his opportunities. He's like a wine he has got better with age.
JM: On a local level, when do you see Horsham's dominance ending in the Wimmera Football League?
GB: It could be this year. I think they are under the pump. In saying that, you wouldn't discount them. The push will be from Dimboola but I wouldn't rule out the Saints.
JM: Will we ever see anything like Horsham's dominance of the Wimmera league again?
GB: It won't happen again. It's hard to get to the top, it's even harder to stay there. Horsham is the benchmark and have been for 10 years.
JM: Do you think Kalkee can be stopped in the district league?
GB: No. They've got stronger once again. It's good for them but not good for the league.
The last word
JM: Any final thoughts Geoff to sum up this past 14 years and three months?
GB: I said it earlier in the week behind every successful man is a successful woman. I've had good support from Mez, I've been away a lot and I'm always answering phones and working at night. It's important to have that sort of support because it's a full-on job.