GEOFF Burdett’s football nous and ability on the field took him from Hopetoun to Essendon – but he was always quick to return.
When he played his first game of under-16s football for Hopetoun at age 12 in 1968, few could have expected that it would turn into a decorated career.
By the time he made his senior debut against Beulah two seasons later at 14, there were a few more people who had started to take notice of him.
He was part of the club’s reserves premiership in the same year and again in 1971.
Senior premierships followed during the next two seasons in what had become a familiar trend for the developing young player.
Burdett said former Footscray player Graeme Cook had been a big influence as coach after Cook returned to Hopetoun.
“When he returned to the farm, he coached us for six years and we won a number of premierships and he was great for me,” he said.
“Keith Robertson was a school teacher who had played with North Melbourne and Victoria on the wing. He was great for our school program with football and I’d say those two certainly helped my career.
“To have two VFL players to tutor me in Hopetoun was great.”
In 1974 Burdett tasted defeat in a grand final for the first time.
He said until then, he had taken for granted that playing a football season meant getting to a grand final and winning it.
“It was a unique situation,” he said. “We had a really good group of young players but eventually that success will dry up.”
An invitation was extended to Burdett to play with Essendon’s reserves VFL side in 1975.
“In those days we were zoned to Essendon and a bloke by the name of Jack Green covered the countryside every week,” he said.
“He was up in our area and he invited us to come down – there was Graeme Hatcher, Stephen Robins, myself and Pat Wellington.
“We had four players at once down at Essendon, which was incredible, really, when you think about it.
“Three of us played together on a couple of occasions but never all four. But it was a great achievement just to have four people from a town of 400 people playing at a VFL club in those days.”
But it was a great achievement just to have four people from a town of 400 people playing at a VFL club in those days.
Burdett played six games with the reserves side before he returned to Hopetoun to claim another premiership that year.
“Des Tuddenham was my coach in that first year,” he said. “He was renowned for being a really hard worker and that’s what it was all about for him.”
A senior VFL debut came in round five of the 1976 season before he suffered a broken ankle the next round.
He missed nine weeks with the injury before stringing together four more senior games at the end of the season.
During the 1977 season he started to experience some homesickness.
“Some mates came down for a week and I took it off for holidays to go around Melbourne with them,” he said. “After that I decided I wanted to go home because I missed my mates. I loved the footy but I missed guys like Ross Cook, Bill Wellington and Bert Hallam.”
Burdett returned home to Hopetoun where he played in a losing grand final before winning a Wimmera Football League premiership with Warracknabeal the week after.
“One Saturday I was playing in a grand final with Hopetoun where we unfortunately got beaten and the next week I was with Warracknabeal when we beat Murtoa at Dimboola,” he said.
One Saturday I was playing in a grand final with Hopetoun where we unfortunately got beaten and the next week I was with Warracknabeal when we beat Murtoa at Dimboola.
Burdett returned to Essendon in 1978 when he strung together his best season at VFL level.
He managed to string 20 games together and kicked 37 goals but said he could not pin down why he had done better that season.
“I suppose there was just more of an opportunity,” he said. “I actually started the year off in the back pocket before I got concussed at training, which meant I missed the third game.”
Essendon coach Barry Davis sent Burdett forward in the side’s round four match against Carlton at Waverly Park.
“He told me he wanted me to play at full forward and just run around,” he said. “I was lucky enough to kick five goals on Geoff Southby, who was a gun fullback at the time so that was a privilege. My mum and dad were listening on the radio and heard them saying, ‘The boy from the bush had a day out by kicking five goals’.
“I ended up having a good year up forward. Sometimes I was even at centre-half forward.”
My mum and dad were listening on the radio and heard them saying, ‘The boy from the bush had a day out by kicking five goals’.
Despite the strong season, Burdett again returned to the Wimmera as a playing-coach with Warracknabeal in 1979 and he was lured back to Hopetoun the following season.
New Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy travelled to Hopetoun in 1980 to convince Burdett to play at the club for one more season.
He added another seven games to his VFL tally in 1981, played in a night premiership and had a broken wrist while playing in the reserves grand final.
It was to be his last season at the club as he was back at Hopetoun for the 1982 season. He also had the honour of being selected as the vice-captain of the Vic Country side that season when it travelled to Canberra to play.
From 1983 to 1986 he was captain-coach of Hopetoun and the club collected two more premierships.
He changed his allegiances to Birchip for the 1987 and 1988 season but was back at Hopetoun again until he finished his playing career in 1998.
His last of 12 premierships as a player came in the club’s 1993 reserves side and his last of 19 grand finals was played in 1996.
There was some great results and some disappointing results, but that’s a footy career – you have to take it when you can get it.
He played one final game in 1999 with the Horsham Saints reserves side. In the same year he took up a job with AFL Victoria as the Wimmera Country Region’s development manager.
He stayed in the role for 14 years and was particularly proud of the young footballers that came through the ranks during his tenure.
During his time 21 players were recruited to AFL clubs including dual-Browlow Medallist Adam Goodes.
After his retirement in 2013 he took on the role of Horsham District league’s interleague coach for the country championships.
After the merger of Hopetoun and Beulah in 2015 he was the inaugural coach of the Southern Mallee Giants, leading them in the final year of the now defunct Mallee league.
He continued in that role when the club moved to the Horsham District league, winning a premiership.
His final coaching role saw him lead the Horsham District interleague side in 2017.
He had been lined up to coach the side again this season but stepped aside once the Giants joined the Wimmera league.
“It was a long journey for a lot of years,” he said.
“There was some great results and some disappointing results, but that’s a footy career – you have to take it when you can get it.”