Will Brodie and Jy Simpkin have done everything football-related together since they were selected in the Victoria Country under-12 team.
They will continue that journey when both gain a spot on an AFL list at tonight’s national draft in Sydney.
While knowing of each other in the region, it was not until they were selected to play in the under-12 National Championships that Simpkin, 18, said they began to form a friendship that would continue to grow.
‘‘I’ve known him since primary school footy, but all that was played against him. I didn’t really know him until under-12s, we played state footy together so then we became mates and ever since then we’ve played against each other, but played (Shepparton District Junior Football League) interleague together and then state under-15s and under-16s,’’ he said.
Combining in representative sides was not just confined to football as the pair played basketball together with the Shepparton Gators, before moving to Melbourne’s Scotch College to complete their schooling.
They left Notre Dame College to board in Melbourne, with Brodie starting at the renowned football school at the beginning of Year 10 and Simpkin the following year.
Leaving home at such a young age was a big move to make, with both living on halls at Scotch College, where they walked into an instant group of friends.
Brodie, 18, had a precedent to follow with older brother Sam, 21, making the same transition when he was at high school.
‘‘I got the opportunity to watch my brother do it when he went down and did it three years before me, so I watched him and saw how he went through the whole thing and followed, so it was little bit easier for me ... it was obviously pretty challenging,’’ Brodie said.
Brodie travelled back to Shepparton every two or three weeks, as did Simpkin.
While Simpkin missed his parents Chris and Brian and sister Brydie, he said the boys in the halls were always around for a laugh.
‘‘It definitely helped (my development) moving away to Scotch and just being able to live without Mum and Dad and my sister and out of my comfort zone I guess,’’ Simpkin said.
‘‘They have on campus three boarding houses, so I was in a house with Will Brodie and a few of the other boys.
‘‘It was always pretty fun living in the boarding house, school wasn’t great I wasn’t the biggest fan of school, but after school with the boys, they always cracked you up. It was awesome.’’
As key members of the Murray Bushrangers program, the draw of playing for Scotch College in the Associate Public School competition was always strong.
Brodie and Simpkin played just the first match for the Bushies this season before playing for their school side.
A game of school footy in April would make for an extremely challenging year for Simpkin.
He broke his right leg and tore a major ligament when tackling a player, knowing instantly things were not looking good for the rest of the season.
‘‘It was pretty bad. Straight away I knew I had broken my leg or done something. I thought I did my knee as well because when you tear that ligament because it holds your two bones together it sort of makes every thing a bit loose and feel funny, so I definitely knew I had done something. It wasn’t good,’’ Simpkin said.
The ambulance took 90 minutes to arrive at the ground, while the players including Brodie tried to focus on the game as Simpkin lay on the sidelines in pain.
The small forward has not played a game since April, continuing the long road to recovery to be back training and running.
‘‘With the crutches I was on them for about six to eight weeks, so that was pretty tough going up and down to school and that at a boarding house and then I was in the moon boot for probably another four or five weeks, so it was a long time stuffing around,’’ Simpkin said.
‘‘It feels like ages, I’ve just started training again and it feels like so long since I’ve been able to run around and kick the footy. I’m back running and pretty much doing full training, so it’s good to be back into it.
‘‘My Achilles still pulls up a little bit sore, but that’s going to happen for a fair while the physio says, but it just pulls up a bit tight sometimes.
‘‘It’s annoying that it happened all together and that it happened so early means I only got to show a little bit of what I could do, so it was pretty frustrating.’’
But Simpkin was not a late bloomer.
He had an extraordinary season in his underage year as selectors continue to keep him at the forefront of their mind, despite being out of action for most of this year.
Last season’s feats included a starring role in the under-18 championships, kicking a goal on the siren to snatch Vic Country a win against Vic Metro.
‘‘I guess having that year helped a lot because without it I don’t know what sort of position I’d be in right now, so last year I’m pretty grateful that I got the opportunity to play Vic Country and show the recruiters what I had,’’ Simpkin said.
Among all the representative sides he has played in, Simpkin said his time with the state side stood out.
‘‘I can’t go past the under-18 champs as a bottom-ager and playing all the games. I didn’t really expect to play any and kicking the goal after the siren is probably the highlight of my life so far, so you can’t go past that,’’ he said.
‘‘Playing last year was awesome as a 17-year-old in such a great team and with all those players ... it was such great experience and would have helped me a lot this year if I got to play again.”
But while Simpkin’s bottom-age year put him heavily in the eye of selectors, Brodie’s time to shine came this season.
From his first game for the Bushies at Deakin Reserve in March he showed himself to be one to watch with a 27-possession best-on-ground performance.
Every time a representative side was picked, Brodie seemed to be in it.
He formed a vital part of the Vic Country line-up this year, after being disappointed to miss out on the final game of last year’s competition as the side went with top-age players.
Averaging 21 disposals across the four games, the inside midfielder made up for last year by finding a way to impress in every game he played.
‘‘I loved the Vic Country campaign. Being a part of that was a lot of fun and obviously very serious,’’ Brodie said.
‘‘I think just going to the camps and being with all the boys and travelling with them (is great). Everyone is at the same sort of level with their footy.’’
Simpkin was included in the side despite his injury, but his time with the group in Melbourne was cut short.
During the championships in June, Simpkin started to feel that his leg was not healing as it should.
‘‘It sort of started swelling up. I’d started walking again at that stage,’’ he said.
‘‘I’d taken the moon boot off and then it just swelled up really big, like half the size of a tennis ball was just sticking out of my leg.
‘‘I couldn’t really walk, so I thought this isn’t right so I went back to the doctors and they sent me back in to clean it all out.’’
Breaking his leg and the subsequent infection is not the first time Simpkin has missed out on playing in representative sides due to injury.
With indigenous heritage stemming from his mum Chris’ side, Simpkin was a member of the Flying Boomerangs under-15 team.
But a broken wrist would spell the end of his carnival although he still found ways to make the most of it.
‘‘I still got to go up there and do anything. Me and another kid in the draft this year, Kym LeBois, he had a broken wrist as well,’’ Simpkin said.
‘‘We got along really well, so we were both water boys and hanging out with each other a fair bit.
‘‘Then a couple of months later we actually got to go to New Zealand, so I was right by then and played a few games over there and toured over there and did a bit of sightseeing, which was awesome.
‘‘I’ve been pretty fortunate to go to the places I have and do the things that I have.
While Simpkin suffered a setback in his recovery from a broken leg, Brodie showed he was not just a force against players his own age.
Brodie was again dominant when playing against Geelong and Werribee VFL sides as part of the AFL Academy.
He was determined to perform well on the big stage and did not disappoint, awarded the MCC President’s Medal as the academy’s best player against the Tigers.
‘‘It was a pretty big build up to the game. That was the game all through pre-season that I wanted to play well in. I think it was a lot different playing against the stronger, bigger bodies, the mature bodies but I loved it, it was good fun,’’ Brodie said.
There has been a lot of pressure on the competitive teen, touted as a possible number one draft pick at times this year.
With a heavy workload he rarely missed a weekend of football as he focused on school footy while playing Bushies during holidays as well as various representative sides.
But while Brodie wanted to showcase himself as much as possible, the huge amount of football started to take his toll.
He played through the TAC Cup finals series with niggling injuries impacting his performance.
‘‘It was sort of just a big build up of the whole year,’’ Brodie said.
‘‘I think it was a really long season and towards the end I was just getting through in one piece.
‘‘If I had my time again I’d probably manage my body a little bit better or not try and play through the injuries that I did. But I can’t complain too much with the year I’ve had.
‘‘I think the role I played for the team and at such an important time of the year for finals for the Bushies, I really felt as though I had to keep making an influence even though it wasn’t close to my best footy.’’
As Brodie and Simpkin look towards the future, they are grateful for the opportunities they have received during their time in the system.
At the start of this year, they were flown to America as part of the AFL Academy to take part in a training camp.
‘‘America was awesome,’’ Simpkin said.
‘‘We went to Orlando first for our training camp for a week. It was cold when we went there and raining. It was a training camp and pretty full on.
‘‘We didn’t really do much in Orlando, it was pretty much just training which was tough and then we went to LA for four of five days and that was awesome.’’
In Los Angeles the talented boys were awed by sights that they had only seen on television.
‘‘We had free time and went to Disneyland. It was awesome staying in Santa Monica standing right next to the pier and seeing what you normally see in movies in real life was pretty cool,’’ Simpkin said
Not that he is a big film watcher.
‘‘Playing GTA (video game Grand Theft Auto) you always see that because that’s the city it’s based on and going there and seeing it you sort of nearly know your way around. It was pretty cool,’’ he said with a laugh.
Regularly being around the elite players means they are familiar with those being selected in the draft tonight as Brodie said Gippsland’s Will Setterfield had become one of his best mates after meeting through the program.
Simpkin’s dad Brian coached his son and Clayton Oliver in Mooroopna juniors and said tonight would be just reward for all the commitment the players have put in.
‘‘They’ve been playing at a high level since under-12s, so it’s really good to see the hard work him, Will and all the other boys that are getting drafted have put in. They’ve sacrificed a fair bit over the time,’’ he said.
After playing in the Cats’ juniors, a young Simpkin played seniors with his blond hair on show as he tore around Mooroopna Recreation Reserve.
‘‘I had blond hair, I don’t know where it’s gone, I want it back. It was my natural hair, normally it goes blond in the summer, but I wish it came back. It looks a bit better I think,’’ Simpkin said with a smile.
Surprisingly Brodie has never played a game with the Shepparton senior side, with other commitments taking up most of his time, although his brother Harry still plays with Shepparton Notre.
But he trains with the Bears when he is up in the area, just as Simpkin spends time with Mooroopna.
But soon they will no longer be training with their local Goulburn Valley Football League side.
It is a quick turnaround for the draftees.
After finding out what club selects them tonight, they head off on either Sunday or Monday night.
Since beginning the steps to their dream at a young age, not long is left in the waiting game as they eagerly await to hear which club will call out their name at the draft tonight.
WILL BRODIE FACE FILE
2016 TAC Cup games: 8 (4 goals)
2016 achievements: National combine invitee, Vic Country Academy, MCC President’s Medal, AFL Academy, TAC Cup Team of the Year
Murray Bushrangers coach Leon Higgins’ take: ‘‘Will has had a really successful year playing some good VFL footy and was rightfully included in the TAC Cup Team of the Year.’’
JY SIMPKIN FACT FILE
Position: Small forward
2016 TAC Cup games: 1 (4 goals)
2016 achievements: National combine invitee, AFL Academy, Vic Country Academy
Murray Bushrangers coach Leon Higgins’ take: ‘‘Jy had a broken leg this year and didn’t get to play a lot of footy. He’s just about proved himself last year and AFL clubs will remember him from 12 months ago.’’