The Mooroopna footy factory is invading the AFL one player at a time — and the general leading the charge is Clayton Oliver.
He might be just 21 years old, but Melbourne’s midfield maestro has been in the league’s elite category for some time, with a Demon best-and-fairest award and an All-Australian jacket after just three seasons.
But one of the league’s most recognisable players returned to his roots yesterday, heading to Wilmot Rd Primary School to share his love of the game with the next generation of Shepparton children.
‘‘It’s definitely home, it’s where I grew up and it’s good to come back here,’’ Oliver said.
‘‘It’s obviously a pretty special feeling coming back, I remember back here as a kid a few AFL players coming and that making me pretty happy.
‘‘It’s good giving back to the community and to be that person that can help out others.’’
While he spent his early years in Echuca, his time at Mooroopna Football Club, combined with a switch from the Bendigo Pioneers to the Murray Bushrangers, sparked his progression from a run-of-the-mill midfielder to something special.
It meant the 2014 Goulburn Valley League rising star winner had little doubt about which town he calls home.
‘‘Definitely not Echuca, definitely Mooroopna,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve always seen myself as from there, I played all my footy there from under-14s and had my last year at school there.
‘‘I had a little unit there for Year 12 and played with the Bushrangers in that area. I definitely call Mooroopna home.’’
The recent drafting of Cat Laitham Vandermeer to the Western Bulldogs made it three Mooroopna products in the big league, with North Melbourne’s Jy Simpkin joining the duo.
‘‘It’s unreal, they’re two of my best mates,’’ Oliver said.
‘‘It was unbelievable to see them get drafted and come down to Melbourne, it’s good catching up with them. I love it.’’
Oliver’s ascension from young prospect to bonafide gun has matched that of his side, last season shooting into the finals for the first time since 2006 and winning through to the preliminary final.
The Demons have used memories of a 66-point preliminary final beatdown against West Coast as motivation this pre-season, with a breakthrough premiership firmly on the radar for this year.
‘‘It was an unbelievable year, it was a really good effort by the boys, a team effort,’’ Oliver said.
‘‘It was obviously a bit of a disappointing way to end getting pumped by West Coast, but hopefully this year we can go one better.
‘‘(Pre-season is) going all right, I had both my shoulders operated on and it’s been a bit slow.
‘‘But I’m sort of getting back into main training now, filtering through that and I should be back in the next couple of weeks and ready for round one.’’
Joining Oliver at the school was teammate Guy Walker, a former cricketer with the Melbourne Renegades who has transitioned to football.
A Category B rookie at the Demons, Oliver hoped the switch would work out for all parties involved.
‘‘He’s a ripper bloke, obviously a pretty handy cricketer and has tried to come across,’’ he said.
‘‘He’s training really well, unfortunately he hurt his quad a couple of weeks ago and also had a bit of shoulder surgery, but he’s flying, tearing up the track.’’