Easton Wood became an AFL captain in the blink of an eye, and the moment came well before he was expecting it.
When Bulldogs captain Bob Murphy went down with a knee injury in 2016, it took his vice-captain a while to realise what it meant for him.
Speaking to AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh for the ‘Captain’s Call’ podcast, Wood said that he was totally unprepared to take over as skipper.
“When Bob went down we were all consoling him, and then there was that crystallisation and I realised ‘oh, that means now it’s me,’” Wood told AFLplayers.com.au.
Murphy was revered by Bulldogs fans and the wider AFL community, and his presence was a given in the Bulldogs lineup for the best part of 15 years, right up until it wasn’t.
“Bob’s an incredible leader and I followed him with my whole heart, and when you follow someone like that and he’s quite inspirational, you never think that they’re not going to be there,” Wood said.
It’s safe to say that he filled Murphy’s shoes quite well, as the Bulldogs went on a stunning finals run and won their first premiership in 62 years.
Wood says it wasn’t until the final siren that the magnitude of the achievement set in.
“It was totally surreal. That crystallising moment when the siren hit, you dream about that at different times but I was still caught totally surprised by the moment,” he said.
“It was the totality of it and the history, and the finality that we’ve done it and they can never take it away from us.”
While Murphy’s injury and absence from the premiership team devastated much of the football public, it created a perfect storm for Wood to grow into the captaincy.
Through it all, Murphy was there to mentor and guide the inexperienced skipper, which Wood says made a world of difference.
“As far as apprenticeships go, you couldn’t ask for a better way to go about it… having the responsibilities on game day, but then being able to step back and have Bob there to support and guide and take the reins during the week,” he said.
Two years on from premiership glory and now the full-time captain of the Bulldogs, Wood says he’s still finding his way as a leader.
And while Murphy was an inspirational figure for Bulldogs everywhere, Wood says he’s trying to forge his own path.
“I needed to be able to find my own way to take what Bob’s qualities were, but still be myself.”
While his year as interim skipper presented plenty of challenges off the field, he says the biggest lesson learned was about his play out in the middle.
“What I learned quickly (was) that to put your best foot forward as a leader is to show guys the way — you’ve still got to be able to play your best football and emulate the team qualities as much as you can,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what you say, actions are still the most important thing as a leader.”