Josh Dunkley can recall sitting in the backseat of his family’s car, driving home from a junior game in his hometown of Yarram (a town in southeast Gippsland) after a heavy loss.
Josh’s older sister, Lara, and younger brother, Kyle, had also been playing on that day, with his father Andrew coaching and mother Lisa in charge of the half-time oranges.
Andrew, who forged a 217-game career with the Sydney Swans, was renowned for being one of the stingiest defenders in the AFL competition and he was eager to pass on the principles of hard-work and determination to his three children.
As they sat in the car, he firmly suggested the trio complete the beep test (a multistage fitness test designed to measure aerobic endurance) on their arrival home to make up for a disappointing on-field performance.
“We’d just copped a serve in the car on the way home so we thought it was in our best interests to do (the beep test),” Kyle told AFLPlayers.com.au.
On their large, rural property the Dunkley’s set up the beep test, with the running track spanning their driveway, and as a family they completed the test.
Like with everything else the Dunkley’s do, it’s a one-in-all-in mentality.
Often, Lara would play in the ruck for Josh’s team, with Kyle, three years younger than Josh, playing up an age-group.
From Wednesday night social badminton competitions to ballet, the Dunkley’s tried their hand at everything.
“It was Dad’s idea for us to join the local ballet group,” Josh said.
“Mum and Lara were doing it so it made sense for us to do it too but dad got ‘Ky’ and I over the line by saying (Essendon champion) James Hird had done ballet for his flexibility.”
Despite being “suss” on whether or not they’d succeed at ballet, they won a local Eisteddfod ballet competition, with the impact of their year-long foray into ballet still being felt by Josh today.
“Even now I’m one of the more flexible boys at the club, which helps me with my performance, so it’s held me in good stead.”
After Andrew retired from from professional football in 2002, the family moved back to Gippsland.
Growing up in rural Victoria, the family would drive anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to attend the sporting commitments of all three children.
Lara, now 24, is a talented netballer playing for the Melbourne Vixens in the Suncorp Super Netball competition.
“There wasn’t much around so it was always the five of us hanging out and I think that’s why we’re so close,” Kyle said.
The tight-knit nature of the family made the moment that Kyle’s name was called out in the mid-season rookie draft with Melbourne’s first pick and third overall, significantly more special.
The family were all seated around the couch when Kyle’s dreams were realised.
After missing out on the 2018 AFL draft, Kyle sat down with key mentors, including his dad and brother, and set some clear goals and focus areas to give himself the best opportunity to realise his dreams.
Having been in the system for four years now, Josh is already instilling advice in Kyle, encouraging him to enjoy the start to his AFL journey but also drilling in the importance of understanding that this part is just the beginning.
The support and admiration the siblings have for each other motivates them to achieve their goals. With differing football and netball schedules in their household they work together to support each other as best as possible.
For the better part of 2019, Kyle was playing for Gippsland Power in the NAB League and commuting from Melbourne to Morwell three nights a week and on game day.
Despite the challenges of the long commute, looking back, Kyle said it was the best possible decision for his football to return to Gippsland.
After spending three years boarding at Melbourne Grammar and coaching their first XVIII football team in his final year, Kyle was ready for a change but concedes that the challenges he faced living away from home in high school contributed significantly to his personal and professional development.
The Dunkley family: Kyle, Lara, Josh, Andrew and Lisa. Photo: Instagram (@kyledunks)
After attending Gippsland Grammar and being drafted with pick No. 25 in the 2015 national draft, Josh moved to Melbourne and into a home with Lara.
With their dog Archie, the siblings had what Josh described as a “good setup going” but were excited to have Kyle join them after finishing high school at Melbourne Grammar last year.
Josh, 22, is a self-proclaimed masterchef, developing a passion for cooking after being gifted a frying pan from his grandmother for his 12th birthday, with Lara and Kyle managing the dish washing.
According to Josh, his specialty is a fish curry, which he learnt to cook from former Bulldog Will Minson but if you ask Kyle it’s Josh’s unique take on a household Dunkley dish that takes the cake.
“What about that beef and cashew stir fry that you make?” Kyle asks.
“Well, Dad always made a chicken and cashew stir fry growing up but one day I thought I’d mix it up,” Josh explained.
“He thought I was crazy and told me I was kidding myself but now it’s a winning formula and a bit of a hit in our household.”
Photo: Instagram (@joshdunkley_)
It’s been a whirlwind month for Kyle, who turned 19 earlier this month, but he’s starting to feel more at home in the red and blue.
“It was a little bit scary going in but in saying that it was also an exciting experience,” he said.
Ben Matthews, an assistant coach at Melbourne, also played with Andrew during his time at Sydney and as such, there is an added bond between the group.
“For Dad to see his old mates now working with Kyle is wonderful. It’s a unique situation but it’s come full circle,” Josh said.
When Josh is asked how proud he is of his younger brother, he beams with pride.
“For sure, but it’s only just the beginning now,” Josh said.
“You get to this stage (of being on an AFL list) and now it’s about working hard, putting your head down, earning the respect of your teammates and then putting performances together.”
Lead image: Instagram (@joshdunkley_)