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Boomer Went ‘Where Angels Feared To Tread’

Before playing the first of his 426 AFL matches, North Melbourne’s Brent Harvey spent the 1995 season with the Preston Knights in the TAC Cup.

Keith Burns was the coach of the Knights and saw firsthand the skills that the AFL world would become accustomed to over the next two decades.

He describes his recollections of a teenage Boomer to

“When he first started, Brent was very short and very light but he was very skilful and very quick.

We thought we had to nurse him throughout the season while he grew a little bit and developed a bit of muscle. He always said to me ‘you played me in the forward pocket all year!’

He was always keen to learn, I remember him being very coachable and he tried to do the things you asked of him. He may not have wanted to play in the pocket all year but he always did as he was told.

My advice to Brent throughout the year was just to believe in himself to pump him up a bit. Confidence is such a big thing in football. If a player hasn’t got confidence in himself then he won’t be a very good player.

I had no doubts that he’d play well with us at the Knights and we always thought he’d be a chance to play league football if he could grow and fill out a bit.

But Brent was a tough player with us. He wanted to go where angels feared to tread, even at his height and weight.

I don’t think anyone would expect their players to go on and play that many games. The funny thing is when you watch him play, he still has his speed and tricks about him and I reckon he could on again next year comfortably if his body holds up.

The way he looks after himself, trains and does the extras is a credit to himself, his family and his club.

Boomer U18 Report

*Brent Harvey’s Under-18s report compiled by coach Keith Burns after the 1995 season.

While we played him forward during 1995, we wanted him to have a real good shot come the Grand Final and lead the roving division. We were playing the Eastern Ranges who would’ve been the favourites that day so we had nothing to lose.

So that’s why we decided to give him the opportunity as the first rover in the Grand Final because if he got bashed around a bit, it wouldn’t affect his next game.

In the lead up to the game I said to him ‘do you want to be first rover?’ and he said ‘aw yeah!’ – he was dying to be the first rover.

I told him that his main skill was his pace and that little shuffle he can do, so I told him to really take them on and not to worry if you get caught, it’ll be my fault if it doesn’t work.

He came out and played very well, gathering 22 possessions, was very effective and received the best on ground honour in a premiership. He took them on and some of his plays were terrific.

I wasn’t surprised by how well he performed as the rover that day either. There was always that knock that he was too short. A short player, even back then, had to have something that players a lot taller didn’t necessarily had to have. So Brent had to have fitness, speed and good skills to get picked.

I was hoping he would get selected in the 1995 draft, but if not he would’ve had another year in the under-18s and probably would’ve dominated the competition and gone with the first pick the following year if that was the case.

Brent was a quiet kid around our environment and was very respectful, which was pleasing. He worked very hard and did all the things that were expected of a player in those days.

I didn’t know much about him before he arrived. All I knew was that he lived near Gower Street and I actually grew up in Gower Street, so I knew the area pretty well. The thing that I’m really proud of when it comes to Brent is that despite living near a housing commission area where there was some very good people but also some very bad people, he’s ended up doing really well in life.

It’s a great delight for me to see him do so well in football and I’m very proud of the way he goes about things. I’d often ring him up for something when I was working for AFL Victoria and he always said yes. He’s a good quality young man.

I’m not suggesting he definitely would’ve gone down the wrong path as a teenager but the way the area was, it would’ve been very easy if he didn’t have the mindset he had. He gets that strong-willed mindset from his father, who was also an excellent footballer, and his mum was also a really nice person.

But my favourite memory of Brent is what he was able to do in that 1995 Grand Final. He followed my instructions and had a go – he really took them on. The number of times he did it and got away with it was amazing and he was a big factor in us winning the game that day.

And he still gets away with that shimmy and shake these days – he’s a very smart player.”