Western Bulldogs star Marcus Bontempelli has claimed this year’s Leigh Matthews Trophy as the AFL Players’ Most Valuable Player, presented by Snaffle. Bulldogs legend and former captain Bob Murphy penned an insightful piece for aflplayers.com.au on what makes ‘The Bont’ so special.
Words from Bob Murphy.
Marcus is like a duck.
On top of the water, he looks calm. But underneath, he’s working and paddling harder than the rest.
When he was drafted to the club back in 2013, a few of us were elbowing each other and saying, ‘If this bloke was pick number four, who were the first three picks?’
He was something special.
We knew we had a good one, and for that to happen within a player’s first 10 days is pretty rare.
He’s a generational kind of player and teammate. He came to us when the club was in a pretty dark spot, and sometimes the universe delivers a little gift. We felt that way with Marcus.
For a big guy, he moves exceptionally well, but he also has that loping, wading-through-waste-deep-water motion about him. Opposition players seem to either move away from him, or he can find a gap where there shouldn’t be space for someone who has the frame that he does.
In the heat of action, you rarely get to appreciate the great things that happen on the field.
But when Marcus did things, you would hear the crowd almost groan with appreciation. I was very conscious of that in the moment. Often, it’s afterwards, ‘Oh, did you remember seeing that? What about when he did this?’ but with Marcus, you knew in the moment.
Even in the team review, which is educational — we weren’t there to watch highlights — but when there was vision of Marcus doing something special, you’d see players elbow each other and hear whispers of, ‘Did you see what he did then?’, almost in awe of how he could do things that the rest of us couldn’t.
There is an otherness about the great players. Perhaps it’s best left unsaid, or untold, but they’ve got something different to the rest of us.
This is a player who is physically gifted, born with that gift, and has harnessed that gift.
He’s six-foot-four, beautifully skilled on both sides of his body. There’s a natural talent to that, but there’s also work.
If you asked his teammates to describe him in a word, humility, humble, or a variation of that would come to the fore.
In his first or second year, we had a post-match function, and my wife was struggling at a lift with a pram and three little kids. Marcus was there, and when the doors opened, he stopped the lift, picked up one of the kids, helped with the pram and said, ‘Hi Justine, how are you? How are Frankie, Delilah and Jarvis going?’
He knew the names of the kids. These little details often tell the bigger story.
“There is an otherness about the great players. Perhaps it’s best left unsaid, or untold, but they’ve got something different to the rest of us.”
Marcus knows how good he is, and he’s always curious about how good he could be.
He’s still ascending.
That’s not to say he won’t have setbacks — who knows what lies ahead in his football journey? Not many get through unscathed, but I know the man and I know the player well enough to say that any potholes along the road will only enhance his reputation.
He’s tuned into the frequency of what a game needs as good as anyone I’ve seen in my time.
There’s a skill to acknowledging when a game needs a big moment. It’s another thing to be able to act on that.
Then, you’re in rarefied air when you can impact on it spectacularly. I don’t just mean a mark and a goal. He has a knack of doing it defensively, offensively, unselfishly, or selfishly, when it’s, ‘Right, I have to go back and kick a set shot’.
Marcus is the Most Valuable Player in the competition because he’s got natural gifts, but also because he trains harder than anyone. He applies himself more than everyone. He thinks about the game in a deeper sense than just about anyone I’ve ever met. He has a profound appreciation for the history of the football club.
Part of is not nuanced, it’s not poetry, it’s not in the ether. He just wants it.