Since being traded from Port Adelaide to West Coast, Brendon Ah Chee has steadily made an impact in his new home. The 24-year-old has played in the last three games for the Eagles, and he chats with AFLPlayers.com.au to discuss his move back and the significance of Sir Doug Nicholls Round.
You’re still undefeated in a West Coast jumper!
Yeah, three from three! It’s been a pretty good start, but I think the momentum was going long before I started playing. It’s good to be part of the spirit and unity within the group.
Outside perception doesn’t mean a lot, but going into the season most people thought the Eagles might struggle to play finals. Fast forward to Round 10 and you’re on top, so what is the feeling like?
At first, we were supposed to finish nowhere and now, we’re supposed to finish high. Internally, the boys and the coaching staff still had a lot of confidence and belief and we’re playing with a lot of spirit and unity. Everyone who takes to the field knows their role and do their best to perform it. We know that if we do that then we’re going to get a result. It’s not overly complicated, it’s just everyone knowing what they’re supposed to do and having belief that it works.
You a took a bit of a gamble on yourself in coming to the Eagles and signing a one-year deal, didn’t you?
Yeah, I took the one-year Eagles deal instead of the two because for the six years of my career, I’ve been on one-year contracts, so I took it to basically set myself up long term. Because I’ve gone through the one-year contracts before, I viewed this season as do or die and for that motivation to assist me to reach the potential that I know I can reach, then I can set myself up long term.
So you were offered two years?
It wasn’t that I asked for one or two, I’m sure if I wanted two then my manager could have sorted that out, but my manager and I spoke about it and agreed that we’d go for one year and try and set ourselves up for the future.
How has the transition been going back home to Perth?
It’s good to come home, but Adelaide was great for the six years I was there for. But it’s always nice to come home to friends and family. Where I’m living now is only 25 minutes from where I grew up, so it’s a big positive to be so close to my home town and the friends and family. It was always going to be a decision based around footy, but it just so happened that West Coast saw me fitting in really well with what they wanted with their team.
And you have a connection to Broome?
Yeah, I was born in Derby, which is about 2,000 kms north of Perth, right in the Kimberley region. That’s where my dad grew up and his dad and his dad before him, so I have a family connection to the Kimberley and Broome. I spent the first eight years of my life there and I have been back a couple of times to visit family. We moved to Perth for more football opportunities because there weren’t a lot up north.
The 2018 indigenous Map was released yesterday. Talk me through your connection and where your family links back to?
On my mum’s side, I’m Pinjarup which is near Pinjarra in the south west of Western Australia, so that’s where Noongar comes from. On my dad’s side I’m Nyikina and Yawuru which is Broome and Derby. I’ve had an amazing connection on the last three Indigenous camps, the first one was in Alice Springs and there’s Ah Chee’s in Alice Springs so I have family there, the second one was in Perth so there were obvious connections there, and the last one was in Broome. I was able to go up there and learn about my culture and my family, along with my brother Callum.
Speaking of Callum, you requested to join him at the Suns two years ago but that fell through. How close was it to eventuating?
I was pretty keen to get up there, because I saw some openings in their midfield with Jaeger O’Meara and Dion Prestia leaving. I also thought that it would be awesome to play with my brother, so it was more just a question that I asked of both clubs, but it was never really that close. It was probably pumped up more in the media. Then this off-season was just about getting to West Coast. There was always a feeling that I’d love to play with my little brother, but we’re both happy where we are at the moment.
What does Sir Doug Nicholls Round mean to you?
It comes down to pride for me. There’s pride in myself for being an Aboriginal person, and there’s pride that the AFL makes a significant stand on showcasing the effect Aboriginal people have had on the game. The Sir Doug Nicholls Round is so important because it encapsulates how important football is to Aboriginal people. You go out into communities and you see how much we all love the sport. I’m so proud to be a part of this round.
Each year with Sir Doug Nicholls Round we get to see the incredible jumper designs and can track the significance behind them. Can you explain West Coast’s for 2018?
We’re talking more about it tomorrow in the team meeting, but I know a lot about it already. Representing the West Coast Eagles as a club, there’s links to the players, coaches and administration, but there’s also the wider community. We have a massive membership base so they’re represented. There’s also an Optus Stadium symbol and being near the river, there’s representation of that aspect, too and that is significant for Noongar people. On the front is the eagle with its talons out which is representative of the players who are going out to play and striking like the eagle strikes. The meaning is really significant, but the look is terrific as well and we trained in the jumper yesterday, and will again tomorrow.
What was it like to play on Optus Stadium for the first time? You would have experienced a similar event when the Adelaide Oval was re-built, I assume?
Yeah, the game I did play against Richmond was obviously a big clash and I think there was a record crowd there for it. I remember the last quarter where there were instances when I couldn’t hear the umpire blowing the whistle. In Adelaide, I was part of it when we moved from AAMI Stadium to the Adelaide Oval and it completely changed footy and the city, and this stadium is doing the same. Perth is really excited and is enjoying what the stadium is bringing in terms of atmosphere and the lighting before the game.
What about the walk through the crowd on the way out?
I didn’t know how I would feel about it at first when I was told what was going to happen. You walk in past the 100 or so people and they’re all screaming at you as you run out, so before you enter the oval you’re pumped up. It’s pretty cool. Then you run through the eagle and onto the ground where you see the 55,000-odd people and it gives you a lift.
There’s been so many role models for Indigenous players of your generation to aspire to, but who are the players you looked up to individually?
It even goes back to my dad and he used to love Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer. He was one of WA’s best footballers, so he was an early inspiration because of dad. Then you grow up watching Adam Goodes, Buddy Franklin, and back in the day the likes of Nicky Winmar and Michael Long. Going to Port I had a bit to do with Gavin Wanganeen, Byron Pickett and the Burgoyne brothers, so everywhere you look there’s someone to look up to. Every Aboriginal player that has played has influenced the Aboriginal players that are playing now so it’s great to pay respect.
Moving back to your football, how have you assessed your three games for the Eagles?
I’m still building because I’m playing a newer role. Last year I played mostly in the SANFL and I was predominantly a midfielder who would move forward, whereas this year I’m playing a permanent half-forward role. It’s something I’m still learning, so there’s room to improve to allow me to have a bigger impact on games. At first you need to understand your role, and then you can build off that.
What’s expected of the Eagles’ forward group?
Each forward is expected to put pressure on. It doesn’t matter if you’re Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling or Willie Rioli, everyone has to do it. We all have to help with the team defence and pressure, and on the flip-side we then need to work together to assist with the offensive side of things. It’s based off defence, learning how to run the right patterns to help defend, and then re-engage and try and hit the scoreboard.
Is Willie Rioli one of the most exciting players you’ve ever seen?
Yeah, and he’s only played a handful of senior games. He is already showing flashes of brilliance and he’ll have a pretty significant highlight reel come his 100th or 200th game. He’s a bit of a freak, he even does some crazy and weird stuff at training that leaves me wondering how it even works. He has the Rioli magic about him, that’s for sure.
What are you doing away from football?
I’m doing a fair bit of mentoring work outside of footy. I’m helping out the Wirrpanda Foundation with their Bidi Waalitj program which has been rewarding. I’m helping kids aged between 15-24 who are trying to get into work, so I’m providing them knowledge with how to get into their desired field. And also doing some mentoring with Malcolm Karpany and Willie Rioli at Scotch College with the kids that are boarding there. In terms of study, I’m doing a diploma of business with Daniel Venables which will hopefully provide knowledge of how the business world works and potentially exploring that after footy. It’s good to have things on the go outside of work so that you don’t exist within a bubble.
How did the mentoring roles come about?
West Coast has a big partnership with the Wirrpanda Foundation, and in the talks when I was coming over, they asked if I was interested in having anything to do with that, and I jumped at it. Especially with Noongar people and those south of the river which is where I grew up. Life comes full circle so I was more than happy to help out. With the Scotch College stuff, kids quite often have to move from home to play footy, and I have been through that so it’s nice to help out and provide some assistance there.
Terrific, Brendon. Thanks for the chat.
No worries, thank you!