Six Ballarat boys set to shine in AFL grand final

Clockwise from top left: Matt Crouch, Brad Crouch, David Astbury, Daniel Rioli, Dan Butler, Shaun Grigg.
Clockwise from top left: Matt Crouch, Brad Crouch, David Astbury, Daniel Rioli, Dan Butler, Shaun Grigg.

Saturday’s AFL grand final will boast six players that have been through the North Ballarat Rebels TAC Cup system, five of which completed their school at St Patrick’s College.

Matt and Brad Crouch will grace the MCG for the Crows while Richmond’s Shaun Grigg, Dan Butler, Daniel Rioli and David Astbury all took their journey to AFL through the Ballarat pathways.

The Crouch boys hail from Beaufort while Grigg, the oldest of the six, played all his junior football at Redan, Butler is a pure Ballarat boy, Rioli came to St Pat’s in year 9 while Astbury is from Tatyoon.

St Patrick’s College senior football coach Howard Clark said it was an incredible achievement to have so many boys from the one school running out on the MCG on the biggest day of the AFL calendar.

He said while it was great to see the school well-represented, he was most-pleased for the boys and their families.

“To have five boys from the one school, and the one TAC Cup program...I think is quite an incredible achievement,” Clark said.

“I’m just really pleased and proud for the boys and really pleased for all of their families, because it’s a journey for them all. Each have come from a different background and have a different story...it wouldn’t of happened very often that five boys from the one school would have all played in a grand final before.

Clark coached five of the boys, Astbury did not attend St Patrick’s College, and shed some light on the now AFL stars as young men.

Clark spoke volumes of the boys, but said Brad Crouch was arguably the brightest talent he had come across through the St Pat’s system.

“Brad is the equal to, if not the best player I’ve ever coached,” Clark recalled.

The decorated coach added that his brother, Matt, was as driven and hardworking a young footballer as you are likely to come across.

“Matt is just an incredibly competitive, driven young man and he’s extremely professional now in his approach to football.”

Matt was also a talented sportsmen, keeping wicket for Melbourne Cricket Club firsts as a year 10 student.

Meanwhile, Clark said Grigg had always possessed a great football IQ.

“Shaun was an incredibly talented junior. The smarts that he shows now, he certainly showed as a year 7 student.”

For Butler, Clark recalled his blistering pace. He said Butler’s grandfather had a huge influence on his football and he enjoyed great success with St Pat’s.

“In my view he’s the quickest guy that I’ve coached. 

“He’s just a very explosive athlete...but also an exceptional young man.”

Clark said Rioli’s story was a special one. Having come to St Pat’s in year 9 from the Northern Territory, year 11 student and now Port Adelaide footballer Jake Neade took him under his wing.

After initially not having his heart set on a football career, an outstanding finals series for East Point provided the proof he had immense potential.

“Dan’s an amazing story...he didn’t really have much interest in footy at all at that stage.

“In year 11 he got a lot more serious about his footy.

“He had a breakout finals series for East Point in the under-18s.

“The attributes he shows now, he showed very clearly in the under-18s.”

Greater Western Victoria Rebels talent manager Phil Partington said it was great to see the boys that had been through the Rebels system succeeding, but acknowledged the program was a small part of the journey – the hard work had been done by the boys and their families.

“It’s about everyone who’s helped them out, but most importantly it’s about the boys themselves.

“Every young player wants to play in an AFL grand final.

“It’s fantastic for the boys and their families, we’ve just played a small part in their journey. 

“It’s not about the Rebels or their school or their local club, it’s about the families and the boys’ journeys and we’re very proud to be a small part of that journey.”