WE’RE IN LAMBY’S pub on a cold Sunday night in mid-June, 2005.
Earlier that day, the Geelong Football Club had felt the brunt of a Jason Akermanis masterclass at the Gabba. You know the one. Where he kicked those ridiculous goals from the boundary line in the wet and did it all with that stupid goatee and that stupid bleached hair and that stupid face.
Stupid Jason Akermanis.
In an effort to forget the 69-point mauling, we’re spending the little cash we have on big pints that will lead to big hangovers, and we’re impressing girls by arm wrestling each other on the pool tables.
There’s no girls around, but we imagine it’s the type of thing they’d be into if they were. You know, sort of like the Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise volleyball scene in Top Gun. Just raw manliness with not a hint of homoeroticism.
As we laugh and embrace each other, clasping hands in a completely manly way, the pub stands still.
The Cats have arrived. And they’re here to party.
Now they could have their pick of any girl in the room. They could stand at the bar and be bought drinks all night by drunk blokes who want to know if they remember them from the St Joey’s U18 team. They could do absolutely anything they want because they’re Geelong players in Geelong.
And what they want is to arm wrestle us.
Yes, these men who are paid money to have arms like tree trunks want to join in the fun hand-holding and manliness with us, a bunch of rag tag uni students.
Specifically, their biggest man – Brad Ottens – wants to take on our biggest man – Sam.
Now Sam is not big in the traditional sense of the word. He’s average height, slightly above average weight, but he bloody loves looking after his arms and he has a will to win that verges on insanity.
He accepts the challenge like an idiot.
Our man Sam – a uni student about 15 pints in – against Brad Ottens, a future three-time premiership winning ruckman with hands the size of your face and biceps that could be seen from Portarlington if you squinted across the bay to the MCG on game day.
They lock hands, they look sensually into each other eyes, a girl drops her neck hanky to give the go ahead to start (that didn’t happen) and we close our eyes in anticipation for the inevitable snap of Sam’s ulna and radius.
But the unthinkable happens. Sam holds his own. The Geelong boys are shocked. Andrew Mackie has literally climbed on the pool table and is screaming at his teammate to lift. Paul Chapman is standing behind his ruckman, urging him on as a piss drunk uni student who may or may not have been me drapes his arm around Chappy’s shoulders and slurs into his ear that the bald nugget has always been his favourite player.
They shout. We shout. I slur. And gradually Sam’s arm weakens. Otto slams his hand down into the table, the Geelong boys cheer, and we leave the pub with a cracking story to tell a handful of blog readers 15 years later.
But what has this got to do with the players who debuted for Geelong in 2000?
Paul Chapman, that’s what.
We filmed the arm wrestle and looked back at the footage the next day to ascertain that it did indeed happen and Sam did indeed hold his own.
What we saw was shocking.
No, it wasn’t the fact that Sam managed to suppress Ottens’ strength significantly better than Darry Jolly did in the 2011 Grand Final.
It was that Chappy was leaning on Ottens’ arm, giving him extra leverage in the David and Goliath battle. It was an outrage. It was shocking. It was a shortcut that the players probably didn’t need but took anyway. It was very Geelong 2005-2006.
Two seasons later, Chapman was the leading man in the Geelong premiership revolution, taking task to his teammates picking the lazy option when greatness demanded full effort.
I like to think he remembered that arm wrestle and was ashamed of what he did. I like to think he knew what he did was wrong, and every arm wrestle he indulged in after that was a fair fight, with no shortcuts, no cheating the system. I like to think it changed his entire perspective on life and football.
Yeah I know, he doesn’t remember it and he never gave us idiots a second thought.
But it was a hell of a story.
Here’s the 8 players who debuted for Geelong in 2000.
DAVID SPRIGGS: Debuted Round 1 – (69 games, 20 goals)
THERE’S no two ways about it – David Spriggs is really, really ridiculously good looking.
And at the time of his debut, the blond-bombshell with the surfer’s tan and speed to burn looked like a handsome prospect for long-suffering Cats fans.
The No.15 draft pick slotted straight into Mark Thompson’s new-look set up with a Round 1 debut against Fremantle, tallying 11 touches on the way to an impressive 22-point victory over the Dockers in Perth, and earning a Rising Star nomination the week after with 17 disposals against the Saints.
From that point on, the Beaumaris product played 43 straight games in a roving role similar to what Gary Ablett Jr would eventually take on, before a knee injury ruled him out of the entire 2002 season.
Returning in 2003, Spriggs added another 15 games to his total before a disappointing 2004 that saw him play just five matches that led to him being delisted at the end of the season.
A brief visit to Sydney (the best kind of visit to Sydney) in 2005 saw him add five more games for the Swans, before he was again delisted and his AFL career came to an end.
As of 2018, we can happily report that Spriggs is still ridiculously good looking with an attractive bank account to boot, having sold his renovated St Kilda home for $1.55 million in August of that year.
Who needs footy anyway?
DANNY O’BRIEN: Debuted Round 3 – (8 games, 6 goals)
“I DID my knee playing for North Shore and then my best mate passed away in the spare bedroom, my dog died and then my girlfriend cheated on me, all in the space of six months.”
Have we got your attention yet?
The Danny O’Brien story is a bit of a rollercoaster packed with bad luck, good intentions, and an undoubted ability on the footy field.
Brought to Geelong by Gary Ayres after being selected at pick No.20 in the 1998 rookie draft, O’Brien slaved away at training with barely any interaction from the senior coach for the entire season, before Thompson took over and gave the Gippsland product his AFL shot.
Debuting in a Round 3 victory against Adelaide, O’Brien was dropped and then re-called for five straight games, before a one-disposal performance against the Hawks saw him relegated again. He played two more matches at the end of the season – where he could only muster four touches – before being told by Thompson that he “didn’t need to improve, but he just didn’t fit into (Thompson’s) plans for the future of the club.”
O’Brien would go on to join North Shore in the GFL – winning the Mathieson Medal in his first season – before blowing out his knee in Round 1 of the next season.
The injury – and the veritable shitstorm of bad luck that followed – saw O’Brien move to Queensland, where he now plays and coaches for the Noosa Tigers.
DANIEL FOSTER: Debuted Round 9 – (17 games, 0 goals)
GEELONG’S fourth pick (No.23) of the 1999 national draft behind Joel Corey, David Spriggs and Ezra Bray was the only key position prospect the Cats went after in class now considered as the one that built a Geelong dynasty.
Playing two matches in his debut year – a two disposal loss to the Hawks and a stats donut in a draw against Port – Foster played another three games in 2001, all of which were losses.
Making the 22 for Round 1 in 2002, Foster recorded his first win in Round 3 against the Kangaroos in a string of eight consecutive matches before being dropped again.
The South Australian red-head came back for another four matches at the end of the season, but ended up on the Thompson scrapheap after 17 games as Tom Harley and Matthew Scarlett locked down the key defensive posts with help from Cameron Mooney.
Foster was last spotted playing for Wudinna United in the South Australian Mid West Football League.
CAMERON LING: Debuted Round 10 – (246 games, 139 goals)
THIS is where it got good for the Cats, and it came in the form of a slow ginger with a rubbish haircut.
The second last bloke picked by Geelong in their first of two “super drafts”, Ling came into the team as a mid-sized forward after being a damaging presence for the Falcons in the U18 in a similar role.
Starting his career in the hoops with a draw against Port Adelaide – where he contributed a goal from just three touches – the man that was more red than Ron Howard on the sands of Mars kept his place in the team for the Bombers the week after, where he famously put one out on the full from the goal square.
Ling went on to play eight more games in 2000 and another 13 in 2001, where he was finally pushed into the role that would define him – a blood-smeared tagger that was damaging the other way.
A Geelong lad through and through, he went on to live every Pivotonian child’s dream by hoisting the 2011 premiership cup as the Cats’ most recent flag-winning skipper.
Now does some TV stuff that we won’t talk about for fear of setting off a torrent of rage and abuse.
PAUL CHAPMAN: Debuted Round 12 – (280 games, 366 goals)
IN THIS writer’s humble opinion, the greatest player to ever pull on the hoops because he won me a pretty penny after taking home the Norm Smith in 2009.
Nuggety, aggressive, and blessed with a snap kick that was as smooth as Gary Ablett Jr’s haircut post-2008, Chapman became the epitome of what Geelong was all about in their glory years.
Starting his career against Collingwood with five touches and nothing on the scoreboard, Chapman played one more week before being dropped until Round 22, where he kept his place for the historic Docklands elimination final against the Hawks.
He managed another nine games in 2001 with mixed returns – including just four goals – until he solidified his spot in the team in 2002, like many of the other future champions of the club.
Already a fan favourite by the time the 2009 Grand Final rolled around, he will be forever remembered as the man that snagged the winning sausage roll in the game, with Stephen Quartermaine’s call of “it’s a snap, by Chapman! And Chapman’s kicked a goal!” forever etched in the memory of Cats fans.
Is now available for corporate speaking gigs where you’ll be tempted to give him a mainly huge and a kiss on the head for being the goodest of Geelong boys.
But don’t do it. It’s unprofessional and unhygienic. I’ve learned from my mistakes.
JOEL COREY: Debuted Round 17 – (276 games, 79 goals)
EVERYBODY talks about how well Geelong did in the depths on the 1999 AFL draft to recruit players like Chapman, Ling and Corey Enright (who didn’t debut until 2001), but they forget their first pick was a ripper too.
Skinny West Australian kid Joel Corey was taken with pick No.8 flanked by draft duds Danny Roach and Caydn Beetham, and he arguably became Geelong’s most valuable pick from a star-studded class.
Getting the call up for the Round 17 match against St Kilda, Corey looked the goods on debut with 15 disposals, following up with a seven-touch and one goal game against the Crows, then a superb 21-touch and one goal game against the Kangaroos.
The man known as “Smithy” – because he doesn’t have an adequate surname – finished 2000 with five games and suited up for another 14 in 2001.
Like Ling and Chapman, he hit his straps in 2002 with 20 matches and from there only played one season where he played fewer than 20 games, eventually retiring at the end of 2013 as a one-club player.
Is now employed by the Western Bulldogs as their stoppages coach.
CAMERON MOONEY: Debuted Round 17 – (221 games, 297 goals)
THERE wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare at Kardinia Park when brother of Jason – the talented one – turned up on the Moorabool St doorstep in 2000 as part of the Leigh Colbert trade.
Colbert – who had been given the captaincy for the late 90s – didn’t want to be a part of the club once Mark Thompson took over and headed to North Melbourne for picks 15 (Spriggs), 17 (Ezra Bray), 47 (Enright) and crucially, a man who didn’t get a touch for the Kangaroos in the 1999 Grand Final.
Nobody quite knew what to make of Mooney. His brother was a highly skilled tall forward that couldn’t shake his injuries, but Cameron was ever so slightly undersized for a key position player.
Debuting for Geelong against the Saints as a forward, he only managed two touches and nothing on the scoreboard, but saw out the season with five more games and six goals, three behinds to his name.
From then on the “Big Hairy Cat” became a Mr Fix-It for Geelong, playing forward at times, moving to centre half back for a while, and even becoming an athletic back-up ruckman at one point.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Thompson settled on keeping the then 27-year-old as a key forward in tandem with Nathan Ablett, and Mooney repaid the trust, booting 67 goals from 25 games in a drought-breaking premiership year that also included an All Australian nod.
Mooney – or Mooooooooooons as he was known to the Cats faithful – played his final three games in 2011 with an honourable nine goals to go with them, but he was unable to squeeze Tom Hawkins and James Podsiadly out of that year’s premiership team.
Mooney now works as a boundary rider and presenter for Fox Footy.
MARCUS BALDWIN: Debuted Round 21 – (5 games, 5 goals)
THE dream run of debuts came to an end for the Cats in Round 21 against the Demons – but Marcus Baldwin didn’t look like a dud in his first game.
Sure, his stat line only read three marks and three kicks, but the 196cm beast from the Calder Cannons registered three goals as well.
Efficient? Yes. A sign of things to come? It depends.
On the disposal front, Baldwin maintained the rage with very few kicks per game when he was given an opportunity in the seniors – but his goal-kicking stats fell off the cliff as well.
He played just one more game in 2000 and only played three more in 2001, finishing his career with five matchs and five goals.
After footy, Baldwin went on to date noughties dream girl Krista Vendy and turned his hand to modelling and fashion design, before founding business supplies company EFM Brands in St Kilda.
*The 8 players who debuted for Geelong in 1995
*The 9 players who debuted for Geelong in 1998
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