Imagine travelling three thousand kilometres by troop carrier, bus and plane to play a game of football. It’s exactly what some of the players from the Kimberley Spirit team are doing to take part in this year’s Landmark Country Championships in Perth.
Brett Claudius, coach of the Kimberley Spirit, says it’s all part of being a team that draws from a one thousand kilometre radius in the top end of Western Australia.
“We actually start travelling on Saturday, even though the Landmark Championships don’t start until Thursday next week,” said Mr Claudius.
“It’s very tough to organise, especially as a lot of the players living in remote communities don’t have access to transport.
“We pick up the players in the East Kimberley from Kununurra, Wyndham, Halls Creek and all the communities in between and take them to Fitzroy Crossing where we train and camp for the night. We then travel to Broome and meet up with the West Kimberley players and have another training session before flying out on Monday night,” said Mr Claudius.
The amount of travel isn’t the only unique thing about this Kimberley Spirit team – who’ll contest the A grade Colts section at this year’s carnival – team officials are often faced with dilemmas when surprisingly talented players turn up at their selection championships, many of whom they’ve never seen before.
“We select our players through the Kimberley Colts Championships, held over the June long weekend,” said Mr Claudius.
“This year we thought we had our team for the Landmark Championships selected and then were blown away by the talent of some kids we’d never seen before. That’s the beauty of being involved with this team, there are always surprises,” said Mr Claudius.
But after four years with the Kimberley Spirit team, Brett Claudius concedes his squad is faced with challenges other regions just don’t have.
“A lot of these boys don’t know each other at all. We’ve got one player who’s boarding at school in Esperance and he won’t actually meet anyone in the team until we get to Perth,” said Mr Claudius. “Training together just isn’t an option until the week of the carnival but we’ve done really well in the past, making the A grade colts final last year and we certainly want to take that one step further this year.
“One of the biggest challenges is playing wet weather football – that just doesn’t ever happen in the Kimberley. We come down to Perth and it’s raining and cold and it poses a whole new set of challenges for our players,” said Mr Claudius.
But challenges aside, the experience of the Landmark Carnival is, for many of the players, about opportunities outside of the Kimberley. Each year seven or eight Kimberley Spirit players are chosen to be part of the Claremont Colts program – a peak talent initiative that has seen great
success, particularly in the WAFL in recent years.
“We make this a really professional trip and for the players it offers them a range of opportunities. Firstly they have the chance to travel outside their region and come to Perth and be exposed to a different cultural environment. They also get to represent their region at a higher level of football and through the Claremont Colts program, have the chance to take their football to a whole new level,” said Mr Claudius.
“We’ve had some great success stories of players who’ve gone through the program. Lewis Broome – who played with us in 2007 and 2008 – is now with the West Coast Eagles. Warren Benjamin is playing for North Melbourne and Keifer Yu is part of the league team at Claremont.
“From our perspective it’s an exciting program and this trip to the Landmark Championships is a great opportunity for our players to be exposed to a range of opportunities including work, school and of course football at a higher level,” said Mr Claudius.
The Landmark Championships take place in Perth from 8th to 11th July.