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  • Writer's pictureSportFM

Back in Black for best story of the year

Aaron Black is surely the WA football story of the year.

Yes, there is significant merit in Northampton favourite Patty Cripps winning the tightest Brownlow Medal count in many seasons.

And Fremantle’s resurgence, based on A grade recruiting and the quality of people like coach Justin Longmuir and football whisperer Bob Murphy, is worth a look or two. But those deeds, remarkable and telling as they are, are in a different league to the tale of the veteran West Perth skipper.

First, there was his AFL debut for West Coast at the start of the season. Forget mature-age recruit; at 29, Black was an extra-vintage call-up. A goal and dozen or more quality touches after a decade or more wondering if he would ever get a chance, and would he be any good if he got it, provided a feel-good start to a dire West Coast season that had an equally heart-warming bookend in Josh Kennedy’s fairy-tale departure.

That was just part of the Black equation that will play out on grand final day next month. Black’s understated but forthright leadership was first showcased in 2018 when he helped his men ignore the financial turmoil and viability questions overshadowing the club to qualify for that year’s decider.

It was a remarkable feat of leadership

The Falcons were touched up in that grand final but a lesser club, with a lesser leader, would not have risen anywhere near as far as second place. And they might not have been here today without that gutsy on-field performance to inspire the off-field recovery.

Four years on and the Falcons are flying with Black about to lead them into a grand final for which they are the warmest of favourites in an exceptionally close season.

There are many architects of that rise.

President Neale Fong leads with passion and panache. Doors open when he knocks.

A premiership player and coach at the club in his first West Perth incarnations, Darren Harris could produce his own fairy-tale in his first year back as coach if his team can salute on October 1.

And Joe McCarthy, the switched-on chief executive, is a poster boy for administrators whose lack of high-profile football backgrounds do not detract from their impact in the sport. West Perth appear to have replaced Subiaco as the WAFL club that does the most right . . . and least wrong. They have an energetic board, management and volunteer base that embrace all levels of the club and are equally at home addressing the biggest strategic issues and matters of the smallest detail.

They have just introduced a Hall of Fame – whose members were announced at a brilliant event at their Joondalup clubrooms - to respect their past while making the sound financial and governance decisions needed to secure their future.

About half a million dollars will be sitting in their accounts at the end of the season, an extraordinary turnaround for a club that nearly folded with debts of $800,000 four years ago. Those debts were forgiven or written off – though the club could do a lot worse than use their buoyant position to provide ex gratia payments to the small creditors hardest hit by the 4c in the dollar wipe-out.

After all, avoiding bankruptcy should extend to the moral version as well.

That is not Black’s concern. His business is to keep his players relaxed and focussed for the next 10 days.

If he does his job well enough, he will be lifting the premiership cup on October 1 and providing the perfect ending to what has been the most absorbing story of the year.

WEDNESDAY HERO: Ed Dermer, is his valedictory speech to WA parliament in 2013 after 16 years in the upper house, suggested that: “If I had my way, I would abolish Saturday afternoon trading and encourage people to go to WAFL matches”. You might not know Ed but have no doubt that he is one of the WAFL’s most ardent fans. You can usually see him at Claremont matches, often wearing a large tiger’s head alongside his son in similar get-up, and providing ceaseless support for his beloved Clarrrrrrremont Tiiiiiiiigers. The Tigers made Ed pretty happy last Sunday and he hopes to return the favour on Sunday with plenty of gusto at the last match to be played at East Fremantle Oval for the next few years.

IMAGE: The West Australian

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