ASK Phil Partington who he barracks for in the AFL and he’ll give you 100 different answers.
He’s team Hugh McCluggage. He’s team Jamaine Jones. He’s team Willem Drew. The list goes on.
There’s no other option when you’re a TAC Cup list manager.
The teenagers who pass through Greater Western Victoria Rebels’ change rooms end up scattered across the country.
“Once you’re involved in the Rebels program, you don’t barrack for any particular team anymore,” Partington told The Standard.
“You follow the boys’ careers and come Monday or the Saturday night replays you’re always trying to see where they’re at, where they’re playing, how many boys got games and how they have performed.”
Five of those players form ‘The Hampden Seven’, a group of south-west footballers who were picked up during a record-breaking draft period in November 2016.
Partington watched South Warrnambool’s McCluggage turn into a number three draft pick destined for the Brisbane Lions.
Fellow Rebels’ Cedric Cox (Brisbane), Willem Drew (Port Adelaide), Rowan Marshall (St Kilda) and Jamaine Jones (Geelong) were snapped up too.
Oakleigh Chargers’ Dion Johnstone (Melbourne) and Geelong Falcons’ Sean Darcy (Fremantle) rounded out the Hampden contingent.
Some 18 months on, they are all finding their feet at AFL level.
“Some of the men these boys are competing against have been seasoned AFL performers and been in the weight rooms for five or six or eight years and are experienced and hard bodies and these boys are still growing,” Partington said.
“They are up against it but they’ve been competing and that’s the main thing.”
Five have made their debuts, with Jones the latest to live his dream last weekend.
McCluggage, who notched a rising star nomination in 2017, leads the games tally with 28 appearances.
Four have inked contract extensions – McCluggage (2021), Cox (2020), Darcy (2020) and Marshall (2019).
Partington said McCluggage had taken the pressure of being an early draft pick in his stride.
“Speaking to the Brisbane Lions, they are over the moon with the way Hugh’s developing his football,” he said.
“He’s had a couple of breakout games this year already and to play midfield in an AFL environment in his second year and play good football shows how much he’s improved in a full-time environment.”
Partington said Cox, who moved from Western Australia to play for Camperdown, would take time to adjust to the AFL system.
“His pathway to the AFL was a bit different to the other boys,” he said.
“He wasn’t involved in the talented pathway program until he got into the Rebels for three-quarters of a year.
“It takes time to adjust to be an full-time AFL footballer. The other boys are probably a bit more accustomed to the standards set and what needs to be done.”
Partington backed “long-term project” Drew to respond from a season-ending foot injury and hopes Jones can become a 100-game player for the Cats.
He has a soft spot for Marshall, who was recalled to the Saints’ line-up for Saturday night’s clash with West Coast.
“Rowan was another late-developing tall, so having him as a trainee (at the Rebels) for a year I got very close to Rowan,” he said.
“Seeing him competing against the big ruckmen of the AFL is quite good. He wants to learn all the time.
“He’s developed a really good endurance base, he runs the correct kilometres in an AFL game.”
Partington’s barracking extends beyond the elite level.
He’s team Sam Cowling, team Jarrod Korewha and team south-west.
“The four best players for the Portland football club last week have all gone through (or are in) the Rebels program,” he said.
“There was Tylar Watts best, Connor Giddings in second, Harris Jennings third, Aaron Shepherd was fourth."
The Hampden league is littered with Partington’s former players.
“We’re equally pleased when players go back and play well at their local footy club post-Rebels because that’s what we’re about,” he said.
“We understand not everyone is going to play AFL football but one of my big mantras is if they can go back and be a leader of their footy club and community then we’ve done our job.
“Sam Cowling is a perfect example. Sam had two years with us, helped at the Rebels last year and is now an assistant coach at Warrnambool.
“We’re getting so much joy out of seeing Jarrod Korewha playing really good footy (for Koroit).
“I see Jarrod every week because he’s training down here (in Ballarat) still and have a chat to him.”
Many of these footballers align themselves with team Partington too.