WELCOME to The Standard's new series Now and Then where we'll speak to Hampden league exports about their first senior games and seasons. Our next guest is Cobden's Gary Rohan who now plays for AFL club Geelong.
GARY Rohan is a 136-game AFL player holding down a forward line spot in a premiership contender but still rates a Hampden league footballer as one of his toughest opponents.
Rohan, now 29, played on Warrnambool spearhead Jason Rowan, who is now second on the league's all-time goal-kicking list, in 2008 as a "skinny 16-year-old".
"Playing on the best forward the league has probably ever seen" helped shape Rohan's career.
"To this day, even though I play AFL, he is one of the hardest opponents I ever played on," Rohan told The Standard.
"He's smart, he's quick and if he marks the ball anywhere inside 50 it's going to be a goal. We had some good battles and I look back on it now and it's probably got me to where I am to be honest."
Rohan, who has made his mark as a forward in the Rowan mould, remembers finding himself in Cobden's back line.
He spoiled a ball coming into Rowan. At the break coach Wayne Walsh made a change.
"Walshy goes 'you're playing on him'. I said 'righto'. That's the biggest ask for a 16-year-old kid to play on the best forward in the competition," Rohan said.
"It was good to learn from what he did and the following year when I played (Geelong) Falcons I tried out the things he did on me. I learned a couple of tricks, body positioning, when to lead and when to hold so it helped me out a lot."
Rowan has signed with Warrnambool for the 2021 season after four years at Merrivale.
Rohan believes the Blues spearhead can get the 126 goals needed to claim the goal-kicking record.
"He'll do that in one year," he said.
"I really hope he does to be honest. It'll be good for him."
Rohan made his Hampden league senior debut in round one, 2008, and went onto play the entire season in red and black.
"I remember kicking a goal and the boys getting around me, so that was exciting," he said of game one.
Those performances helped him earn a NAB League spot with Geelong Falcons the following year. He was then drafted to Sydney inside the top-10.
It came after he was overlooked for the Falcons' program as a bottom-ager.
"When I look back, it (playing with Cobden) helped me get where I am now," Rohan said.
"I was playing against bigger bodies and Wayne Walsh was my coach at the time and the boys I had around me playing gave me a lot more confidence in myself.
"I believed in myself, not in an arrogant way, that I could become a pretty good footballer. It only took a bit of confidence from them and them rallying around me to see where I could get to."
Walsh is credited with lifting Rohan's confidence.
"He told me to use my strengths to my advantage," he said. "And little things like when you stuff up a kick, don't worry about it and just move on, just keep backing myself, don't second guess and don't hesitate."
Rohan hopes to play for Cobden again when his AFL career finishes as it's "one of the things I really look forward to".
And he has one particular goal in mind.
"I have never won a footy best and fairest and my brother (Ash) did when he played senior footy at Cobden," Rohan said.
"To this day he still has it over me so I have to try and get back there and play a good year so I can put my name up on the board as well."