FAMILY connections are being credited for helping North Warrnambool Eagles sign an AFL premiership ruckman for the 2022 Hampden league season.
Nathan Vardy has committed to the Bushfield-based club as an assistant coach after retiring following 77 games at Geelong and West Coast, including the Eagles' 2018 flag.
Vardy, 30, is the partner of former North Warrnambool netballer Maddie Smedts.
Maddie will return to the Eagles' top-grade netball team.
Vardy will play alongside his future brother-in-law Billie, whom he played with at Geelong, at North Warrnambool next season.
Returning to a country football setting appealed to Vardy, who grew up in Gippsand in Victoria's east.
"It is an exciting time to get back to Warrnambool with Maddie's family," he told The Standard.
"I am from Yarram in Gippsland and Devon-Welshpool-Won Wron-Woodside was my team and my parents were heavily involved.
"I grew up around local footy and I always thought I'd like to bring my kids up in a similar way.
"I love the country community feel and there was always a part of me which wanted to get back to country footy once AFL was finished.
"My home club has actually folded now so I can't go back and have a cameo there."
Vardy said his family, which includes children Boh, 2, and Mac, two months, would move to Warrnambool in November after five years in Western Australia.
"We have a place already, nice and close to Maddie's parents for babysitting purposes which will be great and to spend time with them," he said.
"We'll get back in touch with the country life. Geelong is a big country town but going over to Perth and being back in the city, we're pretty happy to get back in and around a country town again."
Learning from esteemed mentor Adam Dowie also attracted Vardy to an assistant coaching role.
"I have always felt through my career that I wanted to get back to country level but I also want to be involved," he said.
"I don't want to be the guy who just rocks up. I want to go to Thursday night dinners and contribute in some way.
"Everything I have heard about Adam has been unreal and I feel he'd be a pretty good man to learn the ropes under for a little bit."
Dowie said Vardy would be an invaluable inclusion.
"To get someone of Nathan's ability, stature and credentials into the Hampden league is really exciting," he told The Standard.
"I am looking forward to working with him.
"He started in country Victoria on the other side of the state but he's a country boy at heart.
"In terms of his knowledge, he has a really passion to coach and lead and can't wait to get started."
Dowie said the Smedts family had a strong connection to the club which was what piqued Vardy's interest.
"It starts back with Jackie and Albie Smedts and moving to Bushfield just down the road," he said.
"All the kids played at North Warrnambool. Jackie coached the netballers there in all grades.
"It really is an extension of that. If they didn't love the club they wouldn't have such an affection for it.
"Maddie and Nathan are partners and they have two little boys.
"I know the family is really excited and that is how it's all come about."
Dowie said Vardy would be "really invested in the community".
Vardy, who wants to deliver a premiership to the club, said Maddie was eager to play netball again too.
"She is pretty excited about that," he said.
"Obviously having two kids, she's been pretty limited with the netball she's been able to play.
"I think she's pretty excited to play her game and watch the second half of my game on a Saturday and have family around to help with the kids and get her life back a bit as well."
Vardy said he was content finishing in the AFL after overcoming injuries to become a premiership player.
He said they got "a one-way ticket to Perth" for the 2017 season.
"It was a daunting decision, we didn't know anyone on a personal level," he said.
"But we've loved our time in Perth and winning the premiership was something I have always wanted to do.
"To live that, was a pretty special time in both our lives. I'll definitely look back on both clubs with fond memories.
"My career didn't go to plan completely, it was tough at times and wasn't overly glamorous but I was able to live out my childhood dream."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.