On Saturday, Bendigo product Travis Fitzgibbon will prepare for the biggest game of his life when he arrives at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
As Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney players face off for a place in the AFL grand final Fitzgibbon, a commentator who cut his teeth at Fresh FM in Bendigo, will be calling his first AFL preliminary final.
"It's my first time being this deep into calling a finals series and I'm taking a very normal approach to prepping for this game," Fitzgibbon said.
"I've called Collingwood and the Giants both a bit this year and, funnily enough, I only called one final last year and it was the Collingwood-Giants semi final."
Fitzgibbon is part of the National Indigenous Radio Service commentary team. He is one of seven AFL callers who have ties to Bendigo who have called some of the biggest moments of this year's footy season.
As well as Fitzgibbon, Bendigo can lay claim to Anthony Hudson (Fox Footy, SEN) Barry Denner and Ron Rogers (NIRS), Joel Peterson, (ABC), Benny Jones and Sam Hargreaves (CrocMedia/SEN).
Peterson is now the lead commentator for ABC Grandstand in South Australia after getting a start at Bendigo's Fresh FM and the Bendigo Weekly.
His eagerness to become a sports commentator was something Peterson grew up with.
"It was something I always wanted to do," he said. "I've been a sport nut since really little and always played sport but that wasn't how I enjoyed it. I preferred to watch and talk about it.
"Halfway through year 12 I thought there could be pathway if I did sport journalism at university. I did that and hated it, so I got a job at the Weekly and started with Fresh FM."
Benny Jones' start came during his time at 3BO. He started a music host before falling into sports coverage.
"It was by accident from doing the Heathcote District footy reports. I called the local footy league and really enjoyed that," he said. "They were the first seeds and it's been slow and steady since then.
"The guys like Anthony Hudson who have come and gone before you gives you a target. You think 'they're from Bendigo and they can do it, why not me?'."
Bendigo has proven itself a breeding ground for AFL commentators for many years and a common theme to that is the local radio station's commitment to covering local football.
"Because local radio stations are passionate about local sporting events and are passionate about their local champions, there are opportunities in Bendigo to cut your teeth and get to a level of professionalism and a good skills set to get an AFL call," Fitzgibbon said.
"For me, it's about being passionate about the game and people in it. I still rate the 2012 Bendigo Football League grand final as the best game I've called. It was between Golden Square and Gisborne and Gisborne had a shot after the final siren (to try and win). It was an extraordinary game of football."
Gisborne forward Rod Sharp's set shot would miss giving Golden Square the 2012 flag and Fitzgibbon would go on to become a regular caller for NIRS.
Suit up, it's awards time!— Travis Fitzgibbon (@travfitz) September 10, 2019
Looking forward to hosting the Michelsen Medal Event for the BFNL Sunday.
It'll be the first time in a few years I have hosted the Michelsen and it is always such an honour.
Good luck to all those vying for both the Michelsen and Thompson Medals. pic.twitter.com/mQnEmiiQD9
Peterson said Bendigo's passion for sport was clear in its residents and local media.
"You only have to look at the centre of town and see the QEO and Tom Flood (Sports Centre). That speaks to the passion Bendigo has for sport," he said.
"In terms of the industry, Bendigo is lucky to have strong a community radio station like Fresh FM calling footy for more than 30 years.
"3BO gets involved in local footy as well. So there are opportunities for people to get involved in footy."
Peterson said the standards of Bendigo's sports media also helped produce ready-made sports callers.
"Wallace Teasdale who is the general manager at Fresh FM is one of biggest reasons blokes like us have had success," Peterson said.
"The standards he sets and his ability to say 'that makes good radio' or 'that doesn't make good radio' makes the Fresh FM call as professional as possible. He's a big part of people getting thrown into someone else.
"Everyone who comes through Fresh FM has the basics down and does them well. Then they inject their own personality into the call.
"Basics are the hardest thing. Get them down and you can chuck everything else on top of that."
This year's football season has given Bendigo's callers a number of highlights topped off by Fitzgibbon's preliminary final called on Saturday.
Jones was based in Queensland this year with CrocMedia and SEN and called a number of Brisbane games during the Lions' 2019 resurgence.
"This year is by far the most fun I've had. I've called a couple of nailbiters and my first final," Jones said.
"My highlight was easily the Geelong-Brisbane game where Lincoln McCarthy took a big mark with a minute to go.
"It was one of those moments where you hope you deliver and don't get caught up in being fan. I was calling with a hero of mine Peter Donegan and once it died down, Donners gave me the thumbs up and a pat on that back, that was my biggest thrill."
In Adelaide, Peterson will call the SANFL grand final this weekend.
He also called Eddie Betts' 300th game. The livewire produces arguably the goal of the year during the match.
"The admiration for him and the occasion (was amazing)," Peterson said. "Everyone lapped up the week and he finished if with goal of the year, which is the mark of the man. He rose to the occasion and to call that goal - that's one highlight for me."
Unlike Peterson and Jones, who are both full time sports callers and journalists, Fitzgibbon calls AFL in his spare time.
"It's really different. It probably inhibits me a bit if I were to seek commercial opportunities," Fitzgibbon said.
"But I love my full time job and cant see a time where I leave my leave current role to go full time in sports media. I like balancing the two.
"I'm lucky work allows me to balance those things and to have a wonderful product like AFL Indigenous Broadcasting who want me to do it as a side hustle."
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