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WHEN he had his name called out by Fitzroy in 1993, Rowan Warfe created a piece of history for the Bendigo Pioneers - the first player drafted into the AFL from the newly-created team.
Warfe went on to spend 11 seasons in the AFL system with Fitzroy and Sydney, playing 110 games in a career hampered by injury.
The 43-year-old reflects on his time at the Lions and Swans in the third installment of the Bendigo Advertiser's Time at the Top Series.
LUKE WEST: Warfey, can you take us back to the National Draft of 1993 and becoming the first AFL draftee from the Bendigo Pioneers.
ROWAN WARFE: "I remember I was told the night before the draft that Fitzroy was going to be taking me with their second pick.
"I hadn't had a lot of contact with Fitzroy in the lead-up to the draft at that point, whereas there were other clubs that had shown a fair bit of interest.
"Essendon was one that I was possibly going to go to because I had been to their training camp and done some testing. Geelong had a bit of interest as well, so I was fairly confident that I was going to go somewhere."
Your coach at Fitzroy when you arrived was Robert Shaw. What were your early impressions of him?
"When I got down there to Fitzroy I got a job with the club on a sports traineeship and I spent quite a bit of time with Robert in those early days working on match reviews and watching videos with him.
"He could be really good one day and not-so-good the next day... he was a bit hot and cold and you never knew what you were going to get; the result on the weekend determined a bit of what he was like in the office.
"But there was certainly some interesting nights at training when he dished out some sprays."
Did you manage to keep yourself on the right side of him for most of the time?
"I stayed out of his way the best I could only being a 17-year-old. Back then there was a bit of separation at training with the reserves and seniors and I remember one night when he wasn't happy in regards to the boys not putting their head over the ball.
"So he set up a drill where blokes would collide mid-air and he said anyone who takes their eyes off the ball won't play this week.
"Being my first year I was running around with the reserves at the time, so we were running laps and watching this drill and I remember feeling sick watching the guys going back with the flight of the ball and colliding with their team-mates.
"Stephen Paxman got clean knocked out, his face was smashed and it was just horrific. At that point I couldn't have been more happier to be in the reserves at the time.
"I still remember it being a cold, dark night at the Lakeside Oval, the fog had come over the ground... it wasn't a good night and a very old school session that you wouldn't see these days with players being put at risk of injury at training."
Off the field, how did you make the transition from living in Bendigo to city life?
"I thought I adapted reasonably well coming straight out of high school and into pre-season.
"When I got down there I didn't have a licence, so I had to catch trams and trains and got picked up by a lot of the players to and from training, so it was a massive change, but I just took it in my stride.
"I initially lived with my uncle, aunty and cousin for a while and then moved in with David Johnson, who was a senior player at the time, and Jeff Bruce, who I'm still very close with now.
"The following year Brucey and I moved out of Johnno's place and got a bit of a bachelor pad with Brett Cook and had a lot of fun times."
In round 18 of the 1994 season you earned the call-up for your AFL debut against Brisbane on a Sunday afternoon at the Gabba. What are your strongest recollections of your first game?
"What I remember the most of that day is it was extremely hot and playing limited time, but I do recall one of the first opposition players I came across was Roger Merrett, who had a bit of a reputation for giving you one across the back of the head.
"To be honest, I don't recall the specifics of the game as much as I'd like to."
Fitzroy motored home after a slow start and got beaten by seven points. The stats have you down for 13 possessions and five marks. Do you remember what position you played that day?
"I lined up on the wing and basically just played up and down the wing. I do remember floating forward and having a shot at goal... I will have to pull out the video tape and have a look at it."
How is your memory of the Saturday night game in round eight of 1995 when Fitzroy knocked over Adelaide by five goals at Football Park, which ended up being your only win in the 26 games you played at Fitzroy?
"I do remember that game... it was both a good and a bad night."
How was it a bad night?
"The bad part of it was I suffered a Grade Three AC injury. I was going for the ball and got cleaned up with a shirtfront and still to this day I have about a half-inch drop on my shoulder as a result of that.
"Bernie Quinlan was the coach at the time and after the game he grabbed me and hugged me and there's a photo of me actually pushing him away because of the pain I was in.
"So I spent that night in Adelaide on painkillers in a hotel room while the rest of the guys were out celebrating. So there's definitely some mixed memories from that game."
So fast forward to the end of the 1996 season and Fitzroy is finished following the merger with Brisbane. How did that period post-season play out for you in terms of your next football move?
"It was certainly an interesting time coming off a tough season in 1996. Brisbane could take eight Fitzroy players as part of the merger and I wasn't initially in that eight, so I thought I'd be going back into the draft and hoping for the best.
"Brisbane then did speak to me and asked if I'd be interested in coming up if they couldn't secure their eight guys and I didn't really want to do that.
"I didn't want to go interstate, particularly given I wasn't in that initial crop of eight. So I went back into the draft."
And you did end up interstate anyway with the Sydney Swans drafting you.
"The main reason I ended up at Sydney goes back to a reserves game. Rodney Eade was coaching the North Melbourne reserves before he got the Sydney job and I had a pretty good game against North, which had stuck in his mind.
"He told me when they drafted me that he liked what he had seen that day.
"Sydney knew that Adam Heuskes was going to be leaving and thought I may be able to slot in and fill a bit of a void in the backline, so they took me."
How big a contrast was it going from the struggles through your three years at Fitzroy to joining Sydney off the back of the Swans having played in the 1996 grand final?
"Again, I just took it in my stride.... I moved interstate, got settled in and got to work.
"It was a fresh start, but with the SCG as a training facility and we had new rooms built early days, so you do think that is a bit more of what you'd probably expect.
"To have a position earmarked across half-back in a team that was just coming off a grand final was exciting to be thought of in that regard.
"I started off alright in my first few years up there, but my shoulders didn't end up holding up too well for me and I ended up having both of them reconstructed.
"I remember the physio telling me once that I had missed 100 games through injury, which was nearly as many as I'd played and in the end, that's what probably got me.
"I was only 28 when I finished. Physically, my body wasn't holding up, but mentally I was cooked."
I was only 28 when I finished. Physically, my body wasn't holding up, but mentally I was cooked.Rowan Warfe
The last game you played for the Swans was against Hawthorn in round nine of 2004. Did you cop another injury that game for that to become the last one?
"No, there was no injury. Roosy (Paul Roos, Sydney coach) had plans for the team that in the end didn't include me.
"I had battled through in the reserves to try and get back into the senior team and I did for that game, but we really didn't see eye-to-eye a lot in the end, which was quite interesting after I had played with him at Fitzroy and Sydney and had been coached by him an assistant at Sydney, but we didn't have that relationship you'd think we might have.
"But the Swans won the flag the year after, so you'd have to say the decisions they made were the right ones.
"I possibly could have gone to another club, but mentally I was just knackered, so I retired."
Looking back on the 110 AFL games you played, do you have one in particular you reflect on most fondly?
"There was a night game we played against North Melbourne (round four, 1999) at the SCG and it was a great win.
"North came out and absolute spanked us early, but we gradually worked our way back into it and in the last quarter we were able to sneak over the line.
"I got a bit of the ball that night (18 possessions, seven marks) and managed to sneak some Brownlow votes as well, so I certainly felt I contributed to a really good win with my rebounding out of defence."
GAME NOTE - North Melbourne, which would go on to win the 1999 premiership, had led by 36 points at half-time, 9.7 to 3.7. The Swans kicked seven goals to one after half-time to win 10.12 (72) to 10.10 (70), with Warfe earning two Brownlow votes.
"And I remember a qualifying final we played against St Kilda at the SCG that we won by two points in 1998.
"I remember being isolated at full-back on Nicky Winmar and just how nerve-wracking that was.
"I don't think I did a lot personally that night, but it was a great win to be part of.
"I enjoyed more of the team celebration stuff rather than worrying about how many kicks or marks I had.... mind you, I wouldn't have minded having 30 touches, but I never did."
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