Kangaroos junior stars on the big stage

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FORMER Langwarrin junior Luke Parker wearing his old club colours alongside Swans teammates Aliir Aliir, Will Hayward, and Callum Mills. Picture: Supplied

AFL

SYDNEY Swans captain Luke Parker played his 200th AFL game this season. He has won a premiership, made the All Australian team, finished second in the Brownlow voting, and won two best and fairest medals.

Despite his many achievements in the AFL, a lone senior outing for the Langwarrin Football Club still ranks high on the list of Parker’s best memories.

Before making the move to New South Wales to start his AFL career in 2011, Parker pulled on the blue and white guernsey he had grown up wearing for a solitary senior game.

“It was an incredible memory,” Parker said about his senior debut.

“I had my one senior game for Langwarrin against Mornington when we had a one week break in the TAC Cup. We were 30 or 40 points down at half time and we came back and won. As a young bloke it was great, it was one of my best memories in football.”

Since his last appearance for Langwarrin, Parker has kept busy. He wasted no time making an impression for the Sydney Swans, breaking into the team in his debut year and winning a premiership medal in his second. His career reached a high point when in 2019, he was named captain of the Swans.

Before finding success at AFL level, Parker played his junior football for Langwarrin. He ran out for his first game with the club as an under-9, and continued to play a starring role right up until under-18s. Parker says that the way he was taught to play as a junior is still front of mind for him today.

“I had some really good coaches. I had Darryl Henderson, who was my best mate’s dad, he played for North Melbourne and Sydney. He coached us for a few years to a few grand finals. My old man was an assistant coach too, and he helped out where he could,” he said.

“I think what they gave me was an enjoyable upbringing in football. I carry that on today, because when you enjoy the sport, you play your best football. That was something that was instilled in us from a young age.”

The Sydney Swans have partnered with Volkswagen to put together the Footy Assist grants program, a $50,000 grant pool that local clubs can apply for. Parker said the program might help “put smiles back on faces” in a year where COVID-19 has brought junior football in Victoria to a screeching halt.

“This is a fantastic initiative. Volkswagen has donated $50,000, which will be split between eight grants for local clubs to apply for. Clubs will be able to buy extra equipment, or invest in coaching,” Parker said.

“We know how important grassroots footy is, and how important it is to have really good coaching for juniors coming through to help with their development. It’s great to have money going into grassroots football.”

Parker still keeps an eye on how his old club is doing. He spent two years as the club’s number one ticket holder, and still knows some players in the senior side. When asked if he might consider coming back for a second senior game down the track, he played his cards close to his chest.

“We’ll wait and see,” Parker said. “But it is always great to get back to Langwarrin.”

Clubs can visit sydneyswans.com.au/vwfootyassist to apply for grants. Submissions close 11 October.

First published in the Frankston Times – 22 September 2020

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