JEZZ’S FOOTBALL JOURNEY……..

It’s match-day……..and the atmosphere in the Rovers rooms fluctuates between frenetic activity and silent contemplation……

The strain shows on the first-year co-coaches, who have plenty on their plate. They impart last-minute instructions to this youthful group; re-iterating the importance of the task ahead.

A variety of emotions flash through their minds…………anxiety, excitement, adrenalin…..and worry…..

Are they ready ? Have we picked the right team ? Will they start well ?

I notice a carrot-topped fellah with a friendly face, engaging in quiet conversation with a few of the boys, who respond with a nod of the head and a smile. It’s obvious that he, too, has a role to play, as siren-time beckons and momentum builds……….

He’s Jeremy Campbell…….

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‘Jezz’ deems forging relationships as the essential aspect of coaching. It excites him to see young players develop and if he can be an extra pair of eyes and ears to Andy Hill and Sam Carpenter, so be it.

“It’s refreshing to work with two young coaches. In my opinion, they’re going great guns. I just run ideas past them and lend support whenever I can,” he says.

He helps with the rotations and does a bit of one-on-one with the players. “They’re a really coachable group.”

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‘Jezz’ prefers to stay out of the limelight, but I was keen to uncover his outstanding footy pedigree.

It extends back to his home club, Lockington-Bamawm United, where he played in three junior flags, before being snapped up by Goulburn Valley League club, Rochester.

He was doing Year 12 and playing his first season with the Tigers, when he came under the influence of the legendary David ‘Dirty’ Williams.

‘Dirty’ was a born-and-bred Rochy boy, who played 67 games with Melbourne, then returned to coach his home club for 16 years. He was an imposing figure, led from the front and his game was exemplified by his fierce attack on the ball.

“Rochester’s a great family club, not dissimilar to the Rovers in a lot of respects. We were pretty young and mostly all locals, and ‘Dirty’ harped on the fact that it was ‘Rochy against the Rest’ . He was demanding, but had a knack of being able to develop players. It was a joy to play football under him,” Jeremy recalled.

He played 7 senior games and about the same number in the thirds in that first season – 1996. Despite Rochy’s seniors finishing second-bottom, there were promising signs for the future.

When he moved to Melbourne to attend Uni, it only seemed natural for him to return home each week-end, to play with the Tigers, who were developing a top-notch side. He continued the round-trip for nine years.

“We had five – and up to nine – blokes (all Rochy boys) travelling back. That stemmed from the culture  that had been fostered at the club,” he says.

Jeremy had ‘started his apprenticeship’ in the back pocket, moved to the back flank and finally worked his way into the mid-field.

“In 1999 we broke through, and ran away from Shepp United, to win the flag by 40-odd points. It was a great reward for our coach, his assistants and volunteers around the club, who had worked so hard. But also for the team as a whole, who had endured two losing Grand Finals, in 1997 and ’98. It was a very resilient group,” he said.

“A week after the Grand Final, unfortunately one of our team-mates, five years older than me, and one of my idols, lost his life in tragic circumstances.”

“He was a vital part of the club, always first on the track and the last to leave  after his usual  post-training  weights session. He was a very special person and his death took the wind right out of our sails.”

“People weren’t sure what reaction it would have on the playing group, but we battled on and reached the Prelim Final the following year.”

Bruce Watson recruited the young Campbell to Rochester, coached him in the Under 18’s and saw him play most of his 195 games with the Tigers.

“Outside of our club, Jeremy never got the accolades he deserved. He was hard at it -an absolute animal – and was a real athlete. He would run all day.”

“Craig Scholl, the North Melbourne premiership player, rated him one of the toughest blokes he’d played on. Scholl played in Echuca sides which beat us in Grand Finals in 2001 and ’02, but Jeremy had some great battles with him.”

“And besides that, he was highly admired, on an off the field,” Bruce added.

Recognised as one of the GV’s most reliable and consistent on-ballers, Jeremy wore the League’s Purple and Gold jumper six times, captained the League and won VCFL representation in 2002.

In his only previous sojourn on the W.J.Findlay Oval – in 2003 – he was voted best afield in GV’s convincing win over an O & M side coached by Mick Wilson.

It was a wrench to leave Rochy after a highly successful era. He had played in five Grand Finals and loved the club, but decided to accept a position as assistant-coach of Drouin, in the Latrobe Valley League.

However, he was keen to coach in his own right and when someone mentioned, the next season, that there was a job going at Blackburn, he decided to apply.

“I’d heard on the grapevine that Brett Ratten was in for it, so I wasn’t hopeful. But then, he took what seemed a more attractive option at rival Eastern.F.L club Norwood and I landed the job,” he recalls.

“They were a family club, with a friendly environment. They’d been up in Division 1 for three years and had just staved off demotion each year. We won 6 games in my first year and 8 in the second.”

Ben Kneebone spent a couple of years at Blackburn and was taken by ‘Jezz’s’ leadership and work-rate. “Before the first bounce in most games, he’d be in the face of the opposition’s star, just to set the agenda for the day. He was as tough as they come.”

In 2008, his third year of coaching, Jeremy reverted to a non-playing role. Blackburn recruited well and won 11 games, to reach the finals for the first time since 1975. They defeated East Ringwood in the first final, but their flag hopes were thwarted by Noble Park.

He was voted the Eastern League’s Coach of the Year, further enhancing his growing coaching credentials.

When he and his partner Bree decided to return to the country, Jeremy was approached by the Rovers. He expressed a keen interest in the vacant coaching position and was urged on by his Dad, who reminded him the Hawks had a great tradition and would be a fantastic club to coach.

“It resonated with me a bit, but I’m a believer that things fall into place for a reason. Moving to Wang just didn’t suit at that stage.”

Instead, they moved to Shepparton, where Bree got involved in netball and Jeremy taught at the Deakin University campus at Dookie.

Apart from playing a few games for Dookie over the next couple of years, his active involvement in footy dissipated until they moved to Wangaratta and he helped out his brother, Ash, who was coaching the Magpies Thirds at the time.

His full-on job as principal of Oxley Primary School precludes him from spending as much time as he’d like on footy, but he enjoys his involvement.

It may be seven years after he rejected the coaching job, but Jeremy Campbell is firmly entrenched in the Hawk camp……