Sports

Small Victorian dairy farming town a fertile ground for AFL talent

A small Victorian dairy farming town, a short drive from the Twelve Apostles, is proving a gold mine for AFL talent.

Cobden in south-west Victoria boasts a connection with five current AFL-listed players including this year's number one draft pick, Sam Walsh of Carlton.

Geelong Falcons' Sam Walsh during the 2018 AFL Draft Combines at Marvel Stadium, Melbourne in October 2018

The other players are Gary Rohan (Geelong), Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne), Zach Merrett (Essendon) and Sean Darcy (Fremantle).

It is a mammoth effort for a town of about 1,800 people, almost three hours from Melbourne.

Cobden Football Netball Club president Chris Walsh, who is the uncle of Sam, said the community was "invested" in the sport.

"We're very lucky, kids love their footy here," he said.

Cobden Football Netball Club president Chris Walsh

The 'Cobden connection' is not new.

Former players John Rantall, Alistair Lord, Stewart Lord, Bernie Moran, Anthony Darcy and recently-delisted Jackson Merrett also have links to the town.

In the 2016 census, the top industry of employment in Cobden was dairy cattle farming, closely followed by cheese and other dairy product manufacturing.

Proud resident Jo Beard, the former Corangamite Shire mayor, said the town had a certain charm.

"It's a beautiful hidden gem in Victoria. We're very friendly, happy-go-lucky people," she said.

"We're so passionate about our sport and you grow up at the footy club because footy clubs are the heart and soul of communities.

Another goal to Gary Rohan of the Sydney Swans

"Once you've lived there it's very hard not to want to come home, which is what I did."

Despite producing top AFL talent, enrolments at the town's sole high school, Cobden Technical School, are down.

Assistant principal Michael Smart said young people at the school are generally choosing trades and life on the land as a career path, instead of academia.

"We have 160 students at the school, which is a decline from just over 400 students six to eight years ago," he said.

"Young people tend to be community minded and supportive of each other but they don't always bring that to school in terms of academic willingness to learn."

But watch this space, the local club president said he was optimistic about Cobden sending more footballers to the big league.

"I think down the track a few more could go on to AFL ranks," Mr Walsh said.

Original Article