IF dairy farming and getting drafted to the Fremantle Dockers have anything in common, it is plenty of determination and hard work, according to Mitch Crowden.
The 18-year-old football-loving, milk-drinking, dairy cow-showing teenager from Meadows was pick 59 in the national draft on November 24, landing him a spot with the Dockers in WA.
While dairy farming in the country and playing Australian Rules football in the city seem vastly different, Mitch says it takes a great deal of dedication and effort to be successful at both.
“You’ve got to keep going until the job is done, otherwise you won’t get success,” he said.
Mitch spent his childhood years at his family’s dairy farm in Meadows, and when he was not climbing hay stacks or milking cows, he was on the football field sporting the Meadows Bulldogs green and gold uniform.
He followed his brother Toby and father Greg’s footsteps onto the field, soon realising he wanted a career in football.
As a junior Mitch was part of the under 13s premiership in 2010, playing as an under 11, and played his first A-grade game for Meadows at the age of 15.
It was not long before he was scouted by Sturt Football Club, where he trained with the club in its junior development programs before taking on the co-captain role in his first season of under 18s.
Last season he played in Sturt’s SANFL division, wearing the number 2 gurnsey, and was part of the under 18s and reserves premiership teams.
On the football field, Mitch is known for his one-on-one contests, his competitiveness and his left-foot kick.
“I’ve got a decent leg which always helps,” he said.
Mitch finished in the top-five of all of the six testing categories at the SA state combine and said he was “unexpected but relieved” when his name was called during the draft.
“I was pretty excited and lost for words, you sort of don’t believe it at first because it's such a big deal,” he said.
Within 48 hours of the announcement, Mitch had farewelled his family and girlfriend, and was aboard a flight for WA.
Standing at 175 centimetres and weighing in at 83 kilograms, Mitch set most of his life around his football career, training and preparing for the draft, knocking back party invitations from friends.
“Most of the boys work their whole life to get drafted, and there’s a lot that don’t,” he said.
Country football will always hold a special place for Mitch, having played in front of his home town on many occasions.
“There’s not a lot of jobs and shops in Meadows, but if you can keep the community together through sport then it is definitely a better place to live when everyone knows each other’s name and you can say hello in the street,” he said.
“It gives a bit of a family feel to the town and sport brings that together.”
His family sold its dairy farm when he was 10, but retained a number of show cattle.
“I was a bit young for the majority of the work, but I have always loved the cows,” he said.
In fact, Mitch has never missed a Royal Adelaide Show, and is hoping one day he can have his own success with a cow registered in his name.
“Last year I spent $5500 on a cow and I’m hoping its breeding genetics might give me a chance,” he said.
Paschendael Riggins Klassy was bought by Mitch during International Dairy Week as an 18-month-old Ayrshire heifer.
The cow caught Mitch’s eye as it came from a successful line of showing from its mother's side – the Klassy family.
“Good genetics will hopefully see its offspring win many more ribbons as it has a very nice udder which has longevity, good bone quality and is very correct throughout its entire body,” Mitch said.
“I’m still waiting for the personal success where the cow is in my name.”
An added bonus of a dairy farm meant Mitch had unlimited access to a supply of milk.
“It definitely gives you strong bones,” he said.
“I used to drink a litre or two of milk a day, and when you’ve got thousands of litres in the vat it’s pretty easy.”
Despite living in Perth, Mitch wants to stay involved with his family’s dairy cattle showing.
“I really enjoy the raising of the animal and getting the best one I can possibly breed,” he said.
“Hopefully I can make it back to the Royal Adelaide Show because it's one of the most enjoyable events of the year – I’ve made good friends for life at the show, and it's just as social as it is competitive.”
But for now, Mitch’s goals are centred around his new club and getting his body “AFL ready”.
“The first goals for us (recruits) is to fit into the club and earn respect of the players, coaches and staff and get our bodies to AFL ready,” he said.
“It’s a big step, because it is a physically demanding game and if we’re not up to it our bodies will break down easy.
“We need to get that in order before we start thinking about playing our first game, it all starts with training.”
Training for the Dockers began at the beginning of the month.
“People talk about the move to Perth and I’m pretty excited to hopefully get to play in the new Perth stadium,” he said.
“It’s definitely something to look forward to.”