Big man, big heart

This photo of Jeremy Everett embracing his father, Robert, became one of the Gazette's iconic images from the 2009 grand final. 36556

Jeremy Everett isn’t just the larger than life, heart-and-soul figurehead of the Gembrook Cricket Club – he’s one of Gazette sports editor Russell Bennett’s best mates. The two sat down over a pizza and a couple of beers recently at the home of the Brookers to talk about the premiership-winning ruckman’s life in sport…

 

Russell Bennett: You and I first met when I was in Grade 5 at Gembrook Primary School, and we played our junior cricket up here and your dad, Robert, helped out with the coaching…
Jeremy Everett: Yes, in 1997 when the nets were at the top of the ground near Belgrave-Gembrook Road. There used to be nets near the toilet block and they’re gone as well! We’re getting bloody old, Russ.

RB: I’d just moved to Gembrook at that point and didn’t know many people outside of the cricket club.
JE: Really? I didn’t know that.

RB: Your mum, Jude, was actually one of my teachers at Gembrook Primary too…
JE: God that’s a long time ago!

RB: It bloody well is! You went on to achieve slightly more in your sport than I did though mate…
JE: That doesn’t matter mate! You still make a real contribution to sport – just in a different way now (laughs).

RB: Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re really trying to say, mate – those who can’t do, write?
JE: Your words mate, not mine!

RB: Ok, getting down to it, what is it with you and your love for the Gembrook Cricket Club? You’re from Cockatoo, originally…
JE: I don’t know what it is, really. I played cricket before I played footy, and I guess when you start out at a club – whatever club it is – you don’t really know any different, especially when you’re from this neck of the woods. There wasn’t a lot going on in town except for sport!
But I’ve always loved that romance of being a one-club player. I didn’t get to do that with my footy because I was better, I suppose, so when you advance through the grades you naturally tend to move on and play a better standard.
Cricket was always second to footy for me, so I always came back whenever I could and just didn’t think about playing anywhere else.
I never thought for a second that cricket would be the sport I continued with. I thought it’d be footy back in the day…

RB: You spoke about the romanticism of staying at the club you grew up at, but I know how close the bond is that you formed with a lot of your mates from the club…
JE: Well you want to continue with that group of mates for as long as you can, even though you’re starved of success. I had the opportunity to go elsewhere – after I finished playing footy at a serious level – but I didn’t know any different and kept coming back to Gembrook. People, like yourself, come and go and there are a lot of good people who’ve played at this club, and I see guys I know with kids now and I played with their dads. It’s a great place to play, and you tend to stay true to what you know and just keep on going.

RB: But since your mid-20s you’ve been living in the inner-eastern suburbs of Melbourne and commuting back out here to play and train, and basically run the club – not that you’ll admit that last part…
JE: Yeah, look sometimes that travel drives me insane! (laughs). But when you put so much time and effort into something and you’ve seen a place go through so many highs and lows, it’s hard not to keep coming back. When I first came back after having a break we won a twos flag in that first year, and I craved that ones flag and I still do – I think that’d be the icing on the cake. It just keeps drawing me back, and when you put so much effort into something you never want to let it die – you want to keep pushing for kids down the track, who haven’t even started playing yet, to have somewhere to go.

RB: Do you think, subconsciously, you want local kids today to be able to have the start to cricket that you did?
JE: Absolutely, because I was sport-mad when I was younger and that’s all I ever wanted to do. I’d love for these local kids to keep having this as a place to play. Look, we’re at the end of the line – so to speak. When you’re 10 or 15 minutes down the road you’re in a completely different league in the Yarra Valley, so it’s never going to be easy but these kids still need a place to play their sport, and to feel a part of. It’s the same when it comes to the footy club. I’m no longer playing footy these days, but there are guys all through my career that I’ll always sit down and have a beer with and catch up with. That’s what sport does – it brings people together and ensures you’ll always have those lifelong mates, whether you reached the pinnacle together, or didn’t win a game.

RB: And an awful lot of people at this cricket club have gone through a lot of seasons without winning many games…
JE: Oh, definitely. With cricket, you might have a 16-year-old kid playing his first game alongside a 50-year-old who’s played for 30 years at the one club. They’re the different generations involved, and I hope – one day – when I have kids I can play alongside them. I never played with my old man, but I would have loved to.

RB: You started on your cricketing journey first, but you went further with your footy. Did you love cricket more, but find yourself more gifted in your footy?
JE: It probably swung around. I always thought footy was going to be my main love, and cricket turned out to be that because I’m still involved there. I guess, because footy was first, I never applied myself as much in my cricket – it was just something to do to pass the time over summer. Maybe in hindsight I could have gone on a bit further, but I’m happy with what I’ve done. I’ve still got that burning desire to play in a ones flag. That might never happen, I know that, but I’m a premiership player here and I’ve lost count of the number of games I’ve played and wickets I’ve taken – with the pre-MyCricket days.

RB: Some of us played our best cricket in the pre-MyCricket days!
JE: (Laughs) Those old scorebooks would still be under the stairs here somewhere, collecting cobwebs.
Look, I think I can be pretty proud with what I’ve achieved with the cricket club. When I’m no longer playing I just hope people can see that I was a good cricketing person who gave a lot to his home club.

RB: You’ll never acknowledge this, but I’ll say it – you’re the heartbeat of the place. If you weren’t still here, there may no longer be a cricket club here…
JE: I think (former Emerald player) Ian Litterbach called me that, and I wear it like a badge of honour. I think there’s been a lot of people over the journey who’ve helped keep this club going, but I was probably just the constant who stuck it out. There’s been a lot of great people involved and helping in the past, and there’s a lot of great people involved now. I’m just keeping a little club on the edge of the Dandenong Ranges afloat. I’m a little fish in a little pond (laughs).

RB: It’s no secret that Gembrook is one of the clubs in the West Gippsland Cricket Association doing it tough at the moment. What do you put the struggles of some of the smaller clubs down to – mainly geographical reasons?
JE: Absolutely – it’s hard to recruit when you’re at the end of the line and players have to go past so many clubs. There is a little bit of growth out this way, but look at the Berwicks, the Beaconsfields, the Cranbournes, and the Pakenhams of the world. I’m super envious of them, but by the same token I know those clubs are doing well because of how well-run and structured they are – like your Pakenhams and Kooweerups. It’s not just a smaller town thing, I don’t think. I think it’s a cricket issue, across the board. I’m 33 and I don’t play with any players anymore who I started with.

RB: And sometimes people just need a break…
JE: That’s right – and I know I did! I went overseas and stopped playing footy.
Look, it’s a cricket thing across the board but that’s why I have so much respect for the likes of the Emeralds, Nyoras, and the Pakenham Uppers – the ones who just keep on keeping on.
I think there’s this myth that the Twenty20s of the world and the way the Ashes panned out are going to have a direct impact on playing numbers. People are watching the sport, that’s great, but at the core – at the grassroots – I think the game needs help.

RB: So you’re 33 now. You would have played here at Gembrook every year since you were 12, wouldn’t you?
JE: Not quite. When footy started getting more serious I had a few seasons away – when I was at Eastern Ranges for two seasons and Box Hill for another two. I wanted to play cricket still, but it was put to me that it probably wasn’t the best idea. As soon as I was out of that bubble, I just wanted to get back here and play.
I’m lucky – I’ve been pretty durable along the way and haven’t had many injuries – so I have played a lot of cricket.

RB: It’s funny you should mention your durability in cricket, because you did have your injury issues in your footy career. I always found it fascinating that they didn’t affect your cricket the way they did your footy…
JE: I guess they weren’t ACLs or anything like that, but I ended up with plantar fasciitis – and that was more from cricket in the end. I broke my wrist too – but I guess you just put up with those things. I just got to a stage in footy where, honestly, I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. Now all the local stuff is pretty elite and business-like – if you’re successful you’re playing finals, and then you’re expected to go around again come November. The grind of it – doing it since you’re 12 and putting in that effort every year… Look, I didn’t put in as much as other guys did. I honestly didn’t enjoy that grind as much, and there were other things – like travel, and even playing cricket overseas – that took my interest.
I was a ruckman, so I was busted up on a Saturday and I’d be sore from then on during the week. I just got to 26 or so and didn’t want to do it anymore. I’d won a flag at Pakenham, and that’s what I was chasing so desperately. I’m sure another one would have been great, but I just lost that real burning desire to keep going. I loved the mateship, but I didn’t enjoy the grind of the game.

RB: Talk me through how you got into footy in the first place. Were you always a key position player or ruckman? I mean, you’re 6’8” now…
JE: Yeah, if you’re tall as a kid you’re playing in the ruck. I was 11 or 12 when I started with the Brookers and I was ultimately seen by Eastern (Ranges) and played a few good games there. I was about 15 when they noticed me, and I went through the development squad into their main squad when I was still 15. I would have been about 196 (centimetres) even then, but I didn’t really grow after that. I would have played nearly 40 games at Eastern, I reckon.

RB: Do you remember who you went through the TAC Cup system with back then?
JE: When I was in my bottom-age years a lot of guys got drafted like Simmo (Kade Simpson from Emerald), Blake Grima who went to North, and Brad Fisher (from Carlton), but Simmo was the one who really went on with it.
In my top-age year we only had one drafted – Dan McConnell, who got picked up by West Coast.

RB: Did you know Kade was going to be a star back then?
JE: His ball skills were great, and that’s probably what stood out. He’s wiry, but he’s tough as hell too. I remember playing a lot against the likes of Col Sylvia, Adam Cooney – those sorts of guys. I went to Box Hill after Eastern and played a couple of years there, and I still hang my hat on playing a practice match there with Buddy (Lance Franklin), Roughy (Jarryd Roughead), and Jordan Lewis.

RB: At that exact time, did you know they’d end up being superstars?
JE: Absolutely not, but they’d been drafted high for a reason. Roughy went at #2, Buddy went at #5, and Jordan Lewis went at #7, and because I’d just come out of the system I knew what that meant. At Box Hill, you’re in their system with guys who’re playing AFL footy. Sewelly (Brad Sewell) was always great for someone like me to chew the ear off, and Chance Bateman was always great too. Robbie Campbell, who played in their flag in 2008, was always having a chat with me as a young ruckman. He’s a fantastic bloke, and there are a lot of guys in that system who you look back on now as two, three, four-time premiership players.
There were a lot of guys who I played Eastern with who I also played at Box Hill with – guys who went on to do really good things throughout many leagues across Victoria and interstate. There were guys like Holmesy – John Holmes, who’s coaching at Yarra Junction; Ev Johnson who did some good things at Norwood; and Owen Millwood who dominated up at Olinda.
I’ve got a lot of mates – who I played with – who I’ll always have a beer with when I see them.
I played at a number of footy clubs, and there are so many blokes I’ve had a kick with and I really like going through the SportsTG pages on a Sunday morning and looking at all the scores to see how they’re going.

RB: So you still keep an eye on how your former team mates are going?
JE: Absolutely I do. I look at guys like Joel Perry, who was coaching at Upper Ferntree Gully, and Mike Smith who just won a flag at South Belgrave – I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to that kind of thing! (laughs).
There are guys who I played against who’re playing in the west who I still keep an eye on as well. Hell, look at Gary Moorcroft! He’s played senior footy with his kid! I actually played with him at Silvan – I had a couple of years there too.

RB: So talk me through how your career progressed…
JE: I went from Gembrook, to Eastern, and then Box Hill and when I was there I aligned myself with Silvan because at that stage Gembrook was in the second division of the Yarra Valley Mountain District league.
After that I had a couple of years at Noble Park in the Eastern footy league, and then a couple of years at Pakenham. I ended up back at Gembrook, but honestly I’d lost a lot of motivation by then. I came back to hopefully win a flag at my home club, but that didn’t end up happening and I probably didn’t have the pre-season I should have and my body let me down. I was cooked from rucking and hurt from bowling (laughs).
That’s why I marvel at someone like Clarkey (Craig Clarke) who did it year after year, after year at such a high level.
The year I finished footy I took off overseas to play at Headingley and that really reignited my love for cricket in the end. When I came back to Australia after that season, I just knew footy would be on the backburner.

RB: When people who know about your footy career talk about you, they talk about 2009 – a decade ago this year. Talk me through that season with Pakenham, some of the players you played with, and your finish to the season…
JE: I went there from Noble Park – I guess I kind of got headhunted to play at Pakky and I was really happy with how they went about it. It was that bit closer to home at that stage too. I think it was Brian (Jagoe) who gave me a call and wanted to sit down and have a chat. I sat down with Jock (Holland), and with Doodles (Dan O’Loughlin). I knew I could do with a change, so I went there in 2008 and we had a great season – and so did I, personally. It kick-started my footy, in a way. I won a best and fairest at 22 or 23, but we finished on top after not losing a game and then lost the first final, and then lost again. That cut me so badly.
I didn’t go out and run millions of laps after that, but I knew I wanted to go again and go one step further in 2009.

RB: And clearly that was a motivation shared across the group…
JE: Absolutely. I remember crying after we lost in 2008 – I was just so bitterly disappointed. I’d lost a couple at Noble Park and it probably didn’t mean as much, but then all of a sudden I thought – what if I don’t win a flag? We were clearly the best side and we lost.
But I loved my footy at Pakenham – playing with the likes of Jared Goldsack, Nathan Brown, Dan O’Loughlin, the Gramc boys – Paul and Sean, General (Dean Blake), Younga (Anthony Young), Tex (Luke Walker), and having Jock as coach. There were a lot of great people in that side, and unfortunately I was in Vietnam for the 10-year reunion this year so I missed it.

RB: So what changed at Pakenham from ’08 to ’09?
JE: There was just no way we were going to let another one slip. I’d been touched up by Shaun Witherden (of Keysborough) in that last final in ’08 and just couldn’t let it happen again. I beat him that day in ’09, so we cruised to about the same mark we were at the year before. But then we got touched up by Doveton mid-year. We only played them once, and we got smashed, and I got smashed by Russ Gabriel. He was just a kid, really, but he took me to the cleaners well and truly.
But then Sunny (Glen Wouters) and I turned and turned and got to play them in a final, and we beat them, and then got them again in that grand final. I didn’t beat Russ that day, but I held my own and that was enough.
I remember in that second half of the year we lost to Keysy two or three rounds out from the finals, and then we finished strong. I knew then that we had a real crack again.
I spoke with Tommy and Dan O’Loughlin maybe two days after while we were drinking beers – I knew from the moment we were at Jock’s house having that team meeting on grand final day that we weren’t going to lose that game. I was that confident.

RB: So it wasn’t an overconfidence – it was just the knowledge you were playing your best footy, as a side, at the right time of the year?
JE: That’s right, but it didn’t even come down to playing our best, necessarily, it was just this feeling – and I don’t think I felt it ever again.

RB: Talk me through your memories of that famous day in 2009…
JE: That morning I remember knowing we had to just be in touch and keep chipping away, but I don’t remember much of the game and I don’t think I’ve even watched it since. I’ve got a DVD of it somewhere, but I haven’t seen it. I just remember when the final siren went, I ran over to Dean Blake and he jumped in my arms, and then I remember getting my medal, and having beers afterwards.
Oh – and there was the sing-along to Elton John at about 2am. We were singing ‘Daniel’ for Doodles and Tommy was probably leading the charge.
Also – and I can’t even remember this fully – but I’m pretty sure someone even put on Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ because we beat Doveton.
Mad Monday pops up on my Facebook memories from time to time, but the other main thing I remember was just embracing my old man.

RB: You’ve led me right into this – that’s probably the most iconic photo of that day that we have at the Gazette, you hugging your old man…
JE: My old man rode all the bumps with me, from busting my arse when I was 16 and asking me if I really wanted to get better, to having me run up Mountain Road and Rainy Hill Road to get the most out of me. That was the one moment where we’d won – and I went to General, like I said – but then Dad came towards me… I’ve got a print of that photo hanging up on my wall at home, and I’ve got my wrist taped in the shot. It just says ‘WR’ for work rate. I knew I just had to bust arse that day.
I put a lot of things on my tape over the years. I had surgery two or three years before on a broken scaphoid.

RB: What were some of the other messages on there?
JE: I had work rate for a lot of it, a ‘D’ for determination, and little things that’d pop into my head to get me through. The understanding I had with blokes like Doodles and Dommy (Paynter) in the ruck-midfield partnership was pretty special.
When I look at it now – I marvel at Collo (Michael Collins from Narre Warren) playing in yet another flag this year in his final season. He was an absolute jet.
Flags are just so bloody hard to win. Pakky just missed out this year – against Doveton, of all teams – and they haven’t won one since we did in ’09.

RB: Looking back a decade ago, that’s probably viewed as one of the golden eras of footy in this region…
JE: Oh yeah, and I absolutely loved it. I’m a sporting nuffy who knows what all these star players achieved back then. They wouldn’t know me as much, but there were some amazing players then – and I played with a lot of others too; the Dan O’Loughlins, Dom Paynters, Dean Blakes, Luke Walkers, Cory Lenders, Nathan Browns, and Jared Goldsacks of the world. A bloke like Jack O’Rourke came down from the bush and was as mad as a cut snake, but he’d bust his guts for you. Jakey Matthews was another one. That whole side was just a good, enjoyable side to play in.
Then there were the opponents – Russ Gabriel, Shaun Witherden, Chris Kelf, those guys. Kelfy was a mad man to play against, but you couldn’t meet a lovelier guy off the field.
We were a good side, and we lost in 2008 when I thought we were the best side, and won it the year after when Doveton probably was. They had the likes of Justin Hill, the Henwood boys, Ryan Hendy, Danny Casset, Daniel Charles, some amazing players.
Then in 2010 I thought we were a good side too, but we finished fifth. Looking back, I’m thankful we got one in amongst those great sides.

RB: Footy didn’t last all that much longer for you after ’09, did it mate?
JE: I probably had a lot more footy left in me but I just got to a point where I didn’t enjoy it like I once did, and in my last couple of years I maybe even let my team mates down. I didn’t put the effort in, and it would have showed. That didn’t sit well with me. Look, maybe I could have played longer, and applied myself more, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Ultimately, I won a senior flag and that’s what you play for – team success. I look back on that time with a smile on my face, for sure.

RB: And mate, you should never sell yourself short on what you’ve achieved in your footy or cricket careers. You’re still playing first XI cricket, and playing a key role in running the club despite living in Caulfield. Hell, at one stage you were living in Oakleigh and had two team mates living with you! Your contribution has been huge, Jez…
JE: Thanks mate. We might lose way more than we win, but we’re still proud Gembrook people. Hopefully one day it’ll turn for us. I’ve got a lot of pride in this club. Some seasons will be better than others, sure, but I love this place. Why would I want to leave? I’d love for blokes from years gone by – who we’ve played with, Russ – to come back out of the woodwork and play again. That’d be fantastic. You’re always welcome back.
What I really miss the most is when we had three sides and you’d come back to the rooms after play on a Saturday and the place would be pumping. I’d love to experience that again, because sporting clubs are always about the stories and the people – not the wins and losses.

RB: You’re a people person, and what you do for a living is people-based as well…
JE: Yeah, I’m a teaching assistant at a school for kids with disabilities. I’ve been doing that for about 12 years and I’m nearly finished studying primary teaching. Mum was a teacher, as you know, and I love that people person aspect to it – and I think what I do helps make me a better person.

RB: And mate, you’re a ripper person with a fair old story to tell. Thanks for the pizza and the beers…
JE: Cheers, Russ. Loved it.

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