• Adelaide Crows player, Eddie Betts. (Supplied. )
With the AFL season upon us, NITV takes a look at one of the club’s that has produced some of the game’s most influential Indigenous players.
By
Douglas Smith

Source:
NITV News
20 Mar 2019 - 7:17 PM  UPDATED 20 Mar 2019 - 7:18 PM

Tucked away in the backstreets of Port Lincoln, South Australia, is a breeding ground of hidden talent, belonging to a football club that is home to some of the AFL's most influential players. 

Eddie Betts, Shaun Burgoyne, Graham Johncock and Byron Pickett are just some of the big names to come from the Mallee Park Football Club, a place with a strong history of success and culture.        

The Mallee Park Peckers Football Club was established in 1981, and in its 37 years it has won no less than 16 premierships in the Port Lincoln Football League, with a strike rate of at least one every two years.    

 

One of Pecker Park’s success stories is Adelaide Crows star, Eddie Betts, who told NITV News that he credits a lot of his freakish skills to the club and its style of play. 

"I'd say unique, there’s a lot of great talent that comes from that footy club," Betts said.

"You know, you got the Byron Pickett's, the Graham Johncock's, Shaun Burgoyne's’, Daniel Wells, myself, Aaron Davey played there, Lindsay Thomas, Harry Miller Played for Hawthorn. You know, these guys are unbelievable players," he said. 

Betts says he remembers his childhood days of running around the oval, watching his uncles and brothers play. 

What makes Betts' story of success amazing, are some of the struggles he faced in Port Lincoln before he was drafted to the AFL, a life lesson he now tries to teach the next generation of Pecker boys wanting to reach the next level in football. 

“First and foremost, go to school. If you're back at Mallee Park playing juniors, just go to school first - just get your education," Betts said. 

"I guess I was one of the lucky ones to come out of Mallee Park, I couldn't read, I couldn't write - I didn't know what I was doing and I ended up getting drafted.

"Because if I didn't get drafted, I had nothing. So, go to school, graduate and listen to your teachers," he said. 

"Homesickness a challenge for players"

The Mallee Park Peckers have a pretty strong reputation for producing AFL footballers, with a list of 13, however, it has been a few years since a player has made a move to the big city to take the next step in their footy career. 

Former Adelaide Crows player, Graham Johncock knows firsthand the battles the young fullas face when pursuing their dream. 

"If you wanna take your football to the next level or the highest level that you can, you have to leave Port Lincoln, and as we know as Aboriginal people, one of the main barriers is leaving home, leaving friends, leaving family," Johncock told NITV News. 

 

He spent 13 years playing AFL football for the Crows, racking up 227 games. When he retired in 2013, it didn't take him long to return home to Port Lincoln, where he went on to coach and play for Mallee Park again. 

Johncock and Betts both agree the talent at Mallee Park is AFL potential, but a lot of the boys struggle to make the move away from family.

“Whenever we see some kids showing potential we try and give them as much opportunity as we can to try and get them over to Adelaide to have a crack at playing at a higher level," Johncock said. 

"The talent that comes through there is unbelievable, especially from that one club," Betts said. 

"I know a couple of players that played at Mallee Park and they got picked to (represent) states and they came over here and they had the opportunity to play for Glenelg, trained there for a bit, got tired and homesick. So I guess you have to be committed," he said. 

Other players from the club include current Collingwood player, Daniel Wells and retired North Melbourne forward, Lindsay Thomas, current Hawthorn player, Shaun Burgoyne, his older brother who has retired from Port Adelaide, Peter Burgoyne, and Byron Pickett, who was considered as one of the toughest players in the AFL over his 204 game career.

Brothers, Aaron Davey and Alwyn Davey also played some juniors at Mallee Park. Aaron played 178 games for the Melbourne Demons between 2005 and 2013, whilst brother Alwyn, spent his AFL career at Essendon, reaching 100 games and retiring in 2013.

Harry Miller Jnr, who was selected at pick 25 in the 2003 AFL draft. Miller played 20 games for Hawthorn at AFL level before he returned home to play with the Port Adelaide Magpies in the South Australian Amateur Football League.   

Elijah Ware, played most of his career for Central District in the SANFL, before making his debut for Port Adelaide Power in 2006, where he had a short stint. 

Derrick Wanganeen, who was drafted to Hawthorn in 2014, has since returned home to South Australia.

Marcus Pickett, the younger brother of Byron was also drafted in 1991 at pick 45 to Essendon, however, he never made his debut for the senior squad. 

For more, watch NITV's The Point on Channel 34, 8.30pm tonight.