The odds are unfathomable. Locals can’t explain it. The men involved can’t believe it, but everyone associated with it is thrilled it has happened.
When Lachie Neale and Cam Sutcliffe return to South Australia to play for Fremantle against Adelaide on Sunday, their dads will shake hands and laugh because they were fierce rivals 20 years ago.
Robbie Neale and Ron Sutcliffe played country football and cricket against each other in Naracoorte. Nestled amongst Wild Dog Valley - 333km from Adelaide and 446km from Melbourne - life in Naracoorte revolved around work and sport.
Ron Sutcliffe only transferred to the region from Adelaide in 1992, one month before Cam was born.
He quickly established himself in the local sporting scene and discovered that one of his clients at the National Australia Bank, Robbie Neale, played for the arch rival. Neale lived and worked on a farm in the tiny suburb, Kybybolite, and celebrated Lachie’s birth 366 days after Cam was born.
Summers and winters passed with the parents battling it out on the field, then enjoying the after-match festivities. Kids tagged along, playing on the sidelines or in the clubrooms.
Lachie and Cam were like all of the other kids. They didn’t know each other. But kids play together just because they’re there.
Alex Forster and Jack Trengove were part of the local scene too. Fortser’s dad, Phil, coached Ron and Robbie at different points and Colin Trengove played for Kybybolite.
Another work transfer in 1999 forced Ron Sutcliffe to move 480km to Kadina and he never thought about his rivals again. Life went on in Kybybolite though as Alex, Lachie and Jack played in the dominant under 14s team.
The club celebrated in 2009 when Trengove joined Melbourne as the second pick in the national draft. But nothing lit up the town or club like the 2011 draft when Neale, Forster and Sutcliffe were all drafted by Fremantle on the same day.
“It’s astonishing. That was incredible,” Robbie Neale said.
“I didn’t really know of Cam because Ron moved and I hadn’t seen him for close to 20 years. When I saw him at the induction, the penny dropped and I thought ‘bugger me. Ron is Cam’s dad.’
“It was a really good reunion. Every time we see each other at the Fremantle games now we chuckle about running around against each other in Naracoorte.”
Forster played one game for Fremantle, but was de-listed at the end of 2013 leaving Neale and Sutcliffe as the region’s flag-bearers. They’ve done it with aplomb and are key parts of the unbeaten Dockers.
Robbie and Ron will embark on the long drive to Adelaide Oval for Saturday night’s match against the Crows. It will be only the second time Neale and Sutcliffe have played together in South Australia.
Kybyolite is hosting Border Districts on Saturday and Fremantle’s match will be on the TV as the club holds its annual quiz night.
Neale’s godfather Lee Curnow, who has played more than 250 games for the club and is a life member, said people would travel from far and wide for the occasion because the football club was Kybybolite’s biggest feature.
“When you drive into the town you would think ‘bloody hell. This is just a rabble,” Curnow explained.
“There’s houses strewn all over the place. There’s not a lot to the town at all apart from the footy club. As soon as you get to the footy club, there’s a double storey huge big clubrooms overlooking the oval. The facilities are as good as any in the league.”
Neale and Sutcliffe both left home as teenagers but are extremely proud of their country origins.
Neale attending boarding school in Adelaide and Sutcliffe moved to the city to chase his football dream. Living across the road from his SANFL club, Woodville-West Torrens, the training ethic he developed in Kadina remained and he used it to win the beep test during draft testing.
“From the time he woke up to the time he went to bed he was always active,” Ron Sutcliffe said.
“He was a hard worker. He either had a footy or a cricket bat in his hands. He was sporting inclined. He did little athletics and trained hard. He’s always looked after himself and gave him the best chance for himself by being fit.”
Neale has defied his height to become one of the competition’s leading ball winners this season. In an era where big bodied midfielders are dominating, Neale stands apart at only 176cm.
But Lachie has always fought out of his own division. Kybybolite youngest team was the under 14s and he began playing in that when he was nine. He never asked for favours when playing sport at home either and it’s a trend which still holds him in good stead.
“The only reason he would come down to the sheep-yards to see me was to have a kick of the footy with me,” Robbie said.
“We wouldn’t have kick-to-kick because it had to be a competition. We’d pick out a couple of posts in a hay shed and you’d have to bend the ball through there from angles.
“He’s always reminded me that I hit him in the head with a bouncer playing cricket one day and gave him a blood nose. It was a with a tennis ball, but he was ready to face the next one.”