Kepler rides bumps as a Mr Bean
Kepler Bradley. Pic: AFL Media

Kepler Bradley refuses to let the brutal rollercoaster ride of AFL football kill his career.

The brutal ride has tried often enough.

Mocked by Essendon fans, who couldn't equate the No.6 draft pick spent to acquire him in 2003 with the hunched shouldered, bow-legged bloke that turned up, Bradley was shunted to Fremantle at the end of 2007 after 49 games in four seasons.

There he continues to play wholeheartedly. In 58 games, he has taught more than a few not to confuse style with substance.

Tomorrow at Patersons Stadium, he will play two critical support roles for Fremantle in a cutthroat western derby.

One will be as back-up to Matthew Pavlich as a target in attack. The other will be as support to Jon Griffin against the best ruck duo in the business, Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox.

The fact that a few Eagles fans may chortle with glee at that prospect is unlikely to faze Bradley. As his WAFL coach at West Perth Bill Monaghan says, he is not easily fazed and he enjoys making others around him laugh.

It is one of his most endearing qualities. And he has many.

"He gives everything he has got," Monaghan said. "He is just a big awkward bloke. He might be like a golden retriever.

"He looks older than he is, he is hunched over. He doesn't look excessively athletic, but he has played some really good AFL games and when he comes back to us he does everything we ask of him."

Bradley, the joker, goes through a regular mock routine with Fremantle media manager Luke Morfesse, where he makes a big deal out of coming up to him and saying: "No media for me today, Luke", before shuffling off chuckling to himself.

Monaghan remembers the 2003 WAFL grand final when he was an assistant coach at Subiaco, and Bradley was a 17-year-old playing for West Perth, touted as a first-round draft pick.

The Lions coaches kept looking at him and wondering what he had that made him a footballer.

Nearly 10 years on, many are still wondering.

"We would look at him and go 'he's no good' - then he would do something. You couldn't put a finger on why he was good," Monaghan said.

"He is really hard to pigeonhole as a player.

"I think Essendon tried to play him down back and that isn't him.

"I think he is a freewheeler in your front half because he will get to contests and he will have a genuine crack when he is near them."

Maybe Bradley, the joker, has spun his cleverest prank on us.

Last year at Fremantle, he shared the leading goal-kicker award with Chris Mayne on 25 goals despite not commanding a spot in the club's best 22 for seven of the 22 games.

His goals per game average was better than West Coast's Quinten Lynch, Collingwood's Chris Dawes, Carlton's Jarrad Waite, Geelong's Tom Hawkins and St Kilda's Justin Koschitzke, forwards playing similar roles to Bradley's sometimes forward, sometimes elsewhere role with the Dockers.

Appearances, Monaghan says, are deceiving.

Bradley is 199cm, big enough to stand his ground in the ruck and in a marking duel in attack.

And despite the bow-legged shuffle, he moves well for a man of that size. He has a few tricks too. He half- volleyed a ball at speed against the Giants two weeks ago - a move that would have done a player a foot shorter proud.

"He probably doesn't play as a genuine tall," Monaghan said.

"A lot of his tricks are more at ground level where he can work blokes under and around. He is not a great pack mark. He is certainly not a Naitanui or a Cox.

"But people forget how big a man he really is.

"He is rangy. He has got arms flying everywhere, he is a difficult bloke to counter."

Monaghan says everyone down to the bootstudder at West Perth loves Bradley, and he suspects it is the same at Fremantle.

"He is a knock-around larrikin type of guy. Nothing seems to faze Kep too much," he said.

"He is an infectious character, always telling jokes. He has always got people laughing.

"He is good to be around and he is great to have around a club. He doesn't come across as someone who is putting it on or trying to be funny. He just does it naturally.

"He plays footy the same way. What you see on a Saturday is what you get with Kep.

"He has a personality people are drawn to. He is kind of Mr Beanish. People like Mr Bean because they laugh at him all of the time. When things go bad, Mr Bean just keeps on doing what Mr Bean does.

"How would you describe why people like Mr Bean? He is an accident happening every minute of the day but things generally end up OK. I think Kep is a little like that. There are no gimmicks with him. He looks about 45 years old and has done since he has been about 22."

Monaghan reckons that "old before his time" look has probably hurt Bradley at selection as the Dockers look to build for the future.

"At every club people look for reasons to get a player out of the side because they think someone else is always going to be better than them," he said.

"But you know what you get with Kep and so he keeps bouncing back and getting roles. When they try other people they find they are no better and so they go back to Kep.

"Sometimes you just need guys running around doing their bit to help the stars out. Maybe Pav likes playing next to him for those reasons. He is a suitable ally."

Monaghan said one of the things that had helped West Coast's Jack Darling, who will also play in the derby tomorrow, was the fact that he slid so low in his national draft - all the way to 26. People always talk what a value selection he was.

Bradley was viewed the other way by Bomber fans.

Mind you, Monaghan says, some things at Essendon would have been downright funny when Bradley was there because of his natural and accidental sense of humour.

"Imagine him and Sheeds in the same room having a conversation," Monaghan said.

"He has a personality people are drawn to. He is kind of Mr Beanish." " *Bill Monaghan *

The West Australian

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