Eagles footballer Bryn Barnes-Webb has become an important member of his team.LUKE MCMANUS July 17, 2014 3:55am
Echuca United’s Bryn Barnes-Webb missed a month of football in the build up to Murray Football League 2013 finals series, a sideline stint which threatened to derail all hope of playing in the Eagles’ first premiership.
A European holiday, not injury, was the reason behind Barnes-Webb’s absence, a belated 21st birthday present booked well before United’s dominant season.
Not one to pass up a good time, Barnes-Webb’s football took a backseat behind three weeks of sightseeing, partying and tomfoolery — the latter two taking precedence.
‘‘I had to take the opportunity,’’ he said. ‘‘I didn’t know whether we’d make the grand final or not, but I had to go.’’
The thought of his teammates slugging it out at Echuca South Recreation Reserve remained embedded in Barnes-Webb’s mind throughout the trip, a potential flag was something too good to simply pass up.
With that, Barnes-Webb downed his last beer, made a pledge to coach Scott Beattie and spent his last week regaining some fitness ahead of a return game.
‘‘I messaged Scott when I was over there saying I’d get back for the (Finley) game,’’ Barnes-Webb said.
‘‘In the week leading up to it, I didn’t drink at all. Me and a mate ended up in Croatia and after three weeks of drinking we had enough and said we wouldn’t party anymore and worked together to get some fitness back.
‘‘I had lost a couple of kilograms so it was nice to get back into the gym and put that back on.
‘‘I knew if I wasn’t fit, I wasn’t going to play.’’
Barnes-Webb arrived back in Melbourne on August 17, the morning of Echuca United’s final home and away match. The Eagles played under lights against the then third-placed Cats at Finley Recreation Reserve and Barnes-Webb was sent straight to gun midfielder Ryan Bongetti.
Beattie denied it was punishment, rather a test of his player’s condition.
‘‘That would have ultimately determined his finals series,’’ the coach said.
‘‘He told me he was right to go, so I wanted to see if he was. I remember that game clearly and Bryn played really well.’’
With a two-week break under his belt (a final-round bye and the first week of finals off), Barnes-Webb took the opportunity to prove his fitness.
‘‘No one worked harder than he did to make sure he was right to play,’’ Beattie said.
Barnes-Webb earned his spot and now boasts a premiership medallion, an achievement he never thought would come to fruition after taking to Australian rules just four years ago.
Born in South Africa, Barnes-Webb grew up playing ruby union and hockey until the family moved to Australia in 2006.
After living in Albury, the family settled in Echuca when Barnes-Webb was 18.
With no rugby club to align himself with, the natural athlete began playing soccer and joined the Border Raiders where he won the 2010 division one best and fairest award along with two consecutive golden boots (most goals).
Longing for a social scene, Barnes-Webb grew tired of the round ball and went along to one of Beattie’s first training sessions at United ahead of the 2011 season.
The code-hopper ‘‘loved it’’ and kept going back unbeknown to him that he would become an integral part of the Eagles’ revival.
‘‘I was pretty ordinary when I first got there, kicking a (AFL) footy is a bit different to kicking a soccer or rugby ball,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve made most of my mates at Echuca United, I live with two of my teammates (Cam Parker and Tom Jackson).
‘‘There’s a great atmosphere down at the club, everyone gets around each other.
‘‘I heard what the club used to be like, we didn’t have the best reputation.
‘‘As soon as Scott arrived at the club, it turned around a bit after we realised what needed to happen and how hard we needed to work.
‘‘I’ve enjoyed a couple of good seasons of footy so I’m keen to stick with it.’’
Beattie has seen Barnes-Webb’s rapid development first-hand and alluded to the fact he’s has never played a reserves game during his four seasons at the club.
The coach was resolute in describing the on-baller ‘‘in the best couple of players in the league’’ — huge plaudits coming from a man who has rubbed shoulders with the state’s best.
Barnes-Webb achieved interleague honours this season, an experience which was humbling and credited to the knowledge gained from playing within United’s talented midfield.
Back-to-back flags would also be a nice addition to Barnes-Webb’s growing list of achievements.
A traditional preparation is on the cards this time around which should hold the up-and-comer in good stead for an even bigger and better finals campaign.
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