Captain Dan a key Essendon cog

Dan Coghlan could never have imagined where football would take him when he was spending winter on camping trips just six years ago.

In his late teens, Essendon’s VFL captain was enjoying football season doing anything but playing the national game. The 25-year-old instead spent that time in the great outdoors and then played cricket over the warmer months.

He played junior football but didn’t go through the TAC Cup under-age system and only came back to the sport when mates persuaded him to play at his local club Warburton-Millgrove in 2011.

The tough midfielder’s rise through the football ranks has been swift from that point.

“I guess I came through the system a little bit differently,” Coghlan said. “I didn’t play any footy for two or three years (as a teenager) and was mainly playing cricket and not even going near footy. I was going away camping and stuff like that – a bit of a different winter to the normal footy season.

“I finally had some mates talk me into coming back to play at Warburton-Millgrove, and I played there for two years and got invited down to Essendon for the 2013 pre-season. In the four years since, I couldn’t have imagined coming to be captain or playing for the VFL (in May’s state game against SA).

“I just take everything as it comes and appreciate every moment, because it’s not always going to last.”

Indeed, Coghlan’s four seasons with the Bombers has coincided with one of the most difficult periods in the club’s history. The supplements saga came to a head earlier this year with 12 AFL-listed Essendon players being banned from playing in 2016 – a decision that’s had flow-on effects for the VFL team.

The associated negative media attention might have been enough to drive players away from the turmoil, but Coghlan has stuck by the club that gave him a chance.

“Compared to, say, Warburton-Millgrove, I guess Essendon was always going to be a bit different,” Coghlan said. “It’s had its ups and downs and all the media attention, but the VFL-listed guys are a little bit hidden to it. We just do our thing, control what we can control and enjoy our time while we’re there.

“It went through some funny stages last pre-season when the club was probably a bit flat with the suspension decision, but then to have some new guys (the 10 Essendon top-up players) come in with plenty of excitement was really good.

“They’ve been good around the group – guys like Ryan Crowley who have that AFL experience and have played a few games with us throughout the year. For the younger VFL-listed guys coming up, it’s been a pretty decent mix of teammates.”

Some of the most pleasing moments of Coghlan’s first season as skipper have involved seeing those young Bombers taking their VFL opportunities – players such as Nash Holmes, with whom Coghlan has worked closely on his midfield craft.

He also pointed to spirited comeback wins against Werribee in Round 11 and the Box Hill Hawks in Round 15 as memorable moments, while he’s proud his new role seemingly hasn’t affected his on-field output as Essendon’s chief ball-winner at the contests.

Now the Bombers have secured a finals spot, Coghlan’s next challenge is to help them surpass their run to a preliminary final last year.

From eighth position, it'll be difficult – but Coghlan has tended to deal in surprises during his VFL career.




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VFL 2017 Ladder

Peter Jackson VFL 2017
POS TEAM PTS
1 Williamstown 56
2 Box Hill Hawks 54
3 Port Melbourne 50
4 Casey Demons 48
5 Richmond 44
6 Essendon 40
7 Footscray 40
8 Collingwood 32
9 Northern Blues 32
10 Geelong 32
11 Sandringham 32
12 Werribee 32
13 Coburg 8
14 North Ballarat 4