For many young AFL draft hopefuls the league’s conventional recruitment process throws them into a grueling and strenuous environment of competition; some make the cut… Dane Rampe didn’t.
The Swans’ 2013 Rookie of the Year spent three long years chasing a spot on an AFL list with VFL club Williamstown and admits that despite playing “good footy”, when things didn’t materialise he just wanted “to get back [to Sydney] and start enjoying life again.”
“It was a tough one,” says Dane, “Three years had gone by, two pre-seasons, and they (Western Bulldogs) kept telling me they were gonna pick me up or I was gonna get a spot and it never happened… obviously it was heartbreaking that it didn’t work out.”
“[Returning to Sydney] was more just a decision to get back and start enjoying life again because it got to be a drag by the end and I don’t know if I could’ve lived that life,” says the Swans backman.
Far from admitting his dream of playing in the AFL was over, Rampe’s route to a place in the AFL was unconventional, returning to Sydney to play for his local side the University of New South Wales-Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs.
“I knew that if I stayed fit and was playing good footy up in Sydney then I’d be a good chance at the Swans,” he says, “Just going from that high pressured environment, you know, I was playing alright footy [in the VFL] but always with the expectation or motivation to get drafted… [The Bulldogs] just completely took that away.”
Far from the pressure cooker that is the VFL, Rampe’s shot at the AFL was made possible at the Bulldogs, a season Dane describes as “unbelievable”.
“Playing with the mates I played with growing up and the mates that I hang out with on the weekends, not people that I’m pretty much forced to play with and forced to hang out with and compete with, it was just footy at its purest.”
Without the stress of AFL scouts watching, Rampe thrived at the Dogs, recounting his first contact with the Swans, “during that year I got invited to play two games with the reserves” Dane says, “The difference between the VFL and the NEAFL (the Swans reserves competition) is like chalk and cheese, the VFL is much better, so naturally I felt pretty comfortable there and I’d played at a higher level for a few years by that stage so I was well equipped to do pretty well at the reserves level which was lucky.”
Although Dane says that he was fortunate to get a “look in” at the Swans, his claims of ‘luck’ don’t do justice to the hard work of the Clovelly local’s character. Speaking with a modest confidence, it’s clear to see why Paul Roos and Jared Crouch thought that “there was more for the game [and the Swans] in getting a local Sydney boy training with them”.
“Roosy saw me the second game I was there,” Dane says, “He along with Jared Crouch, the reserves coach, were big in trying to get me a gig for pre-season. They’d heard about the year I’d had in terms of accolades in the Sydney AFL.”
Dane took out the Phelan Medal in 2012 for the best and fairest in the Sydney AFL Premier Division as well as the best and fairest in the Bulldogs first premiership side in 9 years.
After getting his foot in the door, Dane says his continued success spawns simply from “hard work”.
“Knowing that this  pre-season was gonna be the last chance to have a crack I just put everything I could into it, I was the fittest I’ve ever been and I just attacked it head on. I think those things flow on in terms of training well which will get you a game in the NAB challenge (the AFL’s pre-season competition)…It just flows on from there. The good thing about the Swans is that they’re a team where if you play your role you’re gonna get a game.”
Having toiled in the VFL at Williamstown and consequently been plucked from obscurity at the Bulldogs, Rampe understands how quickly things can change in professional sport.
“Hopefully I can develop a career and obviously cement myself in the team. I’ve got my short term future settled at the moment and hopefully I can get that longer-term contract as I’m out of contract at the end of the year.”
Rampe appears to have that long term contract in mind, displaying career best form in 2014. He followed a near best on ground performance in the Swans win against Fremantle with 25 disposals in a win against Melbourne, proving to be a nuisance for his former mentor Paul Roos, who now coaches the Demons.
Despite this the Swans sit 9th after six games, a less than ideal start for many punters premiership favourites. A shock loss to Greater Western Sydney in round one led to increased scrutiny on the side. Rampe played down the club’s reaction to their poor form.
“It’s actually not been too bad, I’ve only been there one year but we’re known to be slow starters and I think that was the general feeling around the club. Not to make excuses but last year we only just beat GWS by three or four goals in round one and they’re definitely a three or four better goal side now.”
Now an integral part of the Swans defence, Rampe hopes to continue his career in the same vein it began.
“I’m not going to be a 300 gamer like Adam Goodes or anything but if I can maximize my potential and get the most out of myself then I’ll genuinely be stoked with that… I mean I’m already pretty stoked with what I’ve got and that makes it pretty easy to keep going because if anything ever goes wrong with footy I’ve still got all my mates here and I’ve still got Bondi to go creeping in (laughs).”
Written 2014, all images courtesy of Getty images Australia.