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  • Writer's pictureThe Chief

I'm The Chapman



Late 2020 we went to the draft armed with an intention to service our areas of need. We were desperate to rectify our forward deficiencies and, after the loss of Ed Langdon and Brad Hill, we were hungry for outside run.

 

When the time for our first pick that year arrived, there was a jostling for position around the TV screens and there was a lot of shushing going on. Were we really going to draft a forward? Talk about the ironically unchartered waters down at the port! It was unthinkable, it was foreign territory for us Freo folk.

 

There was a nervous energy, but a sense of excitement. We held our collective breaths until we turned purple… although it is our natural disposition, so it was difficult to tell.

 

Firstly, we couldn’t believe we were about to draft a forward and, secondly, we simply couldn’t wait to see who would be the chosen one to bringeth forth the golden goals.

 

The beautiful Sarah Jones threw to the bearded Gill McLaughlan… “With pick 14, the Fremantle Football Club have selected, Heath Chapman from West Perth.”

 




 The purple punters popped prematurely, instinctively leaping from their lounges in celebration.

 

It was as if we were suspended in mid-air when the realisation set in…. “Wait, did we hear right, we’ve picked up another defender?”

 

I mean sure, we once integrated water polo strategies and historically had hockey input from Ric Charlesworth, so there is precedent for our thinking outside the box. But a goal kicking defender? This was thinking beyond the realms of anywhere near the outskirts of even the vicinity of in the ballpark of outside the box!

 

Heath Chapman was highly rated and held in similarly high regard, obviously by us more so than most other clubs given he went at pick 14, but we were stacked with defenders.

 

Ethan Hughes was rookie picked in 2014 and was cutting it. We’d picked up Luke Ryan, Griffin Logue, Brennan Cox in 2016 and rookie picked Taylin Duman. Joel Hamling arrived in 2017, Nathan Wilson joined us in 2018 along with yet another defensive rookie pick, Tobe Watson. Then in 2019 we gleefully selected Hayden Young. On top of that plethora of purple protectors, we still were in possession of the great Alex Pearce and qualifying final winner Stephen Hill.

 

We had defenders coming out of the proverbial! We could have defended Bernie Madoff! If we were a hedge fund, we’d have been massively over-weighted in defensive stocks, forcing a certain reduction sell off to rebalance the portfolio.

 

If we all didn’t know that the club knew better, you’d swear we had the same accuracy rate of drafting forwards as our forwards had kicking at goal. We’d line up the research, go through our area of need routine, have forwards in our sights, launch the pick, miss by a space and end up with a defender!

 

The reality was though that when pick 14 came around on that wonderful night in 2020, no one at Freo could believe their eyes seeing Heath Chapman still available. We all had, what understandably seemed at the time, unrealistic hopes Chappy would fall to Freo, but we never genuinely thought he’d get there that year. We don’t know if he was wearing some sort of cloak of invisibility or what, but eight clubs either couldn’t see him or they simply overlooked him. We’re thankful for their misguidance and/or vision impairment.

 

Rightly so when there is a player the calibre of Heath Chapman there for the taking, the ‘area of need’ drafting policy is overridden. So, overridden it was and we proudly walked him into the purple premises.

 

Chappy’s possessed versatility and his natural tank was a must have. Running the fastest 2 kilometre time trial at the 2020 WA draft combine testing, showed that his gigantic oxygenated aerobic capacity’s only adversary is deforestation.

 

It didn’t take long until we got to see our first-round pick show us his attributes. Round 2 in 2021 Chapman debuted against the Giants, but given how comfortable, competent and composed he was, you’d never have thought you were watching a debut, had you not known.

 

In terms of numbers on a page it appears modest a performance, but rarely do digits alone tell the story. From his 12 disposals and 3 marks, it was highly evident we had nailed the draft and recruited a genuine long-term player.

 

He was rock solid, he became an instant mainstay, a permanent member of the tightknit defensive unit and only future top shelf players do that. Meanwhile, we were all smugly smiling about the upside growth that was obviously still to be realized.

 

We momentarily won’t name names or point fingers at certain clubs, but round seven arrived in 2021 and the West Coast Eagles… yeah, I know, but the moment lapsed… went after a young inexperienced Heath Chapman in a strategically brutal fake falling, taking the legs out of an opponent so they fall and dislocate their shoulder type of way. It’s an unethical, underhanded but honed technically difficult tactic, usually invisible to the unbiased eye.

 



 

The sad result of it was young Chappy, who was carving the Eagles to shreds, severely popped a shoulder and left the field in agony.

 

The cameras failed to capture the vision but we’re told he went straight down to the change rooms and did the old Martin Riggs shoulder realignment technique by slamming it into the lockers. He then walked up the race like he had a watermelon under each arm and courageously took to the field once again.

 

As our recollection of the history books no doubt show, he was then sadly targeted further by the blue and gold snipers and before too long, he’d suffered several hits and a re-dislocation. When the 19 year old finally had to call it a day, had there been a crowd, he would've been given a standing ovation from the purple people of the Cockburn clan as he staggered to the bench with his shoulder hanging lower than an old man’s left knacker.

 

Sadly, this was the end of his debut season as the serious injury required shoulder stabilisation surgery.

 

While no one knew at the time 2021 would be one of a few serious setbacks for Chapman, he had recovered, rehabilitated and was ready to rock and roll in season 2022 and he picked up from where he left off.

 

After entering the AFL health and safety protocols in round six and seven, Chappy returned in round eight with a full head of steam, instead of a full head of covid. He went to another level collecting 25 touches against North Melbourne to earn the round 8 rising star nominee.

 

Despite hamstring issues later that year, 2022 was a terrific season for him and the club. He was growing in stature with each game, he played a pivotal role in the two finals and he was on a trajectory to greatness. So much so that we proactively jumped the gun, put a pen in his hand, a long-term contract in front of him and a gun to his head... just for precautionary measures. As it turned out, no persuasion was necessary and the deal to keep Chappy at Freo until at least the end of 2027 was done.

 

But trajectories and finals and rising star nominees aside, we will never forget the day Chappy performed the greatest game winning defensive tap that has ever taken place on a football field. The intelligence, the match awareness under frantic conditions and then the physical ability to perform it to perfection by someone so young and inexperienced, no doubt added something more than urgency to the contract. 

 



 

After a flying start to 2023, his season rapidly disintegrated right before our eyes, not dissimilar to the entire club’s fortunes. Calf injuries, severe hamstring strains, shoulder complication, you name it, Chappy suffered it and, like his on-field exploits, he doesn’t do things in halves.

 

He got through the first 3 games of 2023 but then never saw another one for the entire season. And when we look back and remember how our 2023 year unfolded, on some level, we can’t help but think, “Chappy, you lucky bugger!”

 

As we know, the hamstring issues raised its head pre-season this year and it saw the defender miss the first six games. However, he has stepped back in, played the next six on the bounce.

 

His performances, particularly his most recent two, have been flawless. He has regained that confidence and the composure; he has once again seamlessly integrated into the defensive purple posse and is bringing the attributes we have so sorely missed.

 

At 193 centimetres he combats a tall opponent while simultaneously taking his team-oriented intercept marks. He covers a more athletic midsize forward and with his evasive manoeuvres, his confidence and composure and his ball use, he advantages teammates putting them into better positions, turning defence into offence.

 

There is a smoothness in his movement, a fluency, he oozes dependability and he seems entirely in sync with his defending colleagues. He’s providing flexibility within the defensive unit and it’s allowing the Jordan Clarks and the Brandon Walkers to be more attacking, more daring and less conservative.

 

There is no surprise that the patches of improved team ball movement we’ve seen has coincided with Chappy back getting games under his belt.

 

In 2022 Heath Chapman plays 17 games, we finish 5th, win 15 games and a final. He plays 3 games in 2023, we capitulate to 14th, we win just 9 games and finals were a pipe dream! Yeah, ok in 2022 we had a David Mundy and several other experienced players but… why do you have to ruin things with your facts? Just let it be the Chappy factor!

 

The overriding exciting aspect is that from limited games, Heath Chapman is already at this level he is displaying. There isn’t a team in the league he wouldn’t walk straight into and be part of their best 18 right now and you get the feeling he unpretentiously doesn’t acknowledge it. From a distance it seems there is a quiet achiever vibe about him, a sense of perspective and a humility that is extremely admirable, qualities that will serve him well in his football life and beyond.

 

If his injuries concerns are largely behind him, then, as David Letterman used to say, “hang on to your wigs and keys” this is going to be some ride.






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