AFL 4 months ago

From Unknown Rookie To Premiership Star: The Story Of Matthew Boyd's Rise To A Prominent Career

  • From Unknown Rookie To Premiership Star: The Story Of Matthew Boyd's Rise To A Prominent Career

    MELBOURNE, VICTORIA - OCTOBER 01: Matthew Boyd of the Bulldogs celebrates the win on the podium during the 2016 AFL Grand Final match between the Sydney Swans and the Western Bulldogs at Melbourne Cricket Ground on October 1, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Despite making his way onto an AFL list ahead of the 2002 AFL Season, nothing was promised for a young 19 year-old by the name of Matthew Boyd. He was recruited by the Western Bulldogs with the 23rd pick of the 2001 AFL Rookie Draft, but even then, his road to making an AFL list was extremely difficult. 

After playing for the Dandenong Stingrays in the under 18's TAC Cup in 2000, he was one of the many names who were unfortunate to get overlooked by all the AFL recruiters in the 2000 AFL Draft, and found himself on Frankston's VFL team ahead of the 2001 season - ironically enough, it was the same team his father Peter played for, captained the club and was named in Frankston's team of the half-century last year, named as the centre-half back.

Whilst the son of Peter Boyd impressed to a certain degree for the Dolphins in the 2001 VFL season, Many people, even Boyd himself, didn't believe he was good enough to get onto an AFL list for next year or even at all, but one recruiter saw something in Boyd that warranted an opportunity at the top flight.

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Matthew Boyd credited Scott Clayton in his press conference yesterday - who at the time was the recruiting manager for the Western Bulldogs - for the opportunity and in a year in which we saw future AFL stars such as Luke Hodge, Gary Ablett, Steve Johnson, Sam Mitchell, Chris Judd and many others introduced into the big leagues, Boyd was introduced as one of many unknown names from that year's draft class, with the Dogs using their second pick in the Rookie Draft to snare the young man from Narre Warren. 

16 years later, as we see his astonishing career come to a close, who would've guessed on the day of the 2001 Rookie Draft that he would be destined to have one of the best careers a rookie-listed player could ever forge. The AFL has seen some successful players come from the rookie list. Names such as Dean Cox, Aaron Sandilands, Matt Priddis, Stephen Milne and Boyd's premiership team mates Liam Picken and Dale Morris all came from rookie-listed selections and have forged outstanding careers.

It would take Boyd well over a year in the AFL system to make his debut for the Western Bulldogs, but he finally got his chance early in 2003 as he became the 904th player to don the red, white and blue. It was a round seven showdown against the Fremantle Dockers at Etihad Stadium. It wasn't the fairytale start that he was hoping for however, as not only Boyd registered nine disposals, but the Bulldogs were handed an 83-point flogging from Fremantle. 2003 wasn't a good year for the Bulldogs, finishing last on the ladder, but for Boyd, it was the first stepping stone in his career, playing nine games for the Dogs as a run-with midfielder type.

The Bulldogs rewarded Boyd's persistence and hard work with an elevation off the rookie-list and a spot in the team's senior list ahead of the 2004 season, where he would establish a spot in the Bulldogs' best 22. Despite the Bulldogs only registering five wins for the year, Boyd would play all but three games for the Dogs in 2004 and he would play all but five games in 2005. He wasn't the flashiest Bulldog out there every week, but you knew that he was going to give every Bulldog supporter 110 percent, and then some.

I can recall going to one match deep into the 2005 season, in which the Western Bulldogs played Richmond at Docklands, and after nearly three quarters of tight, contested footy, the Bulldogs were down by a point with 30 seconds to go. With the ball on the defensive side of the far wing, team mate Mitch Hahn pumps the ball inside 50 with nobody there, prompting a short race to get the ball between Boyd and a couple of Richmond players, Boyd soccered the ball deeper inside 50 and had the speed and composure to slot the goal.  Commentator Clinton Grybas, who called the game that day called it: 

"One of the most bizarre goals you will ever see"

It may have been an extremely bizarre goal, but it was a crucial goal in the context of that match. But not just that, it was a play that I could use to sum up Matthew Boyd as a player - his work ethic was second to none and his ability to run all day helped moulded him into the sort of player we see today. Looking back at it, it was no surprise he was the first to the footy that afternoon and - in a nutshell - it set up the sort of player that Boyd was destined to become. He wasn't going to have the flash that guys like Gary Ablett or Chris Judd had - he was blue-collared, he was tough, he was physical and he was a hard-worker, willing to do the hard yards.

Boyd's evolution as a player continued in 2006 when he would play every game for the Bulldogs as they would make their first appearance in the AFL Finals since the 2000 AFL season. Boyd would find himself more of the footy, taking his average from 13 disposals in 2005 to 20 disposals in 2006, also averaging five marks, four tackles and three inside 50s per game. It was at the start of the 2007 seasons that saw Boyd dump the number 42 that he wore since the start of his AFL career for the more notorious number five, last worn by 300-game Bulldogs legend Rohan Smith, who retired after the Bulldogs were knocked out by West Coast in the 2006 semi-final.

They were big shoes to fill as Smith's legacy with the Bulldogs was enormous, but Boyd was more than up to the task. In 2007, Boyd continued to emerge as a vital cog in the Bulldogs' midfield, averaging 25 disposals and six marks per game, including his first ever 30-plus possession game and his first game in which he recieved three Brownlow votes, however the Bulldogs would finish in the bottom four at the conclusion of the 2007 AFL season after reaching the Finals the previous year.

A couple of seasons later, Boyd broke through and finally emerged as one of the game's elite midfielders. It would be the 2009 season where a 27-year old Matthew Boyd would average 29 disposals, six clearances, four tackles and four inside 50s in 25 games and was rewarded with not just a spot in the AFL's All-Australian team, but he would win his first-ever Charlie Sutton Medal as the club's best and fairest, beating out fellow midfielder Daniel Cross and defender Dale Morris, who both rounded out the top three.

These would be the prime years of Boyd's career as a midfielder. In 2010, he would improve his disposal average to 30 disposals a game, including his first-ever game in which he recorded 40 disposals or more, with 40 disposals, eight inside 50s and six clearances in a winning effort against North Melbourne in round 18. However he would not get a spot in the All-Australian team this season as he would miss out in favour of guys from his draft year, guys such as Hodge, Ablett, Judd, Leigh Montagna, Dane Swan and Steve Johnson.

Despite being in the prime of his career, Boyd would continue to evolve as a player, being named as the club's next captain ahead of the 2011 season following the retirement of Brad Johnson - the Bulldogs believing his outstanding work-ethic and his leadership qualities could be the tonic to get the Bulldogs past that Preliminary Final hump. It wasn't to be - in fact, the Bulldogs would miss out on a Finals berth altogether, leading to the resignation of Rodney Eade.

But individually, Boyd had his best year as a Bulldog in 2011, averaging career-highs of 32 disposals, seven clearances and five inside 50s per game to take home his second Charles Sutton Medal as well as a spot in the All-Australian team. Boyd would also finish in the top five players in the Brownlow Medal count, polling 24 votes to finish equal-fourth with Collingwood's Scott Pendlebury.

A year later, Boyd continued his ways as an elite ball-winning midfielder, averaging 32 disposals a game across all 22 games, as well as averaging six clearances and and four inside 50s per game. But under a new coach in Brendan McCartney, the Dogs plummeted to their worst season since Boyd established his place in the senior side, prompting supporters and AFL fans in general to begin questioning whether or not Boyd's disposals were really making an influence in games. Despite all the speculation, Boyd would go on to win his third Charlie Sutton Medal in four years, beating out fellow midfielder Ryan Griffen by 18 votes.

However it would be the 2013 season that would see Boyd start to falter as a player, playing only 13 games this season as calf injuries would plague him all throughout the year. He would still average just under 30 disposals but it started to get more and more noticeable that his possessions were not just hardly damaging, some resulted in costly turnovers. At the end of the season he would hand over the captaincy to Ryan Griffen, who had enjoyed a breakout year in his own right.

As we all know by now, that move caused a massive backlash by the end of the 2014 season. The Bulldogs continued to stagnate in their development, which penultimately led to Griffen defecting to GWS, coach McCartney given the sack, and the remaining veterans, including Boyd, facing an uncertain future beyond the 2014 season. However, new coach Luke Beveridge retained Boyd for the 2015 season, but he had different plans in store for the three-time Charlie Sutton Medallist.

Instead of playing midfield, Beveridge trialled him at half-back in a move that puzzled many, given his achievements as a ball-winning midfielder and the fact that he hadn't really been used as a half-back flanker since his early days at the Bulldogs. It would be one of many brilliant moves that saw the Bulldogs quickly rise from the mire to become somewhat of a cinderella story. 2015 saw Boyd, along with many other of his team mates - both young and old - play with a sense of rejuvenation and would return to the Finals for the first time since 2010. 

2015 would be the year that Boyd would join an exclusive club of loyal Bulldog players to have played 250 games for the red, white and blue. Unfortunately, it came at a bad time, as the AFL was mourning the loss of Adelaide Crows' coach Phil Walsh who was slain by his son on the Thursday night of the round 14 weekend. It was a sombre Saturday night at Etihad Stadium, but Boyd would have a stellar game against Carlton, recording 31 disposals, 14 marks, five rebound 50s, a goal and three Brownlow votes in an 11-point win.

Boyd would be one of five Bulldog players nominated for the 2015 All-Australian team, such was his impact in defence. Boyd was averaging 27 disposals, at an effectiveness that was better than his All-Australian years in the midfield and career-highs in marks (eight per game) and rebound 50s (four per game). However, he would miss out on a spot down back in favour of team mates Easton Wood and new Dogs' captain Robert Murphy, with the latter of those two eventually named captain of the All-Australian team. 

It took a until the end of the 2015 season to re-sign Boyd for the 2016 season - a season that would eventually become a season of history-making proportions. Boyd would go on to play all but two games - one due to suspension and one due to achilles soreness. Not only did he star down back in the absence of captain Murphy, but he was consistent in all his games - averaging 27 disposals, seven marks and five rebound 50s per game. He would be rewarded for his year with a spot in the All-Australian team, alongside emerging star Marcus Bontempelli.

But the ultimate reward for not just a stellar year, but a stellar career came in the form of a premiership medallion, as the Western Bulldogs made history when they won their first premiership in 62 years, defeating the Sydney Swans by 22 points in the Grand Final. Boyd recorded 27 disposals and seven rebound 50s in a solid performance. At 34 years of age, Boyd could've decided to hang up the boots then and there - he would've had every right to.

But he opted to go around another year, believing that his body could stand up to the rigours of another AFL season. However, this hasn't been the case, having only played nine of a possible 19 games in 2017, with form and injuries both playing a huge factor as to why he's been struggling this season, but he can at least retire knowing that he broke the record of most games by a former rookie selection, breaking the 290 game record that was set by West Coast legend Dean Cox before he retired in 2014, reaching his 291st game back in round 16 against Adelaide.

Matthew Boyd has openly stated that he doesn't regret playing on this season despite his bad fortunes and his demotions to VFL footy, but the truth is that he has been one of the most loyal, one of the most hard-working servants this club has seen in recent memory and a true leader. There's no doubt he will not only be one of the greatest players to come out of an AFL Rookie Draft, but will be in amongst the discussion of the best Bulldogs in the modern era.

Boyd is living proof that if you can work hard enough from a spot as tough as the rookie list, you can make it as an AFL player. Wouldn't it be nice to send Boyd into the sunset with another Premiership Medallion?

All The Best In Your Retirement Boydy!!!


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