The Butler Did It - Bulldogs Export makes 100
By Peter Argent
From South Gawler and a two-year player at the Central District Bulldogs, Sam Butler finally became a 100-game AFL footballer last Sunday, June 9 against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium.
He has endured plenty to get to this milestone.
“I haven’t done the numbers properly, but I’ve estimated it’s been between 80-90 games lost due to injury,” Butler said.
“I feel blessed to be at the West Coast Eagles, and have amazing support from the coaches and the club.
“Over the journey there were doubts whether my body could handle the rigors of AFL football.
“But the club, even through the dark days, was always confident about my future.”
Butler played soccer from the age of four, but converted after the persistence of his best mate Jake McVicar and his father Lenny, the coach of the local South Gawler under 15 team, in 2001.
“In the first couple of years I played both football and soccer,” Butler continued.
“The McVicars live just up the road and I was always around their place after school. I suppose they finally wore me down.
“Lenny taught me a lot about the game and gave me plenty of leeway when I had soccer training.
“I owe a lot to Lenny and the opportunities I was afforded that year.”
South Gawler under 15s would go on to win the flag in 2001, beating Angaston in the season-decider.
Butler’s West Coast team-mate since 2006, Shannon Hurn was a member of that Angaston Panther side.
“‘Bunger’ (Hurn) and I talk about that game a bit,” he laughed. “I had played up forward most of the year and I was hoping to maybe win the game off my own boot.
“Shannon was Angaston’s key player, and my coach asked me to tag him.
“Pleasingly we got over the line, or I’d have ‘Bunger’ reminding me all the time.”
For the majority of the season Butler played in attack, finishing with 62 goals and winning the leading goalkicker award in that grade.
In 2002 Butler moved into the Central District under 17 program, coached by Andrew “Buns” McLean.
“‘Buns’ was another important mentor and taught me a lot,” Butler continued.
“I still keep in touch with him and talk footy to this day. He gave me a real love for the game.”
McLean had watched Butler play in his under 15s triumph, when South Gawler won the 2001 flag.
“I was the first coach to send him into defence, but this was to educate him, as I knew he wasn’t big enough to be a key forward at the top level,” the former Willaston stalwart and now Norwood senior assistant, McLean explained.
“He was still in the soccer special squads, the AIS/AFL academy and went away with a South Australia underage team.
“His commitment was always tremendous through all of this.
“Sam is a fine footballer, but more importantly is a better bloke.”
The following year, still a bottom age under 18, Butler was a member of a potent South Australian under 18 side, coached by Darren Trevena, with team-mates including 2008 Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney, Beau Waters, Ryan Griffen, current Central District captain Brad Symes and Jay Nash.
“Coming from a soccer background Sam always had plenty of time and space to use the ball,” Trevena said. “He knew how to cut angles and read the game nicely.
“I used him off a half back flank and on a wing at State level. He used the ball so well, which would more than not result in a shot at goal.”
Butler was also a member of a SANFL seconds premiership under current South Gawler senior coach Scott Lee.
His team-mates at reserves level in this golden year for Central District, which included flags in the under 19s and league, were current Kapunda Bombers Fred Agius and Jason MacKenzie, Nuriootpa captain Craig Gogoll and Barossa key forward Heath Commane.
Butler and four team-mates in that comfortable win over Port Adelaide – Ben Walton, Nash, Symes and Elijah Ware – would go on to play AFL football.
Because of the date of the SANFL grand final, Butler didn’t go to the draft camp and only had brief chats to Port and West Coast. The Eagles suggested they might collect him with their last pick.
“When the West Coast Eagles enquired about personnel, I suggested Sam was the pick of the bunch,” Scott Lee confirmed.
“He was younger than the rest and had more upside in my eyes. I reckon we used him out of full forward and on the ball in that grand final.”
After a strong finals series, Butler was selected at pick number 20 in the ’03 national draft.
He made his AFL debut against Richmond the following year, and after being involved in the Eagles heart-breaking ‘05 grand final loss to the Sydney Swans, became a premiership player in the one point win in 2006.
Osteitis Pubis ruined the next couple of season for Butler, but the Eagles have kept faith all the way through.
|Photos by Peter Argent/PLA Media, CDFC Sponsor and Freelance Photojournalist|