Resilience. It is a word that has become a part of the vernacular at the West Coast Eagles. You can trace it back to the 2018 premiership.
That was a season that threw more than the odd hurdle into the path of the Eagles in their quest for the club’s fourth flag.
Talisman ruckman Nic Naitanui went down with a serious knee injury against Collingwood in round 17, indefatigable wingman Andrew Gaff was hit with a lengthy suspension and then pliable defender Brad Sheppard suffered a serious hamstring injury in the second qualifying final against the Pies.
From adversity came opportunity. Nathan Vardy played in the ruck in place of Naitanui and had an outstanding finals series, Dom Sheed elevated his game in the absence of Gaff and is inexorably linked to match-winning play forever.
But the man who replaced Sheppard in the back half was resilience personified.
If your career is going to be defined by one game, it might as well be the Grand Final, right? And Will Schofield reserved a career-best performance for football’s biggest stage.
Schofield stood dangerous Collingwood forward Jordan De Goey for most of the day and was supreme. The raw data shows that De Goey kicked three goals, but at least two of them came when he was thrown into the midfield to provide a spark.
When he was pitted one on one against Schofield, he struggled to impact, the experienced Eagles defender shadowing his every step. The bigger the moment, the higher Schofield rose.
He was pivotal in several head-to-head contests deep in Collingwood’s forward 50. He won – or halved – all of them. There was even a two-on-one, with Jaidyn Stephenson, where Schofield held sway when a certain goal loomed if he could not prevent them taking possession.
There were also a couple of contests when Steele Sidebottom was sent forward and Schofield refused to yield. He was in the zone, nothing was getting through him. He was a like a dam wall.
Until the moment when Sheppard ruptured his hamstring tendon, Schofield had played nine of 23 games. He played the preliminary and grand finals and was exceptional.
It wasn’t the first time when Schofield accepted a challenge of epic proportions, when fans might have considered the Eagles chances of success were doomed because of major injuries.
In 2015 key defenders Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown had succumbed to serious knee injuries before half-time in round one. Up stepped Schofield to be part of a story that took the club to the Grand Final against Hawthorn.
The occasion was not as memorable as it could have been, but the journey - and Schofield’s place in it – was no less momentous.
This morning at Mineral Resources Park, Schofield announced that this season would be his last. Whenever that ends for his club, his career will culminate. He explained he has no more to give, no more energy for the fight beyond this season.
And that is understandable. He has been slugging it out since 2006 and he’s fatigued. Mentally and physically.
While the 2018 Grand Final was the most definitive, public display of his resilience it has been in his DNA since he arrived at the club as selection 50 from the 2006 draft. If it wasn’t evident from the outset, it certainly was in the second half of his career.
He has never been a lock in the team, never been assured of anything. But his commitment to seizing the moment when it arose has been a constant.
When Adam Simpson arrived as the senior coach in 2014, Schofield had played 94 games. As he stood before the playing group and other staff in the club’s quarantine bubble, to announce his pending retirement, he has 194 games against his name.
It has been a long and arduous journey for a man with rare athletic qualities. Before deciding on football as his preferred sporting pursuit, he was an outstanding athlete at Geelong College, an 800 metre prospect of national standard and international capabilities.
He was invited on a track tour to Europe in his final year at school, but instead played in Geelong College’s first Associated Public Schools of Victoria premiership in 56 years.
Off-field Schofield can be obstinate, opinionated and strong-willed. Headstrong. He challenges convention and the party line.
Those same traits make him a respected teammate. A bloke who will question and confront. They are qualities that have allowed him to endure in this demanding AFL environment for 14 years.
The attributes that saw him prepared to knock on Simpson’s door and ask why he wasn’t playing; the attributes that saw him tackle one of the pivotal roles in the 2018 Grand Final and triumph.
He has been a wonderful contributor to our club. Fairytales are rare, but how good would be it if there was one more glorious chapter in Will Schofield’s football story?