Sporting pedigree was always working to the advantage of Brad Sheppard.
It doesn’t guarantee the bloodline will produce a star any more than it does in Sheppard’s other sporting passion, thoroughbred horse racing. But it’s a good start.
And the athletic defender has carried through on the start that his lineage gifted him. The son of Keith Sheppard, a more than handy A-Grade cricketer and midfielder for WAFL club Perth in the early 80s, Sheppard has blossomed into one of the most reliable defenders in the AFL.
Aside from his father’s sporting genes, the capacity to succeed at the elite level also throws to his cousins, Shaun, Mitch and Melissa Marsh. The offspring of former Australian cricketer Geoff, the two boys have both played international cricket and Melissa represented her country ay basketball.
It’s a fair stable of talent.
Brad Sheppard also boasted some handy attributes on the cricket field, but unlike his cousins, who had dual sporting options, he chose to play football while they tracked towards cricket.
And this week he will add another line to his glittering list of achievements when he becomes a 200-game player for the West Coast Eagles. He will become the 23rd player in the 34-year history of the club to salute a double ton.
Being a student of equine athletes, Sheppard knows it’s not about how many starts, it’s the form line that matters most.
And his form stacks up against any of the modern stars, certainly as a defender.
When drafted into the AFL system, a rare top 10 (#7) selection for the Eagles in 2009, there was a view that the young colt could mature from a half-back of note into a midfielder. But it unsettled him. He was learning the craft and making progress, but in his heart he was more comfortable in the back half.
Since settling into the role for which he was bred, Sheppard has been outstanding. His capacity to adapt as required has been his trademark.
“It sort of crept up on me,” Sheppard says of his double century. “In junior footy I played as a centre half-forward/centre half-back and I think I got drafted as a backman with the potential to push up the ground and into the midfield.
“It definitely took me a couple of years to find my niche. I started in the backline, we had a pretty stacked backline with Darren Glass, Beau Waters and Eric Mackenzie, so I had to bide my time. There were a couple of injuries up the ground so I put my hand up and learnt a lot in my first few years, but I definitely play my best footy behind the ball.
“Looking back on it, I think I was just an eager young kid and just wanted to play round one and play every game. It took me a couple of years just to get into the groove and into the lifestyle.
“Everyone sees the glory of footy, playing in front of big fans, getting paid to do what you love, but it hasn’t just happened overnight. It has been a journey. There has been a lot of highs, a lot of lows.
“To play 200 games for this footy club is something I’m very proud of, my family will be very proud of and so will my mates. I’m just over the moon with it.”
In 2015, when the Eagles lost key defenders Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown before quarter time in the opening game of the season, the 187cm half-back played much taller than his size would suggest.
That sporting lineage has provided him with football instincts that cannot be taught; like teammate Jeremy McGovern he sees the game early. He knows when to leave an opponent, when to stick and halve a contest and those attributes combined with his soft hands allow him to excel in his role.
Now into his 12th season at the elite level, he has acquired almost every team-oriented accolade.
He was player of the finals in 2015, when the club made a Grand Final through an innovative game plan that allowed them to cover for an under-sized defence, he won the Chris Mainwaring Medal as best clubman last year and was finally recognised with All Australian selection in 2020.
There is one obvious piece missing, though. A premiership medal.
His story is well documented when he was cruelly denied the opportunity in 2018. After a stellar season when he further galvanised his reputation as one of the best defenders in the game, he suffered a serious hamstring injury in the qualifying final against Collingwood at Optus Stadium.
It was like preparing for the Melbourne Cup, as a certain starter in the field, and pulling up lame after the Mackinnon Stakes.
This game can be cruel and the Eagles’ premiership triumph was bittersweet for Sheppard, wingman Andrew Gaff and ruckman Nic Naitanui who all missed out through myriad reasons.
If there is any justice in this game they will have their moment. Fairytales might be rare in footy, but they do happen.
“I look back on 2018 and it was just a great year for the footy club,” Sheppard assesses selflessly. “It shows just how passionate the State of WA is with their footy and how good our members and supporters are.
“As disappointing as it was to not be there on the final day, to still be involved behind the scenes and in the build up to the Grand Final was something special. Don’t worry I still celebrated like I had won a flag.
“Ideally I wish I would be a premiership player and that is why I am doing everything behind the scenes I can to play at my best and to one day get an opportunity to play in a premiership.”
Sheppard has the drive and the capacity to realise that dream and it motivates him – and others – every day that they come to the club.