As a youngster, Brownlow Medal contender Marcus Bontempelli spent countless hours kicking the footy at his Eltham home, imagining an elite career; the dream felt so real, hed even commentate as he played in the backyard.

Bontempellis three sisters were more mad about horse show The Saddle Club than Sherrins, but there was a passion for footy elsewhere in the bloodline, via their cousin, St Kilda champion Nick Dal Santo.

I spent a lot of time outside as the girls were interested in whatever they were interested in, so I was always outside kicking the footy on my own, Bontempelli, 23, says.

I would be in the backyard virtually as soon as I would get home from school. Id throw my bag down and then be outside until dinner.

Bontempelli spent hours of his youth at the Eltham Panthers Junior Footy Club, just down the road from his family home. Photo: Julian Kingma
I would be kicking the footy or playing basketball just to keep myself amused I never had control of the TV remote.

He [Nick] got drafted in 2001 and I was born in 95, which meant I was about six or seven at that point.

Once Nick got drafted I took an even greater love and interest in the game, and followed him and looked up to him as a role model.

I think from that day forward I wanted to do what Nick was doing.

Now one of the leagues supreme midfielders and an All Australian, Bontempelli says while his sisters were busy together, he would spend hours alone outside with the footy, commentating to himself and visualising what it would be like to win a premiership at the MCG.

Remarkably, just a few years later, thats exactly what Bontempelli did.

He was instrumental in the Western Bulldogs winning the AFL grand final in 2016, when he was 20. That same year he polled 20 votes in the Brownlow (accompanied to the ceremony by his mother Geraldine).

Bontempelli was last week voted the player of the year by AFLs coaches (the first Bulldog to win the accolade since it started 16 years ago), which has confirmed him as a hot favourite for the games highest individual honour at this years Brownlow count on September 23.

Looking across the ground Bontempelli recounted, with a smile, just how important the Eltham footy club was to him growing up, and the long nights of training. Photo: Julian Kingma
The Dogs premiership was extra special considering what the club had endured two years before, with Brendan McCartney resigning as senior coach and captain Ryan Griffen moving to Greater Western Sydney.

It was a time of upheaval at the proud club.

However, Bontempelli says he and his teammates embraced the change and what it felt like to be the underdog.

I think some of the best stories in sport [are] coming through various levels of adversity that you go through, he says.

In the short space of two years we really flipped the script on what had been written for us. It was a pretty special time.

The other place Bontempelli spent hours of his youth was at the Eltham Panthers Junior Footy Club, just down the road from his family home.

On the eve of the AFL finals series, he visited the oval at Eltham Central Park for Domain Review.

Looking across the ground Bontempelli recounted, with a smile, just how important the club was to him growing up, and the long nights of training.

I remember being out here after training until the lights virtually went off, that was my thing, he says.

On a Thursday night they would put on a barbecue and wed be out here after training trying to kick some bombs from the 50-metre mark.

Bontempelli says he was lucky to be in such a strong junior team, and puts a lot of his professional success down to his foundation with the Panthers.

I think one of the big reasons why I fell in love with the game as a kid was because of the footy club, and because of the people who ran it, and the friends I made during that time, he says.

I never felt I was on my own trying to achieve the dream. Im incredibly grateful to the club for creating such a positive environment.

His siblings Olivia, Alanna and Sienna may have left their brother to his own devices while nurturing that big dream, but they are all incredibly supportive of his career.

Their parents Carlo and Geraldine are also always by his side.

Ive got a really close family and they support me through everything, he says.

Im lucky my mum and dad come to a lot of the games, and they try to travel and are probably there for almost 90 per cent of my games.

Im really lucky, and the girls arent far behind them in terms of going to games. Growing up with three sisters, Bontempelli is a strong advocate of the AFLW and the leading role the Western Bulldogs have taken in the leagues development.

Hopefully every club has its own team and it virtually becomes the same competition as us, side by side, he says.
Its so great for girls out there who now have a pathway.

With his profile and superstar status, Bontempelli has attracted commercial interests outside of football; one of those roles is as a friend of Mercedes-Benz Melbourne Vans.

Its a great car to drive around in, he says of his Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute. Its incredibly versatile but its a big car too. Im a big lad so that helps as well.