Marcus Bontempelli opens up on his unique introduction to being Western Bulldogs captain

From coronavirus to the huge curve ball from one of his best mates, Marcus Bontempelli’s initiation to life as an AFL skipper has been anything but normal. He opens up on what he’s learned in isolation and how it will make him a better captain.

Marcus Bontempelli has been captain for one game. It seems like 150.

That is the view of former Bulldogs leader Bob Murphy.

He reckons Bontempelli has endured a baptism of fire since he was appointed to the club’s captaincy 182 days ago.

Appointed on December 10, Bontempelli was afforded just three months of relative football normality before his first tilt as captain was derailed and the game put on hold for an indefinite period — by a global pandemic, no less.

There’s not much advice to call upon to deal with one of those.

But as he prepares to lead his teammates out as skipper for just the second time in six months, the man they call “The Bont” is optimistic that football’s most trying time will has laid the foundation for his leadership.

“It was a little bit of a baptism of fire to some extent, and I speak to Bob several times a week,” Bontempelli told the Herald Sun.

“We’ve been doing a podcast with the club called Barkly Street, which has been another thing for me that’s been great while I was in isolation — to have another focus and opportunity to speak to a few people and throw myself into the pod world was pretty cool. I was catching up with him regularly on that, and we’d have those informal chats, too, and I bounce a lot off him.

“He was obviously at the club for a long time and played the game for a long time and was a recognised leader and captain. We laugh about it a little bit, because that’s what you do when you process and move forward … he said, ‘gee, for one game as skipper, you’ve probably experienced 150 games’ worth’, and I thought that was a nice way to look at it, because it’s almost like, I know that from this period this first few months as captain that I will have learned a whole heap and what I’ve experienced will help me in the future.”

Bontempelli’s one game in charge was not without its detractors.

The Dogs lost to Collingwood by 52 points and coaching great Mick Malthouse in his Sunday Herald Sun column criticised Bontempelli’s captaincy style.

“Bontempelli looked like a fish out of water as a leader, overwhelmed by the strange occasion,” Malthouse wrote.

The 24-year-old said he “understands that’s for people to do”, but that the focus was firmly on Sunday after having months to reflect on Round 1.

“You can bet your bottom dollar that the boys are looking forward to playing on Sunday just to once again get back to playing some footy,” he said.

As football and Victoria went into lockdown, Bontempelli couldn’t help but think that “there’s a fair bit going on”.

“You know once you’re through it that it will be a worthwhile and rewarding experience down the track,” he said.

“It’s nice on the other side, that’s for sure, and now hopefully everyone’s back to at least games and there’s still a fair way to go, but it’ll help me down the track to hopefully be a better leader and person.”

He found himself picking up the phone a lot more and building strong relationships, with a focus particularly on the club’s younger players, many of whom were still finding their way as football swiftly shut down around them.

As restrictions were strengthened in March, Bontempelli — who lives alone — decided to shift back to the family digs in Eltham with parents Carlo and Geraldine.

The latter “spoiled me rotten”, the star midfielder admitted, with the family time relished at a time of year when training and matches typically reign supreme.

“You’re getting meals cooked for you left, right and centre which was great,” he laughed.

“It was great for me, and I hope they enjoyed it as well. It was just cool. We’ve got a big space in Eltham, so there was enough to do while at home and then train in between.

“It was good for me to be able to get back home and spend time with them. There’s an open fire at home, it was just like old times, which was a bit of fun and I really enjoyed it.

“There’s something about an open fire that just makes you comfortable and some great warmth offered, but just sitting around chatting.”

Every Monday night was Michael Jordan night, with the family gathered to watch the latest instalments of The Last Dance on Netflix, and once he returned to his own home as football geared up, he took a major life step.

He became a puppy parent, with four month-old kelpie Mya now giving him “what felt like what was always missing” on his daily walks.

But “iso-life” wasn’t all fireplaces and fur babies.

One of his best mates and then deputy Lachie Hunter threw the premiership star his biggest challenge as skipper — adding more fire to that baptism — when he crashed into four parked cars while drink-driving in April.

“It was (hard),” he admitted.

“Obviously you don’t expect to deal with these sorts of things, hopefully ever, but clearly in the first couple of months.

“The incident is behind us and we’re clearly moving forward. But from a captaincy perspective, it was a bit of a challenge.

“Lachie and I are really good mates, and clearly we talked about that it was disappointing for him to make the decisions that he did, but we dealt with it then.

“I feel like at the same time, he clearly and has come out and said how much he regrets what he did and what happened. You’re quick to say how do we help and support and move forward.

“Obviously Lachie’s got some work to do to earn back that trust and respect from the football club and show that with his actions, and since we’ve been back, he’s been doing a really good job and it’s showing how sorry he is.

“That’s the most important thing from the football club’s perspective.”

St Kilda awaits on Sunday night in football’s newest timeslot, with the Dogs desperate to atone for their Round 1 loss to Collingwood.

No major shifts were undertaken over pre-season 2.0, Bontempelli said, but a strong focus on rebounding.

“At times (coach Luke Beveridge) likes to test the opposition and even us with a strategy that he thinks can really work for us,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say there’s been any huge shifts, when you consider the fact it was a mini pre-season, bit a lot of that training we did in pairs, so it was difficult to practice any major shifts.

“We just want to play our best brand of football better than we did in Round 1 and really get our season restarted in a better fashion. Nothing too major. Personnel too, you potentially get a look at a few others who might have missed or have had a chance to rehab, which is great … but hopefully just our best brand of football coming out on Sunday.

“We can’t wait to be back out there in the red, white and blue.”