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  1. #1
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    One phone conversation had Bontempelli destined for the Bulldogs

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    Former Bulldogs, now Sydney, recruiter Simon Dalrymple remembers taking a phone call from a scout who worked for the club in 2013 who wanted to give him an update on draft prospect Marcus Bontempelli.

    The Northern Knights youngster had played on the wing for Vic Metro in the national championships and was in the AIS/AFL Academy, but not many people had him earmarked as a top-10 selection entering the latter half of the season.

    ?He?s a bigger version of ?Libber? [Tom Liberatore] around the contest,? the scout told Dalrymple.

    That feature of his game had not yet been on display as he?d played outside the contest, but the time was right to take a closer look at the rangy left-footer as the Northern Knights began playing him as an inside midfielder. It did not take long for Dalrymple to upgrade Bontempelli on his charts, with the Bulldogs eventually using the prized fourth pick to add him to the list.

    His pedigree read well on his mum Geraldine?s side as she had been an outstanding netballer and her three brothers were excellent local footballers. One of Bontempelli?s cousins was St Kilda star Nick Dal Santo and another, Luke Stanton, was good enough to find himself on Carlton?s list in 2009.

    His dad Carlo had not played football, but he worked in construction and was a great, family oriented character.

    That meant if Bontempelli was a horse sauntering into the ring at a bloodstock auction he would have commanded a good price, but few apart from the club?s list-management team imagined he could become a generational player for the Bulldogs.

    That is what ?The Bont″⁣ has become, winning four best and fairests, finishing no lower than fourth in the past eight seasons, as well as collecting a premiership medal and four All-Australian blazers. And the only trouble he has caused in that time has been to disturb the sleep patterns of opposition coaches and his opponents.

    On Saturday, The Bont will hit 200 games in peak form. He has reached that milestone quicker than all but 28 players since 2000 (his cousin Dal Santo is 16th on that list).

    Bontempelli?s numbers this season show a player who does everything to an elite standard, his performances since round two lifting the Bulldogs back on to the winner?s list and once again, in premiership contention.

    The skipper has a penetrating left-foot kick that helps the ball track low and fast towards its targets. His handballs are creative, floating into space like balloons hovering in anticipation that a mobile teammate will pluck them from the air and keep running.

    He is a hard runner who can lope like a hunting wolf before accelerating like a cheetah to pounce on the football or break from congestion. And there is a certain panache in the graceful way he plays the game.

    Dalrymple recognised before drafting him that Bontempelli?s coolness under pressure complemented his athletic traits, saying you can ?see it in their eyes when they are making a decision, there is no panic?.

    Former Bulldog Mitch Wallis saw all that skill on display from close quarters over eight seasons before he finished his 162-game career at the end of last year.

    But it wasn?t the skill that made Bontempelli a favourite among senior players such as Wallis.

    ?There are so many superfluous things that are said about his footballing ability and his leadership and his freakish ability, but I think how balanced he is off the field is why he is so attractive as a friend and as a teammate,? Wallis said.

    Bontempelli replaced premiership captain Easton Wood as skipper in 2020, leading the team through COVID and then into the grand final the following season, only to watch the handy lead opened up just before three-quarter-time evaporate like boiling water into steam when Melbourne?s midfield ran amok.

    An ankle injury to start last season and an adductor problem to end it made last year uncomfortable, but there were no complaints or excuses from the star, although he showed the first signs that he might be capable of grumpiness.

    Wallis said the 27-year-old was hard on himself because he was such a competitor, but he had a balanced outlook on life and football, which keeps his thinking measured. In the end, Wallis said, he just gets to work if something in his game needed addressing.

    ?He is a really authentic person who has strong foundations and morals and applies that in everyday life,? Wallis said. ?[There are] athletic traits he is lucky enough to inherit ... and he is the hardest trainer at the club.?

    The benefits of that training (he spent the off-season training in San Diego with teammates) were seen against Fremantle in round six when he dished off a handball at half-back and set off on a gut-busting run forward with young Docker Hayden Young on his tail. Both players arrived in time to compete for a mark in the goal square, but it was Bontempelli who outmuscled the emerging Docker to mark before kicking the team?s opening goal, breaking a frustrating run of six straight behinds.

    It was reminiscent of the memorable goal he managed in a tight game against Sydney in round two, 2017 when he pushed his body to run the length of the field as gracefully as a bird flying close to water to get on the end of a teammate?s pass to kick the sealer in the grand final rematch at Docklands.

    ?There is something special in the way that he glides at pace,? Wallis said. ?But then he does some freaky stuff like take big marks and win the hard ball.?

    His aerial work has improved and can get better still, but Wallis has no doubt he will be hell to play on if he goes forward later in his career, predicting that if he does that ?he is going to be an All-Australian forward?.

    Right now, he is the best midfielder in the game with his statistics comparable, if not ahead of those Richmond champion Dustin Martin was recording after six rounds when he tore the competition to shreds in 2017 in a season AFL legend Leigh Matthews once described as the best anyone had played.

    The Bont is ranked first for clearances, fifth for contested possessions and third for tackles. The Lamborghini that is Bontempelli is happy racing on the rally car circuit without midfield bull Josh Dunkley, who shipped himself off to the Brisbane Lions at the end of last season.

    ?I don?t think about it too much. You build your body and your strength through the combative side of things in the pre-season,? Bontempelli said. ?We all discussed obviously trying to cover the parts of the game Josh [Dunkley] did really well, and I have looked to try to fill that gap a little bit and explore that part of my game.?

    But it won?t be just the many bows to his game that will have all football fans and ex-teammates celebrating Bontempelli on Saturday. It?s because they know he cares about them as much as they care about him.

    ?[He has] unwavering belief in his values and morals,? Wallis said. ?When it was his turn to take over from Easton there was no question he was going to have a long tenure because of how uncompromising he is.?
    FFC: Established 1883

    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

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  3. #2
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    Re: One phone conversation had Bontempelli destined for the Bulldogs

    Wow.
    I remember when he was 15 or so the Footy show interviewed him on the boundary of an empty oval, kicking goals with ease.

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