By Nicholas Galea
Australian Rules Football has always been a part of Luke Bunker’s life. From playing Auskick with his older brother and his friends to attending five AFL Grand Finals, it’s clear to see that football and Luke Bunker make perfect sense together.
As well as playing Auskick his love for football was also mirrored by his mother and father.
‘My dad every week would take me to watch Heidelberg play in the Northern Football League,’ Bunker said.
‘Between my brother and his friends playing Auskick and me and my dad going to watch local football each week, that’s where I started to love the game.’
‘My mum has always loved football; she has always loved Collingwood and used to go games as a kid with her mother.
‘She was rapt that I fell in love with the game too.’
After playing Auskick, Bunker started his football career playing at the St Mary’s Junior Football Club which was only five minutes down the road from where he lived. Bunker remained at St Mary’s playing in the Under 9s until the Under 17s in 2014 where he was then ready for the next stage of his football career.
His football journey took a turn for the Talent Pathways as he represented the Northern Knights in the then TAC Cup.
‘It started off at Under 15s. You have try outs and they make an Under 15s squad and then a 16s squad. By the time it reaches Under 17s and 18s they already have a squad in mind,’ Bunker said.
‘I was in the Knights program all the way from the Under 15s to the Under 18s. I have always been in the pathway and it really helped me develop my football.’
‘By the time I was top-age Knights I had got used to it and felt very comfortable with where I was at playing at that level.’
With his football speaking for itself, Bunker then represented Vic Metro at the National Carnival and continued his strong form resulting in a fourth placing in Vic Metro’s best and fairest behind now Essendon’s Andrew McGrath and Dylan Clarke and GWS Giants’ Tim Taranto.
Bunker also finished second at the Knights best and fairest behind teammate and current Adelaide Crows footballer Lachlan Murphy, despite playing just seven of the overall 18 games that season.
‘Going into the night I didn’t expect to do much or win anything. To come second in the Best and Fairest I was pretty surprised with that,’ he said.
‘I was pretty proud so that was a big achievement and I was blown away.’
After impressive season with the Knights and Vic Metro, Bunker was a rated as a probable draft chance but unfortunately progression is not always linear and he eventually found his way onto Coburg’s VFL list.
‘I spoke to about 12 AFL clubs and felt I was there about but then I just thought that it still might not happen. I was real about it.
‘When it didn’t happen it was really tough, it took a little while to get over and come back from that but luckily my time at Coburg’s been fantastic and has made me feel fine about it now.’
After strong form in the development team Bunker made his Coburg debut in round six 2017 against Essendon. Such was his form in his first few games Bunker ultimately remained in the line up for the rest of the season.
Bunker made such an impact in his debut season that he was recognised for his hard work on the training track and match day being the recipient of the Phil Cleary Rising Star Medal.
‘I just wanted to come in and play as many games as I could. I remember my first few sessions down in the preseason thinking “this is pretty tough”, the amount of running we did, all the bigger bodies and all the senior players we had, I was thinking it would be pretty tough to crack in,’ Bunker said.
‘I just backed myself in and as soon as I got in I just wanted to make the most of my opportunity and I did that.’
‘I was super proud to win the rising star award because playing 13 games was something I didn’t expect to do. After accomplishing my goal, my mindset of “I want to make this team” went from “I’m a key figure” and to achieve that goal was great, the rising star award was a cherry on top.’
Unfortunately a knee injury hampered his 2018 season as he missed three months before returning for the final eight matches of the year giving him some momentum for the upcoming preseason.
‘Last year was a pretty difficult one. I did my MCL (medial collateral ligament) and cracked my tibia so I was out for twelve weeks from that and missed half the season so that was pretty difficult to come back from that,’ Bunker said.
‘This season has been really good, I’ve been healthy and played all 10 games and played alright in some of them.’
Leadership has always been a strong quality of Luke Bunker throughout his football career. He was named vice captain during his time with the Northern Knights and was captain of his school football team at Ivanhoe Grammar. Now he is making his mark as a leader at the Coburg Football Club as a vice captain.
‘Because I’m only 21, I feel like I can relate to the older players at the club and the new 18 year olds coming to Coburg. I’m lucky that I’m in that position at the moment,’ Bunker said.
‘It feels like yesterday I was having my first day at the Club and was getting to know everyone and be the new kid. It wasn’t that long ago so that helps me relate to the 18 year olds coming into Coburg.’
‘I’ve learnt that it is all about building relationships with them, your birth certificate is sort of thrown out the window once you come here. It is all about creating that mateship.’
‘It has been good to have been nominated by the boys to be Vice Captain, it means a lot. I’ve always tried to be myself from day one and that is all I can do. Hopefully I can just keep progressing and become the best player I can be.’
Despite a challenging 2019 season, Bunker understands the stage of development and the pathway the Club is undertaking.
‘The mood is still really upbeat and positive. We know where we’re at; we know we are a super young group and that it is going to take time to get to where we want to get to. It’s not going to happen overnight,’ Bunker said.
‘We’ve seen signs about the way we want to play; we have improved dramatically from last year even though the win loss column doesn’t say that. We are playing a better brand of football.’
‘At this time of the year it can get really difficult as it is a lot colder and raining. It can get a bit hard to keep rocking up but it is about sticking together and what we want to achieve.’
‘I’m sure that if we keep the same group together and keep persisting that the results will change soon.’
Outside of football Bunker is currently studying sport management in Melbourne’s western suburbs at Victoria University in Footscray. He is in the first year of the three year course.
‘One day I am hoping to work in the footy world, what that is at the moment I don’t know,’ Bunker said.
‘I’m keen in the off field operations of football, that’s the field I am interested in but I haven’t narrowed it down to anything yet.’
On top of his educational and football lifestyles Bunker works part time as a life guard at WaterMarcin Greensborough.
‘I took a gap year after high school and worked part time as a life guard, played footy and charged my batteries after that big 2016.’
With football playing a huge part in his life, Bunker has kept his eye on several players over the past decade with a particular eye towards a certain Collingwood midfielder.
‘My favourite player to watch last year was Dustin Martin but now it is probably Jordan De Goey from Collingwood,’ he said.
‘I watch a lot of Dayne Beams, I think I play a similar style to him. His balance between his skill and attack on the ball I think is rare combination, an inside midfielder that can use it on the outside as well.’
Being so heavily involved in football, it is perhaps quite fitting that Bunker’s earliest memory of Australian Rules is of his Collingwood Magpies.
‘When I was a few years old, Collingwood was playing Brisbane in the Qualifying Final and beat them at the MCG with Alan Didak kicking that goal from the boundary and turned to the crowd,’ Bunker said.
‘That is my earliest memory of Collingwood. I’ve been to four Collingwood Grand Finals since then including last years. I’ve seen it all; a win, two losses and a draw.’
‘Now that I play for Coburg that passion for Collingwood has calmed down a bit. Now I can just follow the game and barrack for Coburg.’
Although not exactly a superstition, Bunker has a pre game ritual that happens each and every week.
‘I have a peanut butter sandwich two hours before the game when I arrive, even if it is an 11 o’clock game and its 9:15am I’ll still have it,’ he said.
‘Technically it counts (as a ritual) because I have it before every game.’
Like many of his teammates, Bunker also has a keen interest in the NBA and all the media that goes with it.
‘I love the NBA, I’ve got a league pass so I try to watch at least one game a day, I really love the NBA and I’ll listen to all the talk shows and radio shows about it,’ he said.
‘I love playing NBA 2K19, I have become pretty good at that so Playstation is also a big hobby of mine.’
A respected member of the player group, Bunker is seen as the life of the party. Bunker believes that he has got the right combination of having a few laughs and keeping focused.
‘I would like to think I have a good mix between humour and seriousness,’ he said.
‘When it is time to be serious I can do that as well as throw in some humour on top of that, I think it is a nice balance.’
‘I enjoy a beer away from footy, at the functions we have I tend to sink a few beers so that’s where that title comes from.’
Such is the man’s impact, Bunker even has his own Facebook fan club that constantly cheers and supports him in his journey.
‘It’s all my friends; I really appreciate it and love all the feedback that I get back from my mates on those posts; Dean Lucente, Jack Powell, Noah Ebzery and all the boys getting around me.’
‘I love it. It’s really funny I think.’
In the off season Bunker likes to travel but he always has one particular holiday destination in mind which has remained his favourite location.
‘It’s still Bali, I had a good trip at the end of the footy season last year, with a few mates of mine and it certainly delivered, I’ll probably try and find my way there sometime soon I think.’