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Robbie Fox: Tasmania’s great hope of the VFL.

13909344_1018739684847889_8238889539462411711_oThe 2014/15 off season for Coburg Football Club was a busy one in terms of its recruitment and on field personnel, it saw many new names brought to the club as it strived to achieve the standards they set for themselves and make further improvements in its rebuild as a stand-alone entity. Amongst those arrivals were a few ex AFL names, VFL listed players wanting senior opportunities, and some of the best TAC Cup graduates. In what was just as much a big coup for the club, they even got a few names from the Metropolitan Melbourne Local Leagues.

The club signed up 33 new players- however the signing of this one wasn’t necessarily celebrated as big as other signings, however it was duly noted. Enter Robbie Fox, a medium sized running defender from Essendon District Football League club Aberfeldie who also had capabilities of playing in the midfield. He had come to Melbourne having spent the three seasons with Tasmanian State League side Burnie Dockers, who ironically was the club where current senior coach Peter German began his senior state league coaching career over two decades ago.

Fox is one of eleven Tasmanians who are currently on a VFL list, alongside the likes of experienced Box Hill Hawks veteran Sam Iles, Northern Blues youngster Tim Jones, Port Melbourne swingman Brody Mihocek (a close mate and former teammate), Richmond Captain Sam Darley, Sandringham trio Oliver Jones, Josh Fox and Julian Doboz, Werribee trio Matt Hanson, Mitch Vandenberg and Ethan Petterwood, and Williamstown youngster Caleb Hislop (a family friend of Fox’s).

A former basketballer who managed to tour the United States in his teens, Fox managed to combine the two together whilst growing up in the hometown of Penguin, on the North West Coast of Tasmania. “Basketball was always my number one sport, it wasn’t until I moved to Melbourne that I had to choose between the two and only had time to play the one.”

Pictured middle left, Fox celebrates a senior TSL Premiership with the Burnie Dockers.

Pictured middle left of the cup, Fox celebrates a senior TSL Premiership with the Burnie Dockers.

He made his senior debut for the Dockers only a few days after his 17th birthday. In three seasons for the Dockers, he managed 46 games and was a TSL Premiership player in 2012, alongside the likes of former AFL players Jason Laycock, Andrew Lee, and current St.Kilda youngster Eli Templeton, as well as good mates in Mihocek and Hislop. Fox would also represent the Tasmanian State Representative team in its match against the VFL that season. Fox looks fondly back at his days at the North West Tasmanian coastal club- “I guess I was playing with a lot of my school mates which made playing in grand finals a lot more special, and it was just an enjoyable club to be at.”

Fox would also represent the Tassie Mariners in the TAC Cup and Under 18 championships in 2011. Despite knowing there was a faint chance of perhaps achieving his AFL dream, Fox acknowledged back then he wasn’t perhaps ready to give the elite level a nudge. “I played pretty bad when I was playing for Tas U/18, that lead me into being dropped for the last few games. But I had gone back and had a really good back end to the season and finals series with Burnie. So there was a little interest but not really a great deal at all.”

He decided to move to Melbourne at the end of 2012, and the Western Essendon club- coached by former Collingwood, Brisbane Lions and Essendon defender Mal Michael. While he was plying his trade in the local suburban league in Melbourne’s North West- Fox would feature alongside the likes of former AFL players Courtney Johns, Daniel Connors, Kyle Reimers, Josh Toy, Tom Hislop, Luke Davis, Mark Blake and Zac O’Brien, while he too would also play alongside current young Essendon sensation Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. He would also feature alongside ex Coburg players Ryan Allan and David Fahey.

Fox (right) looks on following Aberfeldie's 2013 Grand Final loss.

Fox (right) looks on following Aberfeldie's 2013 Grand Final loss.

In and out of the Aberfeldie senior side in 2013, he would feature in the Grand Final loss to arch rival Greenvale. At the end of the season, he received invited to pre-season as the Lions were going stand alone for 2014. However, 12 months later, it seemed that the Lions had finally got their man and Fox saw it too good an opportunity to refuse- after a season where he was recognized as Aberfeldie’s Most Improved Player. “I had received a phone call from Germo and Coburg Scout James West after my first season with Abers, about coming down to pre-season and giving VFL a crack. But I went home to Tassie for most of the summer and missed most of the pre-season, and also losing the grand final with Abers, I wanted to stay and win a flag with them. But after my second year and we had just lost the grand final again, Westy rang me again and I felt like it was a good time to give VFL a crack as I was 21, Mal Michael my coach at Abers thought that I should go and give VFL a crack as well."

Fox's starring performance across halfback in round one for the Development League side saw him earn his senior debut the next week.

Fox's starring performance across halfback in round one for the Development League side saw him earn his senior debut the next week.

Fox would sign for 2015 shortly after the club’s heartbreaking second consecutive grand final loss. After a promising pre-season out on the track, Fox would have an interrupted end to the pre-season campaign and would start the season in the Development League competition. After starring in the big round one win over Werribee, Fox would make his senior debut in round 2, 2015 against the Box Hill Hawks. Fox’s day would end reasonably early- suffering from a reoccurrence of the quad injury from the pre-season and would miss the next few weeks. He would again return through the development league.

Round eight, 2015 saw the Lions face local rivals the Northern Blues in a blockbuster Queens Birthday clash. After a few weeks of strong form in the twos, he was recalled to the senior side. The Lions, coming off three losses on the trot, were desperate for a win to keep intact with the eight, as were the Blues who were in a similar position.

 

In his second senior game for the club, Fox played a vital role in a crucial win for the Lions.

In his second senior game for the club, Fox played a vital role in a crucial win for the Lions.

Coburg that day held on for a thrilling two-point win, however Fox’s impact was duly noted. Predominantly playing down back, Fox was swing up forward in the last term. He kicked the final goal of the day for Coburg which was crucial at the Lions held on for a memorable win. It was that day where Fox announced himself to the VFL- and from that day he established himself as a permanent fixture across the Coburg halfback line. His form in the Lions last season charge to the finals where they ultimately missed out-saw him make critical contributions in those wins, and was named amongt the coaches as best afield in the games against Frankston and North Ballarat. As a result, an equal fourth place in the best and fairest was his reward for effort in his debut season. “I think 2015 gave me an insight on what VFL was all about, and showed me what I needed to do/work on for the 2016 season,” Fox claimed. He also received brief draft interest, however ultimately nothing eventuated as a result.

Fox's form late in 2015 was crucial towards Coburg's late charge towards the finals.

Fox's form late in 2015 was crucial towards Coburg's late charge towards the finals.

While Fox decided to pursue VFL for 2015, it also saw his good mates at Aberfeldie win that long awaited premiership. While it could’ve been seen as a bittersweet moment for Fox, given he missed out, he was more than happy on what his ‘home’ club had achieved in the 2015 season “I was so happy on the day; I think I was more nervous than some of the players on the day. I just really wanted to see them win as I still had a lot of close and good mates playing.”

The 2016 season couldn’t come quickly enough for Fox. Following the sudden early season retirement of club stalwart Daniel Venditti and with the Lions appearing to lack some midfield depth- he had been earn marked for a midfield role by Peter German. And a strong pre-season laid down the foundations for what has occurred within the past twelve months. “I think I had a strong pre-season, which gave me a good base for the season. I think I had a good first half to the season minus the concussion. The second half I’ve had some all right games but have been struggling with my hips and I think that has affected my movement and my run in games.” Fox’s early season form was brilliant. In his opening ten games, he was named amongst the coaches best seven times out of ten. Arguably his best performance was in the win over North Ballarat at Eureka Stadium mid-season, racking up a personal season high 32 possessions.

Fox took one of the marks of the season in round one, 2016.

Fox took one of the marks of the season in round one, 2016.

While close early season losses suffered by the lions have seen them slowly bomb out of finals contention, it’s been a season to remember for Fox on a personal note- recently receiving an invite to the state combine. “I was pretty happy; Leesy called me the Friday night pre Casey game to let me know that I had been invited to it.”

Since arriving at Piranha Park at the end of 2014, Fox had many to thank following his rise to be amongst the competition’s premier players, especially German and Midfield Coach Ricky Petterd. “I think Germo and Ricky have been the biggest influence for me as coaches but also Ditti has been massive for me as well. Germo really tries and gets the best out of me but also has shown a lot of confidence in me and has taught me what is required to do well at this level. Ricky has only been with me for the year, but he has made my move into the midfield an easy one. Has taught me a lot on how to play the modern midfield role, and he also puts a lot of trust into me. Even though Ditti isn’t at the club anymore he was the one showing me the training and attitude you have to bring into a club at this level. He is still in contact with me regularly, checking up on me and still giving me different tips with my football.”

Since arriving into the VFL just under two seasons ago, Fox has enjoyed his time at Piranha Park. “I’ve loved my time at Coburg these past 2 years.” Fox has since also become devoted more to his football since making a step up to the higher level, also studying a teaching degree at RMIT- “Footy takes up most of my time, but I just hang out with mates when I’m not at Uni.”

Coburg Senior Assistant and Midfield Coach Ricky Petterd was happy with the way Fox had progressed through his change of role over the preseason, and translating that to the season itself. “I was quite pleased to have him brought into the midfield group, we knew he had serious running ability through the preseason, so getting him to use that through the midfield that was going to be a strength for us, individually it was important for him to learn the midfield role and expectations pretty quick, which I thought he did, and its shown in his games this year how important he’s been for us through his inside work and extracting the football. I think he’s got a huge scope for improvement which is exciting for him because I do believe that if he gets the chance, he can play at the top level," Petterd said.

Having both played in the State Leagues of Victoria and Tasmania, Fox has also acknowledged the difference between the standards of the two competitions. “It’s hard to compare, as I was a lot younger when I was playing TSL, but I think the style of play, skill set and running ability needed at VFL is much greater.”

And while he has managed to play some of his best football, he also acknowledges how much he has learnt in less than 24 months at the club. “I think I’ve learnt a lot about the structure and set ups that are required in football these days, about how much work and time you have to put in at and outside the club if you want to be successful at this level.”

And while Fox has made the most of his opportunities’ that have come his way in the Lions’ den, it goes to show that with hard work, you’ll get noticed. It also shows too that anyone who comes from a State League competition such as Tasmania, and are wanting to prove themselves at a higher level- especially in the VFL to further their footballing ambitions, that the move could be a very beneficial one for themselves in regards to their aspirations.