Luke Kiel hasn’t enjoyed the easiest initiation as a Peter Jackson VFL club captain in 2017.
Alongside Tony Lockyer, the 26-year-old has taken the reins from former skipper Matt Austin at North Ballarat, but Kiel’s young Roosters team has suffered a couple of heavy defeats early in the season.
Losses to Richmond by 188 points in Round 1 and Footscray by 124 points in Round 3 have presented an early test of the Swan Hill product’s leadership ability. A veteran of 72 senior VFL games, Kiel has won best-and-fairest awards in 2015 and 2016 and earned selection in the 2015 VFL Team of the Year and 2016 VFL state team, but helping his club through a difficult year on the field would be a new feather in his cap.
“It’s definitely been a challenge with a couple of big losses; it’s just about bringing everyone together,” Kiel said of his role as co-captain.
“I just try to do everything right on and off the field. Training intensity is a pretty big one especially for the young blokes, and trying to make it enjoyable for them – things like going out for dinner, doing a few fun activities to take their mind off footy a little bit. Footy’s not really everything and that’s what we’re trying to teach them.
“We’re trying to give them feedback (on their performances) but you’ve got to care about them before you give them feedback, because if you don’t really care they’re probably not going to take the feedback as well.
“I’m just trying to do what the leaders did for me when I came to the club (in 2012), trying to make me feel welcome and setting a standard – guys like Myles Sewell, Steve Clifton, Michael Searl and Matt Austin.
“It’s a bit of a different situation now though. We’re just trying to make it as enjoyable as possible so people want to turn up to football training, because it’s hard when you cop a couple of heavy defeats.”
Ahead of the club’s first match at its redeveloped Eureka Stadium base – a defeat to Williamstown on Saturday – Kiel said North Ballarat’s competitive losses to the Casey Demons in Round 2 and Sandringham in Round 4 was evidence the Roosters “can match it with the good teams” but acknowledged consistency of effort across four quarters was an area for improvement.
It’s understandable considering just less than half of the club’s 2017 list is under the age of 21, a vast demographic change from when Kiel arrived at North Ballarat in 2012.
“When I first got there we still had a team in the Development League and were still (partially) aligned with North Melbourne,” Kiel said. “I played a whole year in the Development League in 2012, then had a pretty big pre-season in 2013 and I’ve played senior games ever since.
“We made the finals in the last year of our alignment with North Melbourne in 2014 but lost an elimination final, and then once we lost the affiliation we’ve dropped back. Obviously we don’t have as much depth and you lose the intellectual property (of the AFL club) as well, like all the game plans.”
Kiel is now part of a senior core of Roosters including Lockyer, Austin, Lachlan George, Andrew Hooper, James Keeble, Orren Stephenson and 2015 J.J. Liston Trophy winner Nick Rippon that is trying take the burden off younger teammates as they develop.
Mature-age recruits like Jacob Cooke-Harrison, Ben Cox and Toby Thoolen were added over the off-season to shore up North Ballarat’s base of hardened, experienced bodies, while Kiel’s on-field role has also changed over the years to reduce the pressure on the club’s talented youngsters.
“I played in the back line for pretty much my first four years at the club,” Kiel said. “But the last two years I’ve dropped a little bit of weight and gone into the midfield to take the load off the young ones.
“I’d like to finish my career in the back line because I feel like that’s where I play my best football, but for now we can’t just put young ones in around the footy and have them get beaten every week.
“There’s been added enthusiasm (due to more young players on the list) but I think we could probably do with a few more older ones to help the young ones. They’re jumping out of their skin to play but it’s good to have a few level heads around as well.”
Even though he’s a new VFL club captain, Kiel’s level head knows the 2017 season is about more than just wins and losses for the Roosters.
THE FAST FIVE, with Luke Kiel
(vfl.com.au will this year ask our profiled Peter Jackson VFL players five quick questions to find out more about who they are off the football field.)
What food could you not live without?
If you could do anything, what would be your dream job?
– Skydiving instructor
Which karaoke song would you sing to save your life?
– ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen
Which teammate would you want to be stranded on a desert island with and why?
– Nick Rippon, because he’d talk for hours. You’d never get bored with him.
Which teammate would you not want to be stranded on a desert island with and why?
– Toby Thoolen, because he’d eat everything.