Killa Calls Time

And then there were none.

Brayden Kilpatrick, the last remaining Box Hill-listed player from the Club’s 2018 premiership win, has called time on his VFL career.

‘Killa’ wraps up a six-year stint at City Oval with 68 Club games and 39 goals to his name, but as impressive and reliable a figure as he developed into on the field during his time in brown and gold, when training resumes for 2022 it will be off the field, on Tuesday and Thursday nights, where his absence will be keenly and immediately felt.

“There’s joy and sadness,” Kilpatrick said.

“That I’m leaving probably hasn’t sunk in. It’s all I’ve known for a quarter of my life and where I’ve spent so much time.

“I’ll miss the whole place, to be honest. The boys, the coaches and support staff, I’ll miss everyone.

“Whether you’ve had a good day or bad day, coming down to train at a high level and going out to win each week, that culture has rubbed off on me and will be a big factor wherever I go next.”

A Sydneysider born to expat Victorian parents, football-mad Kilpatrick spent his formative years growing up behind enemy lines.

When mum and dad couldn’t quite warm to knock ons, tries, sets of six and a Sneedon, it was the Sherrin that ultimately won out, with their passion for footy fast becoming an itch young Brayden had to scratch.

“Growing up there was about 1,200 kids at my high school, 20 of which played footy. So, it was a pretty small market,” he says with a laugh.

“I played Auskick from about the age of three, with dad helping out and mum heavily involved in the Club as well.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do once school finished, but I loved playing footy. I put a few feelers out down in Melbourne to see what might happen.

“I reached out to Chris Monaghan [Box Hill’s longtime recruiting manager], who invited me down for a kick with [then coach] Marco Bello and the boys. I loved what I saw and decided to make the move.

“Mum said something that really stuck with me, that she was glad I gave it a go because the worst-case scenario would be that it didn’t work out and I could come back home. But if I didn’t have a go, I’d never know what could happen.”

Whether you figure it out at eight, 18 or 68, mothers always know best.

There were always going to be challenges for a kid living out of and so far from home for the first time, but any worries about whether City Oval was the right place were quickly put to rest.

“If you want to know what the Club’s about, when I moved down I lived with Stewart Ward [long serving staff member] and his wife Barbara for probably a month.

“I would’ve driven them mad, but I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done without them. They put me up and let me board while I found work and a place to live.

“[Moving away] was a big learning curve… I put myself in the deep end and just had to work it all out.

“The culture of the Club is well documented. The number of resources and it’s track record developing players and people.

“That’s probably the thing I’m most thankful for – the people I’ve met and those who have supported me the whole way through.

“Six or seven years later I step back realise all of a sudden I’ve been able to put together a life.”

Kilpatrick’s first two seasons on the Box Hill list – 2016 and 2017 – were transitional campaigns for a senior program that had featured in the last game of the season in each of the previous three years.

Compounding competition for spots, the team’s Development League outfit had done likewise, ultimately going on to end a run of three successive Grand Final defeats with victory in 2016.

It was a challenge for a kid trying to find his feet on and away from the footy field.

Following a positive start to his second season on the list, Kilpatrick finally made his senior debut in round 14 of 2017, kicking two goals in a 45-point win over Werribee. A further four games whet the appetite and laid the foundation for a breakout 2018 – a year underpinned by a change in attitude and approach.

“It feels like a long time ago,” Kilpatrick says with a brief pause.

“When we had the Development League, everyone playing twos wanted to be playing ones, and that was something I stressed about.

“I was trying really hard, probably too hard, so I made a conscious decision in the back end of 2017 to get back to why I loved playing footy: to play with my mates.

“On the back of that I started enjoying things more and playing better, which meant I was able to finish the season off really well and build some momentum for 2018.”

Having played three of the opening four games of the 2018 season, Kilpatrick found himself an unfortunate victim of circumstance.

He would be omitted from the side on the back of a three-goal performance against Sandringham, a relatively clean bill of health at Waverley and City Oval creating a selection squeeze that saw him sidelined for seven weeks.

“It was just one of those things. Box Hill and Hawthorn’s lists were really healthy.

“’Newy’ at the time asked if I wanted the pillow or the bullet first, I chose the bullet because I sensed it was coming.

“The one thing I held onto was that when I went out of the side I was playing good footy. I went away, knuckled down and was able to force my way back in and make an impact as we built towards finals.”

And so he did.

Come elimination final day, Kilpatrick found himself at the centre of arguably the most important passage of play in the Club’s history, soccering the ball forward for Ollie Hanrahan’s last gasp, game-tying goal which sent the match to extra time.

Everyone involved was drawn to the right part of the field, at the right moment and to the right action by instinct, a confluence of events that is as extraordinary and unbelievable three years removed as it was on the day.

“It’s funny watching it back, because Ollie kicks the goal and gets the credit he deserves, but I always think about all the little moments that made it happen.

“The one that sticks out for me is Mitchy Lewis.

“People mightn’t realise when the ball comes in that he’s got about three blokes hanging off him. It’s a wet day, so if he tries to pick it up we’re done, we can’t win.

“For him to have the footy IQ and unselfishness to flick it into my path was huge. He does and Ollie is streaming into goal ahead of me.

“I remember it being on my right foot, too, so I was really nervous about having a freshy.”

Kilpatrick’s recollections of that final 25 seconds are as vivid as the exceptional circumstances allow, even if he’s not quite sure how he ended up being the second-to-last link in the chain.

“It’s such an unbelievable passage of play. I had the ball at the initial stoppage on the other side of the ground but couldn’t get the kick forward.

“I can see it in my mind, but I can’t for the life of me remember how I got to centre half forward… I’d love to see behind the goals footage!

“Post siren I was shell shocked. The crowd was going ballistic and I remember standing on the field unsure as to what would happen next.

“In the end we go on an amazing run and that’s the start of it.”

For Kilpatrick and his teammates, wins against Geelong and Williamstown in the following weeks set up a premiership decider against Casey.

It wouldn’t be Grand Final week without a ‘will he, wont he?’ drama complicating matters and on this occasion it was ‘Killa’ who’s name was at the centre of selection intrigue, late fitness tests and leaps of faith.

“I was damn close to missing,” he says.

“I was carrying a grumbly knee for a few weeks, getting cortisone and local injections to get through.

“Ultimately, the strength and conditioning team gave me every chance and, crucially, the confidence I needed to pull through.

“At the end of the day, ‘Newy’ just said, ‘I’ll back you. I know you’ll do the right thing and won’t let us down, so if you’re telling me you can go, you’re in.’

“It was super nerve-wracking for me, but on the day it didn’t limit me at all. After the game was a different matter, the knee was like a beach ball – so I wouldn’t have been right if we went to a replay.”

On the day itself the Hawks rode a rollercoaster of emotions. Down by as many as five goals early, the boys in brown and gold timed their run perfectly to finish over the top of a strong Casey output to capture senior premiership number three.

“It was such a weird experience. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve never felt that confident in a game where we trailed so heavily.

“Maybe it was the way the coaches were handling it, or what we’d been through in the build-up. Because we’d been through it all, done everything and seen it all the margin felt more manageable than it looked.

“The vivid moments are Chop’s [Kieran Lovell] goal to put us in front and ‘Moorey’ [Dylan Moore] kicking a clutch goal on half-time.

“One that really stands out is ‘Whitey’ [Brendan Whitecross] laid an unbelievable tackle on the far side in the last quarter. That was the moment I really thought, ‘geez, I reckon we’re on here.

“I almost had a tear in the eye looking back on our journey.”

A solid 2019, in which he featured in all but three of the Club’s games, became a 2020 that didn’t get started.

Come 2021 he was one of the more experienced – and longest tenured – members of the squad. After an interrupted preparation he figured in seven of his side’s 10 games, producing a campaign good enough to place fourth on Col Austen Trophy night.

Averaging near enough to 30 touches a game, Kilpatrick posted numbers which placed him second among all Hawks for total disposals, total kicks and handball receives. More, he was third for total effective kicks, score involvements, clearances and contested ball.

There’s a compelling argument to be made that 2021 was his best year of footy, with the timing of his decision to step away equal parts bittersweet and cause for reflection.

“Part of leaving on such a good note is great, but [there’ll] always be a sense of unfinished business.

“I finish on 68 games, which should be a lot more but for COVID. That will bite.

“On the field, we finished the year eight-and-two and looked as though we’d given ourselves a great chance to win another one. That will always burn, I reckon.  

“Personally, I think 2021 would have to be my best year in terms of consistency. The wing can sometimes be a rocks and diamonds position.

“In terms of output it’s quite hard to be a super consistent winger, so I was keen to go inside because that’s where I think I play my best.

“It was great to get that opportunity this year and because of it I ended up playing a really consistent standard of footy.”

Off the field, it should come as no surprise that quirky things happen to quirky characters.

2021 had its fair share of challenges for everyone, but ‘Killa’ came face-to-face with the sort of shenanigans that would usually be reserved for or befall a beloved sitcom character. Think George Costanza constantly being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, his bad luck being played for laughs.

Home in New South Wales for Christmas, he couldn’t beat a snap border closure which spelt two weeks quarantine when he returned south.

He was among the Box Hill contingent caught up in a potential exposure situation when the Club entertained Aspley.

Mid-season, an innocent trip to the MCG one Saturday afternoon necessitated another two weeks isolation.

Confined to home, cue a strength and conditioning program consisting of a lot of skipping rope. The one wrinkle in that plan? He doesn’t own a skipping rope. Hopping up and down it is, then.

In amongst it all he battled a serious health issue that momentarily put pay to the kind of mid-week heavy lifting he’d developed a light-hearted reputation for avoiding.

“Look, that’s not true,” he says with a wry smile.

“When you’re the wise old age of 24 sometimes you need to manage yourself. And, in fairness, the one big pre-season I did I developed a stress fracture in my back!

“But yeah, I was pretty sick at one point. I’m not the biggest guy going around, so to lose 7-8 kilos was a massive hurdle to overcome.

“In the end our doctor and medical staff did a fantastic job and helped me get on top of things, which meant I could play some good footy.”

So as this chapter of his life comes to an end, what does Kilpatrick take out of the experience for the journey ahead?

“It’s probably the intangibles, to be honest.

“Whether they’re in sport or not, there’s always lessons from being part of successful teams.

“I’m pretty big on trying to learn as much as I can, and with sport being such a massive part of our lives and a big commitment of time, you want to embrace the chance to learn as much as you can.

“What makes culture, what drives success, what are actions that underpin that stuff?

“I’ve had some amazing head coaches in my time. First Marco Bello, then the premiership with ‘Newy.’ Max Bailey for a short Covid interrupted period and now Sam.

“So, I’m so lucky to have been able to experience so many well credentialled people. Because of that I’ve learned so much as a person and player.

“They’re the kind of things I’ve taken away from the Club into my professional life.

And what does the Box Hill Hawks mean to him as he prepares for life without the brown and gold?

“It’s a super special place.

“I’ll remember it as somewhere I moved to with nothing but a suitcase and, through the kindness of others, was able to build some really strong relationships  and forge a reasonable VFL career.

“All those relationships were an important part in me staying as long as I did.

“There’s a lot of change year-on-year in the VFL, but the culture was always the same and it was those people who make the Club a special place. Without them it wouldn’t be what it is or as close to my heart.

“I’m looking forward to being a fan now and, hopefully, seeing our next premiership very soon.”

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