Why the Cats took a punt on Tyson Stengle (aka the Wombat)

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Stengle thought he was going to Collingwood before last year’s mid-season draft. Then the Magpies got cold feet. Some at the club feel they did too much work on him, looking for reasons not to take him.

“I didn’t really think Geelong was the club I was going to come to as they didn’t contact me all year until the end of the season last year,” Stengle said.

Stengle at Adelaide.

Stengle at Adelaide.Credit:Getty Images

“I was close with Collingwood in the mid-season draft last year, but didn’t end up going there. They pulled the pin at the last minute. I am not too sure why. Not too sure what to think about that.

“Obviously, I missed [being picked] in the mid-season draft then. It was pretty tough. I was a little bit sad, but I forgot about it pretty quick. We had a game that weekend, so I went out and played at the Eagles and my goal for the rest of the year was to play good footy each week and go far in the finals with the Eagles.

Stengle at the Tigers.

Stengle at the Tigers.Credit:Getty Images

“My manager and stuff were talking to Collingwood, so I am not sure what happened with that. It’s all right I ended up at Geelong anyway. I was happy to come to Geelong.”

Geelong didn’t speak to Stengle all year. But others spoke to them about him. They called Richmond late to ask what they thought and only received glowing endorsements – he was a lovely, good-hearted bloke. Don’t judge him on a few incidents in Adelaide.

Shaun Grigg, who had played with him at Richmond and was on the Cats’ coaching staff, badgered Stephen Wells and Andrew Mackie to give Wombat a chance.

“We [Grigg and Stengle] were pretty close at Richmond and having him here as a coach and getting in the ears of the recruiters trying to get me across here, he has been amazing to try and get me here as well,” Stengle said.

Eddie Betts was significant too. He was working with the Cats and vouched for Stengle, telling the club if they brought him in he would mentor him. He said Stengle could live with him and his family if he wanted. Stengle eventually was taken by the Cats and moved in close to Kardinia Park with Brandon Parfitt instead of with Eddie and his family, but he hangs out at Eddie’s house in Melbourne at least a couple of days a week.

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Stengle and Betts knew each other well from Adelaide. Their paths crossed for one season, but the Betts family had been in Stengle’s life long before that.

Stengle and his brother were taken in by his grandmother when he was about three or four years old when life was hard for his parents. They lived in Largs Bay, north of Adelaide, but would go up and down to Ceduna as well.

He’d see his mum still semi-regularly, but he lived with his nana. His dad died a few years later when he was in primary school and his grandmother a few years after that. After she passed he went to live with her brother, Cecil Betts. Cecil is related to Eddie but Eddie and Tyson didn’t know each other back then.

“I was too young to know what happened there with my parents,” Stengle said. “We still got to catch up with our parents maybe a few times a week or whatever. I see my mum now and then now, but sadly, my dad is not around any more, he passed away when I was like five.

“There’s a bit of trauma in my life. Everything happens for a reason, I guess. I am grateful I have got my other family, had my grandmother around, my poppa is still around and then my brother and my sister, so I am grateful for them.

Stengle with Eddie Betts and Gary Rohan.

Stengle with Eddie Betts and Gary Rohan.Credit:Getty Images

“Football was always my life growing up. When I step out on the footy field I felt safe. I feel good on the footy field.”

Cecil was the one who pushed him to make what he could of football. Tyson went along to the Port Adelaide academy and was helped by Paul Vandenberg. He was outside the Power’s zone, so they didn’t actually have access to him, but Vandenberg was happy to help anyway.

In his under-18 year he kept turning up to state training even though he wasn’t invited. He wasn’t being pushy, he just knew that Andrew McLeod would be there. And he loved Andrew McLeod, so he kept going. It was there, though, he caught Richmond’s eye and they drafted him.

“I love footy. I used to commentate myself kicking the ball around growing up. I was Andrew McLeod back when he was there when I was younger. Then, when Eddie Betts came there [to the Crows], I would commentate like that ‘Eddie Betts kicked it from the pocket’.

“I played one game with Eddie at the Crows, that was a pretty cool moment. I idolised him as a younger kid.”

Now he challenges Betts at training. The pair try to outdo each other with snaps at goal. They have coffees riding on the goalkicking competitions. Often the competition is the whole forwards group and Eddie, but at the very least it is always Eddie and Tyson.

“I beat Eddie at training, but he has done it in games all the time, so I have still got to get him,” Stengle said. “He has got like four goal of the years, so I have four to catch up on him.”

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He added with a laugh: “I have had to shout him a couple of times, but he’s shouted me more!”

Stengle never doubted he had the football ability to be here, poised to play in a grand final. But he did wonder if others would give him a chance. Geelong offered him that chance and after an All-Australian year he has already repaid that faith.

“Coming to a club like Geelong, a family club, I’ve got Eddie around. Couldn’t be more thankful,” he said.

“I always had great belief in my footy ability and knew my footy ability was what clubs want and if you play good enough footy, hopefully clubs will come calling and that was what happened at the end.

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“I don’t focus on that off-field stuff any more. People can think what they think, I am not worried about it. I am focusing on the now.

“Geelong said to me, ‘We want to maximise your strengths’ and my strength is in and around the goals, so they let me play freely and get around the goals a bit more than what I did at other clubs.”

And the grand final?

“That’s what I thought about when I was six years old, kicking the ball around in the backyard. I always wanted to play on the big stage in front of a lot of people.”

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