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Flag Hawk gets his chance with dual role at Eagles

Xavier Ellis (left) and Chance Bateman walk a lap of honour at the MCG earlier this year - AFL,Chance Bateman,Hawthorn Hawks,West Coast Eagles
Xavier Ellis (left) and Chance Bateman walk a lap of honour at the MCG earlier this year

CHANCE Bateman remembers idolising Peter Matera, Andrew McLeod, Byron Pickett and Chris Lewis as a young Aboriginal boy growing up in Western Australia.

They were the reason he wanted to play AFL football, a dream he lived for 177 games at Hawthorn across 13 seasons before retiring in 2012.

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Bateman, 37, now hopes to be an inspiration himself after accepting a dual role with premier West Coast as a development coach and with the club's indigenous players in welfare.

He will be one of just three Aboriginal coaches, out of roughly 180, in the AFL next year, along with Fremantle's Roger Hayden and Richmond's Xavier Clarke, who also work in development.

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"I think it's a great thing if any past indigenous players or those in the game now are thinking about what they want to do post-career and see myself, Roger and Xavier in coaching," Bateman told AFL.com.au.

"If they can see there is a pathway there and it inspires them, then it's not too dissimilar to the past indigenous players who went before me as players.

"I wanted to pursue the AFL as a player because of the guys I admired and idolised as a young fella growing up. We could act as that inspiration for (budding) indigenous coaches."

Bateman overcame a difficult start to his AFL career, including dealing with the death of his 15-year-old sister Candace in just his second season, to play in the 2008 premiership and become a Hawks life member. 

He was the first Aboriginal player on Hawthorn's list since Percy Cummings in 1965.

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That seems hard to believe given the talent that followed at the club, such as Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli, Shaun Burgoyne, Mark Williams, Bradley Hill and now Chad Wingard.

It's partly why Luke Hodge was so effusive in his praise of Bateman's trailblazing influence at the Hawks' 2012 best and fairest function.

"He's been the first indigenous player to play 50, 100 and 150 games for the club (and) the first indigenous life member of this footy club,'' Hodge said at the time. 

"But if it wasn't for 'Changa', it probably wouldn't have opened our eyes to how good the indigenous players are – and we've probably got the best list of indigenous players in the AFL." 

Chance Bateman and Shaun Burgoyne celebrate a goal in the 2011 semi-final. Picture: AFL Photos

Bateman admits now that moving across Australia as a teenager and settling into the Melbourne lifestyle would have been easier if he wasn't the only Aboriginal at Waverley Park at that stage.

The AFL has come a long way since he was drafted in 1999, with indigenous footballers comprising about 10 per cent of the total playing group after making up only one per cent 25 years ago. 

Even still, there hasn't been the same trend in coaching ranks.

Bateman's arrival at the Eagles came after Andy Lovell wasn't offered a position at Gold Coast in 2019, effectively ending his 20-year stint as a coach in the AFL. 

West Coast's head of player development, Gavin Bell, approached Bateman – who was an assistant at WAFL club Perth Demons the past three seasons – before this year's finals series to gauge his interest.

The dual role is somewhat similar to what Hayden does at the Dockers. 

Clarke is also involved in the Tigers' Korin Gamadji Institute, which helps create job opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth aged between 14 and 21.

Bateman, who has worked as a youth employment mentor since 2017 at the Wirrpanda Foundation, which the Eagles are involved in, was unsure whether more dual-role positions could be the answer to the AFL's indigenous coaching shortage. 

"I think there's a real need for all AFL clubs to at least have an indigenous liaison or player welfare officer," he said.

"They need someone in there that their indigenous players can connect with who understands them and knows where they've come from.

"Having a dual role at the start might be a good way to get indigenous coaches into the AFL system."

As for Bateman's long-term coaching ambitions, he tentatively admitted he would like to be in charge of his own AFL club one day – although he added an asterisk to that goal. 

"It's something I've definitely thought about, but one of the things I've noticed (since accepting the West Coast job) is that I've probably been a bit naïve in terms of how far off I'd be," he said. 

"Being part of the development staff, I'll make sure I get in and really try and be the best I can be in that space and continue to develop.

"That senior assistant role is the next progression on the path I'm on, but that's quite a while off for me. I'm still really young and inexperienced in terms of coaching."