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How a sparky's AFL dream was cut off twice, and the Don who didn't go blond

Matt Guelfi has played 28 games for the Bombers since his debut last season - AFL,Matt Guelfi,Essendon Bombers
Matt Guelfi has played 28 games for the Bombers since his debut last season

MATT Guelfi arrived at Essendon as an apprentice electrician and late draft selection who had been overlooked for two years. He had hopes of playing as soon as possible for the Bombers, but no expectations.

Now, more than a year-and-a-half into his career, Guelfi has shifted those plans. Having become a regular in Essendon's line-up in his debut season, the driven 21-year-old feels ready to step it up. 

"I'm still a role player, but I think I'm growing a bit out of that. I'm having a bit more impact on the game this year whereas last year I was just playing a role," he told AFL.com.au this week.

Matt Guelfi celebrates a win with the Bombers after his debut game in 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

"You always want to do that, but you also want to help the team and I'm getting better at that this year."

Playing any role is a big thing for Guelfi, given the extra effort it took to get an AFL club to call his name.

"I give myself a tick for just being here," he said.

Guelfi was first eligible for the NAB AFL Draft in 2015, the year the Bombers took his current teammates Darcy Parish, Aaron Francis, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Mason Redman (all five of them played in last week's win over Sydney).

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Except it took Guelfi a little longer to get there. He was disappointed to not be taken that time, but went back to Claremont in the WAFL and had another crack at it in 2016.

He had 15 clubs chat to him throughout that season, and with every visit came a little more hope that his time would come. It amounted to nothing, with Guelfi heading to train at his WAFL club on draft night instead of celebrating. 

"We had training and I was told I didn't have to come, but I was like 'Nah, I'm coming'. I just wanted to get back into it," he said.

"I remember running a lap by myself and getting a bit upset but it was good to be by myself for a second. It made my drive stronger."

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The feedback he received from clubs was that he was too one-dimensional. He was playing as an inside midfielder and winning plenty of the ball, but used the 2017 season to showcase other areas of his game: his overhead marking when he drifted forward, his ability to negate players when he moved into the backline.

"I always knew I could play other positions, I just didn't get the chance until then," he said.

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Guelfi started an electrical apprenticeship in 2016, working for his dad. He'd get up at 7am, finish at 5pm and then head to training. One day, he was working on the Wembley Golf Course in Perth when new Fremantle draftees Griffin Logue and Sean Darcy were playing a round on their day off.

"I was digging holes at the time, and I was pretty angry about that. It wasn't very good but it kind of pushed me on to want to do what they were doing. As much as I did enjoy my electrical apprenticeship, this is always what I wanted to do," he said.

Essendon hadn't shown as much interest in Guelfi in 2017 as previous years – he thought Adelaide was most keen – but the Bombers grabbed him with their final pick at the draft (No.76 overall). 

 

"I wasn't really watching the draft. I was sitting on the couch and didn't even notice my name getting called, and Mum screamed in the kitchen," he said.

"I thought she had cut her finger off or something. It was weird, because Mum had to go pick up Dad so I was by myself for about half an hour. I actually cried a little bit."

Guelfi's ability to move around the ground has been evident in his first two years at Essendon, having played 15 games last year and all bar two this season.

One of the games he missed came after Jeremy McGovern pushed him into the fence, which saw the West Coast star suspended for a week.

"I was just a bit sore. I like 'Gov', and I still like him. He's a Claremont player like me so there's definitely no grudges," he said.

Guelfi, who lives with teammates Sam Draper, Josh Begley and Dylan Clarke, is out of contract at the end of this season, but discussions have started on a new deal and he's keen to remain at the club. 

"I'm happy with where I am now. I love it here. I just want to be playing footy at the moment and that will take care of it," he said.

Under-18 opponents Dylan Clarke and Matt Guelfi are now close teammates. Picture: AFL Photos

His versatility and hardness has added to Essendon's line-up, which is aiming for its fifth win from its past six games when it takes on North Melbourne on Saturday - the club's 'Tackling Childhood Cancer' game, in support of charity partner Challenge.

It is an important match for the Bombers' finals hopes and Guelfi is keen to have his first taste of September action.

"For the older boys who haven't played for a while, as younger guys we want to do it for them, not so much for us. I think we're on the right track at the moment," he said.

 

Guelfi will be a little harder to spot as the team runs onto Marvel Stadium than earlier in the year.

Just as he's trying to add some more flash to his game, he caught attention in round six when he bleached his hair blond for the clash with Collingwood on Anzac Day in the biggest home and away match of the season. 

Guelfi turned heads when he first dyed his hair. Picture: AFL Photos

He says Essendon nearly had two players don the splash of dye, until a teammate got the jitters.

"I always wanted to do it. Conor [McKenna] and I were talking about doing it because Conor's got grey hair now, but he pulled out. I like it," Guelfi said.