LUKE Beveridge and Jason Taylor's long and binding story of friendship started when the pair were five years old and in prep at St Peter's Primary School in East Bentleigh, a tight community in the pocket of south-eastern Melbourne.
This week that same neighbourhood is buzzing with two of their own pitted against each other in Saturday's Grand Final – Beveridge as the Western Bulldogs' coach and Taylor as Melbourne's recruiting manager.
"Our mates behind the scenes are doing cartwheels," Beveridge told AFL.com.au. "Steve Cathcart, a great mate of ours, rang me and said that everyone is ringing him about a beautiful irony of both of us being in a Grand Final on opposing sides. It makes you feel good that they've got a bit of a spring in their step about the whole thing."
The early days for Beveridge and Taylor were, like now, stitched together through football, including Taylor's love for Arnold Briedis at North Melbourne and Beveridge's obsession with Trevor Barker at the Saints and then Magpies star Peter Daicos. They went to school together for all bar one year and played at St Peter's Football Club. Sometimes before training they would go to Beveridge's house and cook up a serve of bacon and eggs downed with a big iced coffee.
"He was a pretty good player himself, very skilful both sides of his body. A tad slow," Beveridge said with a laugh, "but he used to kick a lot of goals for the Doggies there."
They still live locally to each other, were in each other's wedding parties and Beveridge spoke at Taylor's 50th birthday. "I don't know that many of my mates' birthdays but I know his," Beveridge said
Beveridge's ascent to be one of the AFL's best coaches on the verge of a second premiership is well documented: the former Melbourne, St Kilda and Footscray 118-gamer started his coaching at amateurs level in Victoria before a development role at Collingwood then an assistant's position at Hawthorn and finally the top job at the Western Bulldogs. But it was his family link in recruiting (his father is legendary St Kilda recruiter John Beveridge) which helped kickstart Taylor's scouting tale after he had been a qualified refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic.
"He's a very loyal, driven person Jase. I love him to death," Beveridge said.
"He'd talk to me way back in the day about his desire to be a recruiting officer and eventually he had this vision of himself being the guy at the top.
"He put together a paper that he and I had something to do with and floated it with my dad and he ended up being an understudy with dad. He did the hard yards on his $1000 a year retainer driving all around regional centres watching the talent pathway. He built himself up and Derek Hine took an interest in him and gave him an opportunity at Collingwood."
While Beveridge saw Taylor rise with responsibility, he had also struck a friendship with Tim Lamb, then working in Victoria's police force. That started over a coffee in the city when Beveridge was working for the tax office whilst also coaching St Bede's in the VAFA following his own AFL career that spanned 118 games for Melbourne, Footscray and St Kilda. Then, Lamb committed to being Beveridge's assistant and was his right-hand man in three successive premierships.
Now, Lamb is Melbourne's list manager having connected initially with Taylor through Beveridge, with the Demons scouts behind the list build that has the club aiming to break a 57-year premiership drought.
Beveridge saw Lamb's eye for talent begin to shine after he landed a role with the Sandringham Dragons' coaching panel, eventually arriving at Melbourne as a recruiter alongside Taylor, who started officially as the Dees' recruiting manager in 2013 after crossing from the Magpies.
"Through that 'Lamby' started to have an understanding of the talent and was involved in the state team and national carnival, so he built up this database of knowledge and getting to know everyone and he's ended up at the Demons initially in recruiting and now as their list manager," Beveridge said. "He's a really hard worker."
The intertwining nature of football has seen the paths of Beveridge, Taylor and Lamb continue to twirl through and past each other but nothing compares to this weekend, with Melbourne in its first Grand Final since 2000 and the Western Bulldogs aiming for their second flag in six seasons under Beveridge.
Beveridge's magic as coach of the Dogs is unquestioned and in plain sight: he broke their 62-year wait for a premiership in 2016 and has changed the shape and face of the group to contend again. Taylor and Lamb's work has been done in a less public but equally important way, behind the scenes constructing the list that rocketed into the Grand Final.
"Hopefully the fairytale's not there for them because we want it, but it would be great for them to have success," Beveridge said.
"Both of them have been courted by opposition clubs over the journey and they have both committed to seeing it through because not only are they confident in what they are doing, they believe they are building something that was going to come to fruition at some stage."
Of course, there is but one example of a moment where traversing the line of friendship and professional competitiveness has tested the boundaries – when Melbourne drafted Mitch Hannan out of the Footscray VFL program from under the Dogs' noses. In 2020, four years on, Hannan requested a trade back to the Bulldogs and he will be an important player on Saturday night at Optus Stadium.
"We were sitting at Mentone RSL having a quiet beer and it was after they'd picked Mitch up that circle of friends who we'd grown up together were all there," Beveridge said.
"I was saying 'You've picked him up and I get it, but it just pisses me off because he's our player and we put a bit of time into him'. They were all saying, and not just Lamby and Jase but all of my mates, 'Yeah, but that's just the way it is'. And I'd say 'I get it, I understand, I'm just emotional about it' and they kept arguing.
"I was trying to separate the clinical from the emotional but I couldn't reason with any of them. Great mates always have heated debates at times but it's good to have Mitch back at our club and he played brilliantly last week."