Dane Rampe will play his 200th AFL game on Friday night against Carlton but he had to endure significant challenges before making his debut.
It wasn’t until text messages lit up Dane Rampe’s phone this week that he started embracing his impending 200-game milestone.
As with many footballers who have ‘team’ ingrained in their mind for so long, Rampe initially brushed the achievement off.
Then he heard from Ted Richards. Jude Bolton, whose No.24 Rampe inherited for the 2014 season, also reached out. Dan Hannebery gave him a call, too.
Well-wishes flowed in from the champion defender’s old AFL Sydney club UNSW-Eastern Suburbs as well. There are so many jigsaw pieces to Rampe’s football puzzle.
“That’s when you start to reflect and probably just take a moment to be grateful for all the help that contributed to your career,” he told News Corp.
“It’s a moment to take time to appreciate them and kind of their excitement as well, because there’s been a lot of people involved who have helped me get to where I am.
“That’s what I’ve really enjoyed about this week, more than anything.”
Rampe’s bulging AFL resume – two Grand Finals, co-captain, Bob Skilton medallist as Sydney’s club champion, All-Australian and even being named the league’s most courageous player – mask a tale of serious struggle.
After being overlooked at the 2008 AFL draft, the then-teenager assumed he would move to Melbourne and right that wrong within one VFL season.
But two seasons into the Victorian state league and Rampe hadn’t even made it out of the reserves.
He broke into Williamstown’s senior side in the 2011 season but two pre-seasons with the Western Bulldogs – the VFL club’s AFL affiliate – ultimately didn’t present an opportunity on the big stage.
Rampe packed his bags and returned to the Harbour City.
“To be honest, I came back to Sydney probably all but giving up on it; tail between my legs a little bit,” the 31-year-old said.
“But the good thing was I was in a really good place. I had decided that it was time to leave Melbourne.
“I hadn’t achieved what I’d set out to, but there was always a little chance, albeit very small, probably five per cent chance, that if I did have a good year in the Sydney comp, who knows?”
Rampe certainly did that.
He won the Phelan Medal as AFL Sydney’s best player, won a flag with UNSW-Eastern Suburbs, represented the competition against the VAFA, and was named as AFL NSW-ACT’s best player and an All-Australian in the Australian Country Football Championships.
A phone call from Paul Roos to play a couple of games for the Swans’ NEAFL side sealed the deal for Rampe, who averaged 21 disposals, six contested possessions and six intercept possessions in those matches.
“The thing I’m most proud about is that I always knew if I got a chance, I’d be able to grab it with both hands,” he said.
“I got some really good advice. I can’t remember who it was from, but it was, ‘If you’re good enough, you’ll make it’ and that always stuck with me.
“That was kind of my mantra when I was in Melbourne and repeatedly getting knocked back; was that if I get to a stage where I am good enough, I just had confidence.
“It was probably a bit of blind confidence that I’d be picked up (but) I was hellbent on doing it and it’s what I wanted to do and, essentially, it’s paid off.”
Sydney selected Rampe in the rookie draft in 2012, he made his debut in round 1 the following season and was good enough to play in the club’s preliminary final team the same year.
He climbed from a third tall down back, behind Richards and Heath Grundy, to become one of the AFL’s best, undersized key defenders.
That status was sealed when Rampe earned All-Australian honours in 2016, the year he and the Swans lost a second grand final in three seasons.
Sydney has since undergone a list overhaul and been down the ladder and up again, with the veterans leftover from the Swans’ successful era, including Rampe – who became a co-captain in 2019 – having to adapt to new roles.
“One thing I’ve done in the past is usually play on the best forward, but how lucky are we that we’ve now got Tom McCartin, at 22, to come in and play that role?” he said.
“That’s been a bit of an adjustment for me – I’m not going to lie – but I love working with him and we can all see the future he’s going to have at the club.
“Something that’s always been drilled into us is you have your time and at a certain stage of your career, it’s about ushering that next group through and really embracing that.
“They’re what’s going to drive us to the success we want to have.”
Dane Rampe on…
Climbing the goalpost against Essendon in 2019
“It must have been a full moon that night. Obviously, there was a big deal made of it, but, at the time, I was probably just an excitable player. I really enjoy going out there and kind of let my emotions do the talking usually. I got carried away a little bit with the excitement at the end of the game.”
Being selected for his AFL debut
“That was a monumental moment and probably a lot of it was just kind of liberation for the time I’d spent in Melbourne and all the hard work and effort. Being told that you’d finally play was, I guess, justification for a lot of that work.”
The Adam Goodes booing saga
“That year, 2015, when ‘Goodesy’ went through all that just gave me an appreciation for something bigger than the club and bigger than football. To see the way not only our community but mainly ‘Goodesy’ himself handled it with such grace and poise really got me thinking about some bigger-picture stuff. It made me grateful to be able to be in a position where I’m learning off people like that who acted with grace and class in such trying times .”
The Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh retirement game
(Nick Smith and Heath Grundy didn’t play but retired as well)
“We got a big win over St Kilda at the SCG and they both kicked a goal in the second half and really kind of got the fairytale send-off. That was really special to be a part of and, again, you kind of take a moment in those times to really reflect on how much bigger footy clubs are than just what happens on the field.”