VERSATILE big man Alistair Gillespie came to South Fremantle in 2013 for a fresh start and more opportunities and is confident of continuing to step up whether in the ruck or up forward after getting his first game against his former side out of the way.
Gillespie showed some good signs over the last three years at Claremont, but could only break in for six league matches and five Foxtel Cup appearances culminating in a best on ground display in last year's reserves premiership, Claremont's third straight.
However, he was after both a fresh start and more opportunities and landed at South Fremantle over the summer, and couldn’t have been happier with the way the move has so far panned out.
Despite the Round 1 loss to Claremont, Gillespie showed some good signs mostly from centre half-forward and is now looking forward to the rest of 2013 with his new club.
"I left Claremont on pretty good terms last year. I was fairly open to the playing group and we were quite close having been together for four or five years," Gillespie said.
"I told them that I wasn’t enjoying training as much and I lost the passion a bit, and as soon as I came down here it was head down and bum up, and I enjoyed the hard work.
"I wasn’t really second guessing anything and it was good to put that first game against Claremont to bed so I can get on with the rest of the season."
As for that Round 1 clash against Claremont at Claremont Oval, it was certainly weird for Gillespie given the number of years he spent at Tigerland but he was glad to get the game out of the way early on and to perform reasonably well in front of his former club.
"It was weird going off on the different side of the ground and seeing the Claremont colours against me. It brought back a few memories after I was there for so long, but it was good to get it out of the way," he said.
"I didn’t really get much stick from the playing group either. There were a few in the first five minutes when I got a few niggles, but other than that it was pretty tame.
"We gave them a good run for their money in that first half as well. It was good to take a few of those grabs to get rid of those nerves, but I have to keep working on holding onto more marks and I have a lot to work on."
While opportunities were one factor in Gillespie joining South Fremantle, it was more to get a fresh start with his football and he had no doubt that Bulldogs coach Paul Hasleby was the man he wanted to continue to develop under.
"I just needed a fresh start somewhere else. They told me I would get opportunities at Claremont this year and I did get in there a fair bit last year, but I was just worried about a fresh vision from Hase as coach and getting into a new club so I could enjoy my footy again," he said.
"I had a bit to do with Hase through Scham at Claremont and I met him through some mates. We didn’t really talk straightaway about getting me across, it was more talking about my footy as a whole and he just struck me as someone who cared about my footy and had a fresh vision for me.
"So I knew I wouldn’t be hearing the same things every week and Hase had some fresh pointers and he was the big draw point for me to come down here. He was quite honest with what he thought about my footy and where he could help and improve me."
While another former Tiger Ben Saunders had a breakout year in 2012 upon joining South Fremantle winning the Bernie Naylor Medal, that didn’t really play into Gillespie's decision to come to the Bulldogs.
He is confident that between himself and Paul Mugambwa they can help pick up the slack while he is out with a broken collarbone though.
"It's a really rare thing what Saundo did last year and you can't really underestimate it. After only playing a couple of games of senior footy, to then come across and do what he did was a great effort," Gillespie said.
"I didn’t really look at that, I more was looking at the regular opportunity I could get to play league footy. Hase didn’t say he would hand it to me, but I would be a good chance if I did all the right things. If I could end up doing half of what Benny did last year, I'll be pretty happy.
"It will be interesting to see how we adapt to losing Benny. I think I might come up a bit higher and rotate with Gumby so the workload isn’t all on him up the ground. I will continue to help Seany Tighe in the ruck too I think."
Not only is Gillespie a good option up forward whether coming up the goal square or leading up from centre half-forward, he is also a more than handy back-up ruckman and is looking forward to working more closely with the likes of Ryan Cook, Kris Miller, Toby Bairstow, Anthony Collica and Mitch Banner in the midfield.
"I really enjoy going into the ruck. I think that game in the pre-season against Swan Districts showed that a little bit when I didn’t get much of it down forward, but when I went up the ground I really like to get my hands on it and distribute to the midfielders and help them out with a bit of pressure," he said.
"I really do enjoy that role when it comes off and I do well in there. I really liked Collica's game first up and I always rated him through the pre-season until he hurt his hammy.
"I really rate how he's come along and obviously Banner is a bit of a class act with the experience he has from the AFL, and he did well in the SANFL for a long period of time. You can just see the class of those players and it's just a matter of time before they become one unit and they will start dismantling other midfields in the comp. they definitely have the potential to do that."
He might have missed Claremont's last two league premierships the previous two years, but Gillespie still enjoyed 2012 particularly to star in the Foxtel Cup grand final victory and the reserves premiership to cap off the year.
"It was just really enjoyable last year for a lot of reasons," Gillespie said.
"There were a few other guys in my same position in terms of being on the fringe of the league side.
"Obviously it was tough to get in there with a lot of AFL players and established players, but it was good to enjoy that ressies premiership for the third time in-a-row with the same core group who had been through the same thing as me.
"It was good recognition for the hard work we put in during the year."
By Chris Pike