Sport

DAZZLING DEBUT ATLEY SHINES AS PORT OVERPOWERS EAGLES

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July 11, 2017

Sticky celebration: Joe Atley (right) celebrates the win with team mate Matthew White after his debut performance. PHOTO: Getty Images

WESTERN Australia is as far away as you can go to play football — but it’s a trip Joseph Atley would be happy to make again and again.

It was his AFL debut.

His team had an upset win.

His family was there to watch it all, and in the rooms afterwards to share their son’s, and the team’s euphoria.

Joseph admitted running out in front of more than 30,000 fans was a far cry from playing in front of parked cars and a few mates at Moon Oval or a few thousand in the SANFL.

Perth is fast becoming a favoured destination for the Atleys — Joseph’s older brother Shaun made his AFL debut for North Melbourne there, also against West Coast, seven years ago.

Playing in the midfield for Port Adelaide on Saturday, Joseph looked seamless in his transition onto the big stage, notching up 14 disposals in his first 69 minutes of AFL footy.

‘‘I was told at training on Tuesday by our coach (Ken Hinkley) that I would be playing and then had to keep it under wraps until the teams were named,’’ Joseph said.

‘‘I let my close family and friends know, but that was about it. I was speechless at first and didn’t know how to feel, it was just a mix of confidence, excitement and nerves.’’

It gave him enough time to ring his parents, who had to keep the secret, to arrange flights and accommodation.

Joseph, 18, said he had felt some nerves the day before and morning of the game — but it really hit home once he stepped onto the field for Port Adelaide in the clash against West Coast.

‘‘It was a pretty special moment running through the banner,’’ he said.

‘‘I’d never played in front of more than 5000 people so to run out to more than 30,000 was pretty incredible.

‘‘I started off on the bench and got to watch and take it all in before running out onto the field.

‘‘It was definitely a big step up from what I was used to.’’

He had his family and James McPhee and Leslie Collins (friends from Rochester) in the crowd to lend support.

His mother Christina said there was never any doubt they would be at the game, even with her two other sons, Shaun and Jacob, playing at the same time.

‘‘It was all very exciting,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s probably the first time all three boys were playing football at same time with Jacob, our youngest, in Melbourne for the TAC Cup and Shaun playing for North Melbourne.

‘‘We had family spread out across the country and Brendan and myself were over here (Perth) with our two girls (Dominique, 20, and Jacqueline, 22).

‘‘To be in the rooms after the game and watch them all come in was an amazing experience.’’

It was expected to be an easy four points for the Eagles at home, though Port Power made it anything but — coming from 24 points down midway through the second term for a resounding 32-point win.

Joseph collected most of his possessions through the middle of the ground, having a particular influence in the first half.

The number 32 draft pick made the move to SA at the beginning of the year and had his first taste of wearing the Power guernsey back in February this year during a pre-season match against St Kilda.

He had shown incredible form in the South Australia National Football League (named in the best five times from 11 games) including a starring 31 possessions and a goal in one of those games.

There were still nerves for the former Rochester Secondary College student with a few fumbles early on against West Coast but Christina said she was probably more nervous for him.

‘‘You could tell the night before the game he was trying to stay calm,’’ she said.

‘‘He knew he was ready and that the coaches had put their faith in him to do what he does best.

‘‘We were more nervous for him than anything.’’

It’s put him on Power’s radar for next week’s game as they look towards finals — the team now moving into fourth on the ladder on the back of its most recent win.

But Joseph’s biggest surprise was to discover the club had invited his father to present him with his number 30 jumper before the game.

Brendan also believed Joseph would only get better from now, with his first-game jitters out of the way.

‘‘(Presenting the jumper) was something we never got to do with Shaun, so to get the opportunity to do it for Joe with the family watching was pretty special,’’ Brendan said. ‘‘It was daunting speaking in front of the playing group but it was something I was incredibly proud to be asked to do.

‘‘It was an emotional moment and a significant one for our family in celebrating Joe’s journey and acknowledging his efforts and sacrifices along the way.

‘‘Port Adelaide has been incredibly good in that sense for enabling us to be a part of every step.

‘‘He acquitted himself quite well for an 18-year-old playing in the midfield of what is now a top four side; he didn’t look out of place one bit.’’

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