Shane McAdam, Ash Johnson’s epic journey from Halls Creek to the AFL

The mums try to get the children to sit still for a family photo.

Some are looking at the camera.

Others are distracted, glancing elsewhere.

Of the 10 youngsters in this shot, four now happen to be in the AFL.

There is Adelaide forward Shane McAdam, his brother, Collingwood mid-season draftee Ash Johnson, and their cousins, Gold Coast defender Jy Farrar and Carlton backman Sam Petrevski-Seton.

The picture was taken in their hometown of Halls Creek in northern WA two decades ago.

Halls Creek has a population of about 1500 people yet it now boasts seven players on AFL lists after Johnson’s arrival at Collingwood this month.

The fact that group of children, as well as cousins Toby Bedford (Melbourne AFL) and Krstel Petrevski (Melbourne AFLW) and Irving Mosquito (Essendon), have gone from kicking a footy on the streets of their remote community to representing it at the elite level is difficult for McAdam to fathom.

“It’s still very hard to believe,” McAdam, 25, says.

“We’d always have a footy and were competing in everything we do: goalkicking, marking, tackling.

“There was everyone in the whole town around our age all competing against each other.

“That’s how small and close a town it is.

“Everyone back home, they try to do freaky, fancy stuff and it just becomes natural.”

McAdam and Johnson had similar journeys from Halls Creek to the AFL.

And it involved former Essendon and Sturt player Shane Radbone, who helped them make it.

The brothers moved to Perth for schooling and McAdam went on to impress at Claremont in the WAFL, becoming a regular on highlight reels due to his high leaping.

But when the forward was overlooked for the 2015 drafts, he headed back to Halls Creek, filling in for the local club and becoming an apprentice refrigeration mechanic.

He was working on a roof one day in 2016 when he met Radbone.

Radbone’s Halls Creek connection came via Brandon Skeen, a school friend of his son who introduced his family to some of the town’s talented footballers.

“I’d seen Shaneo’s YouTube footage and thought he was unreal,” Radbone says.

“I said ‘G’day’ and then told Skeeny that if Shane ever wants to do anything, make sure to let us know.

“Skeeny then said he’d gone to Wangaratta.”

The footballs flying past make Johnson think North Wangaratta may not be the best pathway to the AFL.

Johnson, McAdam and Farrar joined the Ovens and King football league club from Halls Creek in 2017 because of a connection via Farrar’s brother.

They believed it could be a stepping stone to the VFL.

It was not.

North Wangaratta finished the season winless with an average losing margin of 119 points.

Four years on, the brothers can see the funny side.

“They needed a fill-in, needed some boys,” Johnson, 23, recalls.

“We never really came close to winning.

“I’d tap it down to Jy and we’d win the centre clearance but the ball would come straight back out of the forward line and straight above our heads 100 times a day.”

Johnson and Farrar could not wait to leave, but lasted the season.

McAdam played just one scratch match before realising: “I’m not going nowhere”.

So he got in touch with Radbone and came to Adelaide.

In the Radbone household, there was at one stage four Halls Creek lads living there, along with the family’s three children.

“I said to Shano the other night, ‘What made you come?’ Because he didn’t know our family but he fitted in like one of the children,” Radbone says.

McAdam says Radbone’s family did not treat him any differently.

They did teach him a morning routine and got him fitter.

“I nearly died a couple of times,” McAdam jokes.

Not only did Radbone offer McAdam the chance to live with his family and play amateur football with Scotch Old Collegians, he also got him a job at Cheap as Chips, where the ex-Bomber was chief executive.

McAdam worked in costume as mascot Mr Chip.

“Because I’d just moved here, I was just being nice, that’s why I wore it,” he says.

“But I was thinking in my head ‘I don’t want to wear this’.”

McAdam Facetimed Johnson regularly that year.

“Ash would just talk about how much they were losing by every game,” McAdam says.

At the end of 2017, Johnson and Farrar were introduced to Radbone in Halls Creek.

It was not long before they joined McAdam in Adelaide and Scotch Old Collegians.

Radbone also gave Johnson a job at Cheap As Chips.

“I was doing this all day,” laughs Johnson, who mimics picking up boxes and shelf-stacking.

“I’d never worked in my life.”

Radbone was an assistant coach at Scotch and had not seen Johnson play until his first training at the club.

“His training leaved a bit to be desired, but his skill base was unique,” he says.

“I just thought, ‘Bloody hell’, it was pretty clear to me that him and Jy had the package.”

Acclimatising to Adelaide presented another challenge.

“We were in the middle of July in Adelaide and I was going, ‘Where’s Ash?,” Radbone remembers.

“I was running around the oval looking for him and he was in the change rooms underneath the heater – he couldn’t handle the cold.”

Johnson recalls Farrar’s debut for Scotch being played in sheets of hail.

“My hand was blue and I couldn’t even run,” he says.

“That was the worst”.

Scotch Old Collegians was the launching pad because the brothers were not fit enough to go straight to the SANFL.

After McAdam spent 2017 there, Radbone helped get him to Sturt.

He was one of three recruited after trialling with about 50 other players.

McAdam kicked 31 goals from 17 games for the Double Blues in 2018.

That year Johnson played in Scotch’s division three premiership, breaking his arm in the grand final.

From there, he and Farrar became Crows top-up players, although Johnson would not play a game as he recovered from the injury.

McAdam landed on Adelaide’s AFL list via a 2018 trade with Carlton, where Petrevski-Seton had been drafted with pick six in 2016.

Farrar joined the Suns via the 60th selection in the 2019 national draft.

Seeing his brother reach the top level provided motivation and inspiration for Johnson.

“I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps,” he says.

“I thought if he could do it, I could do it.”

Fast-forward to earlier this month and McAdam is cooking a big chuck steak and a bowl of salad for Johnson and his girlfriend on the night of the mid-season draft.

It is just the three of them at the place the brothers live.

Collingwood selects Johnson with pick 3.

“It all became real for me when I heard his name on TV,” McAdam says.

“There were handshakes, hugging, just the excitement and trying to hold it in.

“Hopefully I get to play him soon.”

Johnson and McAdam say Radbone’s brutal honesty has been crucial to their rise.

“He’s always in the back of our heads he’s telling us to keep going,” says Johnson, who re-signed with Collingwood this week until the end of next year.

McAdam adds: “He’s someone you can always rely on and if you want something done he’ll do it.”

Radbone says he is immensely proud.

“They’ve done the work,” he says.

“We all set a three-year goal (to make the AFL) without grandstanding it and there’s been ups and downs along the way, but we’ve delivered on it.

“Credit to them and their families.

“A lot of people have played a role along the way but I was probably the most annoying.

“They’re going to go home as leaders and show other futures Shanes, Jys and Ashs what’s possible.

“It’s inspirational.”

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Author: Shirley