The Seagulls' nest is home for Dunell
(Sam Dunell celebrates Williamstown's Round 15 win over Collingwood at Victoria Park. Photo by Martin Keep).
Written by Ellie Featherston
Sam Dunell is a familiar face in the halls of the Williamstown Football Club.
Joining the club in the premiership-winning year of 2015, he has enjoyed a fruitful VFL career to date.
“It’s my ninth year in the VFL. I started back in 2011 at the Bendigo Bombers, which was my first taste,” Dunell explained.
His stint at the Bombers was brief, after he was taken at pick 12 by the St Kilda Football Club in the 2012 AFL Rookie Draft.
“It all happened pretty quickly to go to St Kilda in the rookie draft, after seven games in the VFL,” the 29-year-old recounted.
“I was rookied, I couldn’t get a game unless I was upgraded so spent quite a bit of time at Sandringham (St Kilda’s affiliated VFL club).”
Dunell was delisted by St Kilda at the conclusion of the 2014 season, playing 12 senior games and 43 matches for the Zebras across three seasons.
At 25-years-of-age, Sam found himself at a crossroads in his career. He was personally approached by Williamstown coach Andrew Collins, who enticed Dunell with the famous club's culture of excellence and success.
Dunell had started working on his life after football, utilising the business degree he obtained during his time at St Kilda to enter the working world in 2015.
The grassroots style of club that Williamstown offered suited Dunell, and helped him rediscover his love for the game.
“Willi was great because I got the enjoyment back in my footy, which I sort of lost in the other three years, because it was quite political,” the 29-year-old said.
“I came here because I wanted to play in success.
“I had heard great things about the club, since then it's been hard to leave.”
During his time at Williamstown, Dunell cemented his spot in the forward line after spending most of his career as a versatile swingman.
His role as a club linchpin was confirmed when he undertook an assistant coaching role upon his recruitment to the club - helping nurture many young forwards including AFL recruits Ben Cavarra (Western Bulldogs) and Lachlan Schultz (Fremantle).
Dunell comes from a pedigree of football talent.
His father Frank Dunell played 115 games with Essendon and the Brisbane Bears during the 1980s - including the 1984 premiership with the Bombers.
“My dad has clearly the biggest influence on my footy career,” he said.
“He coached me in the under 19s, held me back and made sure I was ready, and gave me those stern conversations in the car when I was doing no good.
“He’s definitely overshadowed me with the grand final (1984 premiership) he's played in, but hopefully I can get another VFL one and then it sort of evens out 2-1.”
Dunell’s tenure in the forward line has been rewarding for both him and his team. In this year's Round 12 win against Werribee, the veteran notched up his 200th VFL goal.
“It’s a good little milestone to tick off, especially after kicking three points the week before, and the commentators telling me I’m on 199 every time I’m lining up for a shot,” he laughed.
The respect and loyalty the forward has for the Seagulls is palpable. When asked what keeps him here, his answer was simple - it’s the people.
“It’s rare in the VFL to have people playing longer than just a couple of years - a lot of people come and go, a lot of change, but we have a really good core group of people that I’ve played my whole five years with,” Dunell said.
“I get offers to go back to local and other clubs, but we always are competitive and it’s a great culture, and years just go so quickly because you’re having so much fun.”
Currently sitting fourth on the ladder with nine wins, three losses and a draw, Williamstown has positioned itself to make the finals for a 14th consecutive season.
“We’re building this year,” Dunell said.
“We’ve got to keep winning, this time of year we can really start making our move.
“Hopefully we can stay in the top four and give it another crack.”