After nine seasons of which six were as co-coach, 167 games, five grand-finals for two premierships, a top five finisher in seven best and fairests, Yarrawonga champion footballer Drew Barnes is heading back to where it all started for him - Nathalia in the Murray League.
“I just felt it was time to go back to Nathalia, to give a bit back,” the dynamic 30-year-old versatile player, mainly centre-half-forward, told the Yarrawonga Chronicle.
“Dad’s a trainer there, two brothers play there and my sister plays netball there. I played junior football right through, five years with seniors for four premierships.”
“Drew has been one of the very best footballers for Yarrawonga in the club’s 87-year-history in the Ovens and Murray League,” record serving, immediate past club president for 18 years, Glenn Brear, said.
“Drew and Chris Kennedy, as co-coaches, have been the most successful in our club’s history. Together they’ve been a great combination.”
Barnes was recruited to Pigeonland at the end of season 2008 by then coach Craig Ednie and president Glenn Brear. Trying out with the Geelong Football Club, Barnes finished runner-up in the Cats Reserves best and fairest.
His home town being Nathalia, he also played enough games with the Purples to qualify for finals.
“We were notified of Barnes’ ability by former Pigeon captain Leigh Ramsdale, who played with Drew in the 2005 premiership with him,” club life member Brear recalled.
“That trip to Geelong to meet Drew, and eventually sign him to the Pigeons, has led to where we are today.”
Barnes recalled the first time he met Brear and his introduction to Yarrawonga. “Glenn’s backed me from the word go. I am very grateful for the opportunity he gave me in the football sense,” he said.
Barnes’ first season under Ednie was 2009. Yarrawonga lost the grand-final but it was the first of six grand-final appearances in a row the Pigeons would challenge the Albury Tigers for the flag.
Success came the way of the Pigeons in 2012 and 2013, and close losses in 2010, 2011 and 2014 by nine, eight and seven points were hard to wear.
In 2011, Barnes, and Chris Kennedy, were appointed co-coaches of Yarrawonga. This proved to be an outstanding decision, an arrangement lasting four years when Kennedy stood down to be replaced by AFL star and Pigeon Brendan Fevola.
In 2015, ‘Fev’ and Barnes took the Pigeons to a preliminary final, losing to Lavington. After four years at Pigeonland, Fev returned to Melbourne. It brought Kennedy back again to coach with Barnes for the 2016 season.
Barnes pulled stumps on coaching; his record reads: six years coaching for two premierships, twice runner-up and two preliminary finals in arguably the strongest country football league.
Barnes was a great leader on and off the field according to Kennedy. “He gave everything and is a lot of the reason for Yarrawonga’s success,” the highly rated coach said. “Along with everyone at the club, I wish him all the best at Nathalia.”
What’s it like having a famous father-in-law Drew? “Glenn was president for the first seven years I was here. He held us altogether, he was running the club, keeping it altogether off the field.”
Pigeons’ president for the past three years, Andrew Mott, couldn’t speak highly enough of Barnes. “In my first year as president, Drew was senior coach. He’s a champion player and a champion person,” the president said.
“How he prepared himself for football was just unbelievable. He is really valued as a player and person.”
Barnes emphasised the significance of fitness and then followed with a message for club members. “Playing in the O and M, you can’t just get by training two nights a week,” he said. “I have a PT background and was fairly focused on players being as fit as possible.
“I’ve enjoyed my time and all the people you meet around the club. I’m very thankful for the support they gave me right throughout. The committees, the volunteers, anyone else for their support - not only for myself but for the whole club.”
Drew, who works for the Bluearth Foundation, will commute from Yarrawonga to Nathalia. The Purples must be considered good things to emulate the four consecutive premiership years of 2005 to 2008.
With a hat-trick of flags since 2015, Nathalia has one flag to go. With top recruit Drew Barnes, the Purples will again be the team to beat.
Pigeons’ supporters wish Drew, who had number 26 on his back, all the best and say ‘thank you’ for his excellent, successful nine years at Pigeonland.