Nathan is a product of the local area, originally starting out in the Under 12s at Westbrook Juniors in 2001. He played five seasons of junior footy through to the Under 16s in 2005, playing 50 games and winning 2 premierships along the way.
Boxey joined the Senior Club in 2006 and played 28 games in the Under 18s. He was Runner-Up Best & Fairest for the Under 18 Devils Challenge Cup (Division 2) side in 2007. In 2008 he played in Penno’s 3rd Grade premiership team and between 2009 and 2012 he played mainly Reserve grade. In 2013 he dropped back to the 3rd Grade side to be its captain and won a flag in Division 4 that year. Promoted to Division 3 in 2014, Boxey took his team to an Elimination Final, a fantastic effort for the first season in a higher grade. In 2013 and 2014, he was runner-up to team-mate Alex Huggins in the team’s B&F (twice) and was also runner-up in the 2013 Armstrong Medal, again providing the supporting act to Huggo.
In 2015, Boxey took on the new challenge of coaching the ‘thirsty thirds’ as well as continuing on as player and team captain. The team finished a creditable fourth but went out to a strong Western Suburbs side in the Elimination Final.
In arguably his most successful season, as player/coach, Boxey led the Division Three side through a stellar season in 2016, winning the minor premiership and advancing to the Grand Final. He was awarded the Club’s Footballer of the Year, the first time it’s been won by a player from the thirds, and capped off the season winning the McFarlane Medal for the best and fairest in the Division Three competition.
2016 Division Three Grand Final
The most disappointing result in season 2016 was the loss in the Division Three Grand Final. Pennant Hills had stormed into the Grand Final after a decisive victory in the 2nd semi-final, played against their eventual Grand Final opponents, Wollondilly Knights. That day the Demons were irresistible, winning by 44 pts and stamping themselves as flag favourites. As things turned out, come Grand Final day, the Knights seemed better prepared and ‘came to play’ as the saying goes. They started hard, got the jump on Penno and played the whole game out in top gear. The Knights ran out comfortable winners by 30 pts in what turned out a desperately disappointing day for the Demons. Definitely, this was the ‘one that got away’!
So, what went wrong for Penno. In retrospect, there are a number of circumstances that could have accounted for Penno’s poor showing, not the least of which is that we were beaten by a better side on the day. For starters, Penno had only played one game in 28 days leading up to the Grand Final. That was the 2nd semi-final against the Knights which was arguably the team’s best result all season; maybe Penno played its ‘Grand Final’ that day? On the other hand, Wollondilly had three good hit outs prior to the Grand Final. Penno weren’t up to the pace of the game for much of the first half with Wollondilly’s pressure and hardness at the ball causing poor handling and disposal of the ball by Penno. Wollondilly were superior in their spread and rebound from defence, frequently finding consecutive men in space (uncontested possessions) through the lines while Penno were often kicking to contests … all this perhaps symptomatic of the light load through finals?
As the club’s top side, the Knights were clearly a tight group, well drilled and possessing plenty of flair and enthusiasm. They were in fact Division Four premiers from season 2015. They had 31 players go through the team in 2016. Contrast this to our Division Three side which had 61 players cycle through it. Many of Penno’s Division Three regulars also played up or down in Division One and Division Five, respectively, throughout the season. Whilst there is nothing unusual about this phenomenon in a club’s third senior team, but this player churn invariably affects a team’s cohesiveness and week-in, week-out consistency.
Arguably, Penno also chose to take a series of selection risks which, in hindsight likely added to the difficulty of the huge challenge that is a Grand Final. Boxey himself was still suffering the effects of a heavy cork sustained in the 2nd semi-final from two weeks prior and his run and mobility was obviously hampered by this soreness. Gun forwards Josh Mott (first game back after dislocating a knee) and Fraser Nixon (had just flown in from South America), were both probably short on match fitness. However, Frog and Motty had kicked 90+ goals between them and were still automatic selections, in spite of their lack of recent match practice. Captain Danny Strange and Nathan Mace were late withdrawals from the team due to untimely injuries.
Whilst it’s easy in hindsight to call out the potential shortcomings of some of the decisions taken, at the time, they all seemed a reasonable risk. If Penno had made a better fist of its start in the Grand Final, then a different result would certainly have been possible. And what’s more, afterall, we’re talking about third grade footy here, and playing with your mates, and the guys who got the team to the final, certainly deserve the opportunity to play for a flag. Although Division Three slipped up at the final hurdle, season 2016 will go down as one of third grade’s best and the team was subsequently rewarded with promotion to Division Two in 2017.
At the 2016 Phelan Mostyn Medal awards night, Boxey received his McFarlane Medal from Tom Harley, former Geelong veteran and one-time General Manager of AFL NSW/ACT. During his acceptance interview Boxey congratulated Wollondilly on their Grand Final victory noting that Penno “fell one game short but, to finish minor premiers and reach the grand final is no mean feat. Well done to Wollondilly, but our team went well” also.
When asked about how he prepares for the season, he responded glibly … “Ah, yeah … pre-season is probably not my forte … I don’t think I’ve got a hard-ball get all my life … I just hang at the back of packs and get plenty of touches that way. April is the time to turn-up … the balls are back at training … April’s the key to success, I reckon!” His remarks earned him the title of the King of April!
But don’t be fooled, Boxey was being way too modest. He is a hard-working, highly skilled player and a popular leader at the Club. For thank yous, Boxey sounded most sincere when he thanked the Club committee … putting both Division 3 and Division 5 sides on the park each week is a “massive effort … it’s a great Club that we all dearly love.” He was effusive in his thanks to the club umpires and other volunteers that support lower grade teams throughout the long footy season, who “… allow us to do what we love”… play footy!
Although clearly he hadn’t rehearsed anything, Boxey spoke really well on the night and proved to be a great ambassador for the Club and for lower grade footy more generally.
Aside from his professed laziness, Boxey is also an accomplished cricketer and this season captained the Sydney 4th grade side to a premiership in the NSW Premier Cricket competition. It would seem then, that while his footy team-mates were doing pre-season, he was actually working long and hard at winning at cricket, his favourite summertime pursuit. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Boxey has a good football brain and strong leadership qualities. He has a passion for the game and is a loyal Penno man. We’re sure that his team-mates will join in congratulating him on achieving this significant milestone, which qualifies him for Player Life Membership at the Demons.
Well done Boxy and Go Penno!
Written & compiled by John Acheson for PHAFC, Saturday 6 May 2017