By JUSTIN LILLECRAPP (NEAFL MEDIA)
Our unique football league spans over two states and two territories, with players coming from far and wide before they set foot on the NEAFL stage.
Humble Beginnings is a six-part series featuring players from each non-AFL club, uncovering their journey from junior football to NEAFL.
Sydney University captain Tim Barton’s journey from rugby league prodigy to one of the NEAFL’s best ever players is nothing short of remarkable.
He has forged an outstanding NEAFL career built upon a strong work ethic, selfless attitude and mateship after only taking up the sport at the age of 17.
Barton had boundless enthusiasm for playing sport from a young age, playing rugby league from six among other sports including touch football, athletics and cricket.
Barton’s youth sporting career began in earnest at the OLQP Bulldogs Rugby League club in Parramatta. His first sporting memory came in the Bulldogs uniform.
“We had an award, because we were the Bulldogs, each week someone was the Top Dog,” Barton reminisced.
“Each week, I was trying to play as best as I could and remembering how proud you were when you won it.
“It was a pretty good idea from the coach, to have something like that after each game, someone got a trophy, I thought it was a great thing.”
It wasn’t until 17 that Barton first played Australian Rules, quickly acquiring a passion for the three-dimensional game which would lead to playing NAB Cup games with Greater Western Sydney in 2011 and a 100-game NEAFL career which continues to go from strength-to-strength.
Barton’s Australian Rules journey began in 2007 with the Holroyd Parramatta Goanna’s after many of his good mates stopped playing rugby league.
Barton’s height and running ability allowed him to quickly adapt and thrive in the new sport.
“Once I started playing, I just felt that I was really suited to it, I just love the competition,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are around the ball or not, you are always competing against someone, I love that aspect of it.”
A few years later having acclimatised to the sport, Barton got his taste of the AFL environment.
He was playing for a Sydney Under-23 side against the fledgling GWS team, two years before they entered the AFL.
An impressive performance in front of the GWS recruiters could open the door for an opportunity to train with their squad during their 2011 pre-season.
Barton put in a solid performance and two weeks later received a promising phone call. Not once, but twice.
“I got a prank call from one of my brother’s friends pretending to be Mark Williams, which I took hook line and sinker,” Barton recalled with a laugh.
“But funnily enough, two days later, I had a call from Kevin Sheedy and he said, ‘We would like you to come down and do some training with us and hopefully play a couple of NAB Cup games’.”
Barton went on to play NAB Cup games for GWS against Sydney and Gold Coast and several NEAFL games with the GIANTS in 2011.
His foot skills perhaps let him down most in his ultimately unsuccessful journey to make it into the AFL system.
But the experience with the GWS squad helped kickstart an outstanding NEAFL career for Sydney University.
His accolades include three club best-and-fairests (2011, 2013 and 2014), representing the NEAFL team in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 and twice earned NEAFL Team of the Year honours.
“It is such a unique competition,” Barton said.
“We are pretty lucky in that we are basically treated like professionals in a way, where we travel and stay in hotels, at no cost to us.
“It is pretty awesome, that we get to travel say 10 times a year and play interstate against some really good quality opposition.”
Away from football, Barton loves spending time with his family, is a veterinarian, casual environmentalist and avid Touch Football player – he’s played in the Premier Men’s competition in Sydney for nearly 15 years.
For a competitive athlete who has played a number of sports for years, his answer when asked about his favourite moment in football was surprising – losing.
“In 2010, we had a really good season in the Sydney AFL and we lost in the Grand Final,” Barton recalled.
“That was probably my most memorable thing because I had a punctured lung and couldn’t play, so just watching everyone out there, giving it their all and not being able to get over the line was hard.
“It was a pretty devastating memory that drives me to this day.
“That is something I want to do. I want to win a Grand Final.”
Having reached the NEAFL Preliminary Final in each of the last three seasons, only to come up short, Sydney University are more determined than ever to be playing on Grand Final day.
For Barton and the club, the last two years have been a case of missed opportunities.
After getting their season back on track with a win against fellow top four side Southport last weekend, the Students are confident they can reach the top of Mount Everest and claim their first NEAFL premiership in 2018.
It’s a mantra they have lived by this year.
“The Grand Final is the summit. We break the year down into the end of pre-season, we are at base camp, and then you go through the different camps (before) the summit,” Barton elaborated.
“I think we have had some really bad weather on the mountain and we haven’t been able to progress (after a run of five losses in six games).
“Hopefully from now until the Grand Final, the weather clears up and we can make that climb.
“We are definitely confident we can. We just had a couple of weeks where we lost the plot a bit.
“But now we have found our feet again, and we can climb up.”
This story was originally posted at: http://neafl.com.au/humble-beginnings-tim-barton/