MATT KLEMKE'S parents wouldn't allow him to play football until he was a teenager. But it didn't take long for the skinny Swampie to stamp himself as a talented junior after winning back-to-back thirds best and fairests and also claiming Henty's highest individual honour in the seniors as a 17-year-old. The Henty farmer had coaching stints at Rivcoll, Culcairn and his home club of Henty with the LIons' 2007 flag triumph his crowning glory. Klemke caught-up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE.
BRENT GODDE: Your parents wouldn't let you play football until you were a teenager?
MATT KLEMKE: I played the last four matches of the season as a 13-year-old. My parents weren't following football at the time so I stayed at a mate's place so I could play.
BG: You started playing on a regular basis the following year?
MK: I had a full season in the under-14s so I guess I had a fairly late start compared to other kids.
BG: So your parents didn't want you to play football?
MK: My old man, Lester, did his shoulder playing as an 18-year-old and only ended up playing about 25 senior matches. Dad hated watching football because he wanted to be out there playing.
BG: Your father ended up coaching you in the Swampies thirds?
MK: Colin Thiele coached me the first season and then dad the following two.
BG: You won the Swampies' thirds best and fairest both seasons your dad coached. Can I smell a rat?
MK: Ha ha. I can assure you dad never had a vote card while he was coach.
BG: You made your senior debut in 1997 under coach Mark Eyers and played seven senior matches for the season?
MK: I was 16 at the time and used to play thirds first and then in the seniors if I was picked.
BG: Your blonde locks proved to be a vote catcher and you won the thirds league best and fairest in 1997?
MK: Brent Piltz is my cousin and won it a few years earlier so it was a thrill to get my name on the honour board alongside 'Piltzy.'
BG: You had the misfortune of playing against East Lavington in your second senior match?
MK: I was playing in the backline and my opponent gave me one in the guts while the ball was up the opposite end of the ground. It dropped me and knocked the wind out of my sails.
BG: Swampie coach Mark Eyers decided to switch you forward after that?
MK: Mark's brother, Darren 'Boxer' Eyers was playing in the forward line, so Mark moved me next to him so he could keep a close eye on me and fly the flag if I was targeted again.
BG: You bobbed up with a goal shortly afterwards?
MK: I kicked a goal and I remember the East Lavington coach ran from the opposite end of the ground and came up to me. I can't remember his name but he was a big, intimidating unit.
BG: What happened?
MK: I thought I was going to cop some more attention but he just patted me on the head and said 'are you alright now little fella?'
BG: It was intimidating playing against East Lavington?
MK: Let's just say I wasn't too disappointed personally when they disbanded the following season.
BG: The following season in 1998 you established yourself as a regular in the seniors?
MK: I gained a fair amount of confidence after playing seniors the previous year. I had a big pre-season and enjoyed a ripping start to the year to be honest.
BG: It was a breakout season for you after winning the senior best and fairest?
MK: I had a big first half of the season but tailed off a bit in the second half. I played off a half-back flank all season which is probably where I felt most comfortable playing.
BG: You also got your first taste of finals in senior football?
MK: We finished third but copped an 80-point touch-up from Lockhart in the qualifying final.
BG: You faced Lockhart again in the preliminary final?
MK: We were 40 points down at half-time and staring down the barrel of another trouncing. It started drizzling rain which didn't help our cause.
BG: The Swampies staged a stirring comeback?
MK: Steve Hetherton produced one of the best individual performances I have seen in a Hume league final. I think he ended up with eight goals. It was an unbelievable second-half performance from the whole side to be honest.
BG: Adding further merit to the performance, Hetherton played the match with a broken hand. No prizes for guessing how Hetherton broke his mit?
MK: 'Heo' often jokes that his opponent headbutted his hand and caused the damage.
BG: You faced Osborne in the decider who was a raging favourite?
MK: I think it's fair to say that most people were expecting it to be a Osborne and Lockhart grand final before we produced an upset in the preliminary final.
BG: You had your beak broken in an early marking contest?
MK: One of the Clarke brothers got me and I spent more than a quarter on the bench trying to stop the bleeding.
BG: Henty got flogged in the decider?
MK: We got belted by 80 points and I think we only kicked three goals for the match.
BG: A huge talking point after the match was an off-the-ball incident involving an Osborne player and Cameron Male that left the Swampie needing to be assisted from the ground?
MK: Cameron was knocked out and in my opinion it was one of the worst incidents I saw on a football field during my career. It happened late in the match when Osborne was already well and truly home.
BG: Male was one of your closest team-mates?
MK: I consider the three Male brothers good mates.
BG: Is there any side in the Hume league that you dislike?
MK: That particular incident probably sparked my hate for Osborne. I live 15 minutes away from Osborne but from that moment on I instantly despised Osborne and Jindera would be a close second. I do respect Osborne for the amount of success they have had though.
BG: Swampie supporters were seething with Osborne at the time?
MK: It was hostile post match and did threaten to boilover.
BG: What was the fallout?
MK: From memory I think the player copped six weeks at the tribunal, it may have even been more but I can't remember for sure.
BG: The following season in 1999, Tom McGrath replaced Mark Ayers as coach?
MK: I got moved to a half-forward flank and I was hopeless. I went from winning a best and fairest to hardly polling a vote.
BG: The following season in 2000 you decided to have a crack at the higher level and joined North Albury?
MK: A few people got in my ear and said I should have a crack at the higher standard. I wasn't fully committed and didn't do the work over the pre-season.
BG: It was a forgettable season?
MK: I played the first month in the reserves and hurt my knee and missed the next 12 weeks.
BG: You learnt a valuable lesson?
MK: I probably wasn't that passionate about playing O&M and only had a crack because people told me to.
BG: You passed that knowledge on to other young players?
MK: A lot of people always tell you to play at the highest level possible. I probably disagree a bit and my advice is play where you enjoy your football the most. If that's at your local club with your mates, there's nothing wrong with that.
BG: You have some prime examples in your brother Kade and cousin Brent Piltz?
MK: They were both in the AFL system but Kade's least enjoyable year was his one year at Essendon. PIltzy will tell you his most enjoyable year was winning a flag at Henty as coach.
BG: The following season in 2001 you head back to Henty?
MK: I played the next two seasons under Mark and Peter Bird. We didn't have much success but I enjoyed playing under them.
BG: The Swampies were kept goalless against Osborne?
MK: It was one of the darkest days I've had on the football field. We kicked a point late in the match and the Henty supporters bipped their car horns because we scored.
BG: You played interleague that season?
MK: Tyrone Klemke and myself got picked in the inter-league squad and Osborne's Craig Smith was coach of the side.
BG: You didn't get much game time during the match?
MK: I'm not exaggerating, I literally got two minutes of game time. I think Craig thought these Henty blokes aren't much good. I was meant to be part of midfield rotation with three other Osborne players but they didn't come off.
BG: The following season in 2004 Wayne Styles was appointed as non-playing coach of the Swampies?
MK: I really enjoyed the season and we made finals. Wayne was big on fitness and trained us real hard on the track. It's fair to say Wayne was old school in his coaching methods but commanded respect.
BG: You were purposelessly late for training on most Tuesday nights?
MK: Wayne would most times start training with 10 laps so I would rock up late and tell him I got stuck doing a few jobs on the farm so I didn't have to do it.
BG: You had a sweet victory against Osborne during the season?
MK: Gary Terlich was my neighbour and his boys played for Osborne. In the lead-up to the match he told me Osborne seconds would beat Henty seniors. We ended up springing a huge upset and Gary, you were wrong.
BG: Styles didn't like using the players that were on the bench?
MK: This is hard to believe but the day we beat Osborne, the three players that were on the bench didn't get on the field all match. One of the blokes was my good mate Tim Lubke.
BG: It's fair to say you were the complete opposite to Styles when you started coaching?
MK: I used to rotate players heavily off the bench and copped flak from bringing players off the ground when they were getting plenty of touches.
BG: The following season in 2005 you took the gig as Bushpigs coach in the Farrer league?
MK: I was 24 at the time and James Male was at home one night and said to me that I should have a crack at coaching. I said 'what club would want me to coach?'
BG: Fate would have it that Male ran into Tim Goonan who was a major sponsor of the Bushpigs in the supermarket next day?
MK: James bumped into Tim who asked him if he would happen to know anyone looking for a coaching job. It all went from there.
BG: Male, Chris Willis, Tim Lubke, Nathaniel Stoh, Jacob 'Bobby' Muthsam and yourself all met with Rivcoll president Michael Irons and some of the committee about signing up for the season?
MK: It's no secret that we are all Christian boys or 'Happy Clappers' as some people like to call us. Anyhow we got talking to Michael and he got talking about his dislike at orientation week with 'Happy Clappers' handing out leaflets.
BG: No doubt an awkward moment?
MK: We were all kicking each other under the table before James said 'just before you go any further Micheal, 'we are all Christian boys.'
BG: What was Iron's reaction?
MK: He just said 'don't I feel like a prized goose.' It was funny we left the meeting thinking there is no way they will sign us now and Michael and the committee left thinking there is no way they will sign now.
BG: History says you took the job?
MK: I did but I upset Henty a fair bit because I took a few players with me which is understandable. Chris Willis didn't end up coming the first season but did the second..
BG: It was an eye-opener playing against North Wagga who were coached by Dick Carey?
MK: I remember running out onto the ground and the opposition were running alongside us yelling out 'we're going to kill you." It was fairly intimidating for the players who were mainly uni kids.
BG: The goal umpire who was the North Wagga president cheated?
MK: North Wagga kicked a point but the president blatantly cheated and called it a goal. I said 'you are in front mate, you don't have to cheat to win.'
BG: You copped a touch-up for your comments?
MK: The president gave the signal to a few of their players to belt me. Most of my teammates were 18-year-old kids and I told them not to get involved, so I just covered up and copped my medicine.
BG: Any reports?
MK: The umpires were just kids and did nothing.
BG: You were involved in another incident with North Wagga the following year in 2006?
MK: I was playing centre-half back on Saints forward Alan Faraj who was giving me cheap shots all day but got reported late in the game.
BG: You sang like a canary at the tribunal hearing?
MK: Alan was based in Melbourne and the tribunal hearing was by video link-up. I basically handed him up in the tribunal and Dick Carey was giving me death stares as I was giving my evidence. Faraj copped a month.
BG: You had to play against North Wagga again later in the season?
MK: I knew Alan wanted revenge so I got the club to set up a couple of video cameras.
BG: Did Faraj seek revenge?
MK: Before the first bounce he came charging at me and knocked me on my backside. I got up and said 'good one mate, I wouldn't get too carried away today because we have got video cameras' and pointed to them.
BG: Did your cunning stunt work?
MK: North Wagga had finals the following week so he didn't touch me for the rest of the match.
BG: It was a tough gig coaching Rivcoll?
MK: It was because they didn't have any supporters or volunteers and uni holidays kids would return home and we were short of players. Quite often I would have to do the boundary in the reserves or serve a few pies in the canteen because of the lack of volunteers.
BG: After two years of coaching at Rivcoll you decided to head back to Henty in 2007 as an assistant coach under Mark Sanson?
MK: I had a meeting with Mark and Andrew Wilson and they offered me a role as defensive coach. I was going to sign straight away but I hadn't received my money from the Bushpigs yet so I held off.
BG: You wanted $200 a match at Henty?
MK: Mark and Andrew agreed to that but then I had to meet with the committee and they told me I could be assistant coach but they weren't willing to pay me.
BG: A slap in the face no doubt?
MK: I could understand where the committee was coming from because they were still filthy that I took players with me to Rivcoll.
BG: In a sliding doors moment you received a call from Culcairn's Brent Barber to see if you would be interested in being assistant coach at the den?
MK: Culcairn were trying to get Mick Buchanan as coach and wanted me to be his assistant.
BG: Did the job interest you?
MK: Not really, Culcairn were the arch rivals and my preferred option was to play at Henty.
BG: Buchanan knocked back the Culcairn job?
MK: He did but in the meantime, I met with Mark and the president again. I thought he was going to agree to pay me but was adamant if I was assistant coach I wouldn't be getting paid so I stormed out of the meeting.
BG: Sanson rang you that night with a counter offer?
MK: Mark told me the club was happy to pay me $175 a match. I thought the committee was trying to make a statement but I was happy enough to play for that.
BG: You discussed the offer with your wife?
MK: We both agreed I should take it so I was going to let Henty know the following night.
BG: Culcairn president Gordon 'Froggy' Finlayson called you the next day?
MK: I agreed to meet with 'Froggy' and to cut a long story short I was appointed coach of Culcairn.
BG: A big decision to join the arch rival?
MK: It was but I had a lot of respect for the Culcairn blokes like Brent Barber and Brad Smith. In the end I chose Culcairn because I felt wanted as opposed to Henty where I wasn't.
BG: What was Sanson's reaction when he found out?
MK: Mark was a bit disappointed and told me I would regret my decision.
BG: You were able to land some handy recruits?
MK: Tim Lubke and Nat Stroh followed me. I also got the Bushpigs two best players in Ben Bussell and Marcus Gostello.
BG: Your brother Kade also played when free of Murray Bushranger commitments?
MK: Kade played a handful of games but not in the grand final.
BG: One of your first priorities as coach was to re-sign Chad 'Silly Willy' Willis?
MK: Chad had knocked me out in the thirds when he was at Osborne and I was at Henty. I rang him straight away to let him know there were no hard feelings and how much a required player he was.
BG: Graham Fruean was hard to track down over the pre-season?
MK: 'Fruey' hardly trained over the summer and would never answer his phone. 'Froggy' approached me about letting him go but I told him that wasn't an option.
BG: 'Fruey' was on the hunt for a job at the time?
MK: I offered 'Fruey' a job on the farm. I even let him have Mondays off because I know how much he loved having a bender on the weekends.
BG: 'Fruey' accepted the offer?
MK: I could only afford to pay him $50 a day plus meals and accommodation which he was happy with. So he basically lived with us on the farm from Tuesday to Friday night most of the season.
BG: You became good mates?
MK: I regard 'Fruey' as one of my good friends but I don't see him as often as I would like these days.
BG: You found out 'Fruey' had had a big Friday night before one match?
MK: We were playing Rand-Walbundrie and a few of the blokes told me 'Fruey' was nursing a hangover.
BG: What was your reaction?
MK: I went up to 'Fruey' and said 'I know what you got up to last night. You better have a good one today.'
BG: 'Fruey' responded with a BOG display?
MK: To his credit he did. But at training the next Tuesday I made all the players run six laps holding bricks above their heads while 'Fruey' watched. The lesson was if there is one weak link in the chain it can let the whole side down.
BG: What was it like playing against Henty?
MK: The first match we played them I wanted to make a statement so I put myself on Sanson who I rated highly. I kept him goalless in the first-half but then put Luke Schuberg onto him after that.
BG: Did any of the Swampies try to rough you up?
MK: Neale Terlich came out of retirement to play on me one match and gave me a couple of punches. Ewan Scholz refused to shake my hand after matches.
BG: You had a no swearing policy as coach?
MK: We played Howlong in round 4 and lost our only match of the season after we gave away seven 50m penalties for swearing at the umpire. 'Chad Willis was the chief offender.
BG: You wanted to stamp out swearing in case it cost you a finals win?
MK: I made the rule that if anyone swore at training it was 10 push-ups. The first night we would have done 250 push-ups and Chad was probably responsible for at least 150 of them.
BG: Culcairn finished minor premiers?
MK: Osborne were our biggest threat and we had to play them three times in a row. The final round, the second semi-final and the grand final.
BG: You flogged Osborne by 12 goals in the second semi-final?
MK: That was an unbelievable win and easily the best football we produced for the season. I remember looking at the stats and I don't think there was one player who didn't get 20 touches.
BG: You had a gruelling training session on the Saturday during the week off before the grand final?
MK: We did a training session, then to finish off I made the blokes run four blocks of 25 minutes of non-stop running.
BG: There were a few selection headaches during the finals series?.
MK: My brother Kade was available because the Bushrangers didn't want to play him because he was coming back from an ankle complaint.
BG: Who were you going to drop?
MK: I would have had to drop Nat Stroh who was my best mate but because Kade was trying to make the AFL we decided not to pick him.
BG: John Campbell was also in the mix to be recalled in the second semi-final?
MK: It went to a vote and I was outvoted 7-1 that John should come out and Nat Stroh be dropped. But after a bit of debate I got my way.
BG: As expected Osborne lifted for the grand final and there was less than a kick in it at the last change?
MK: I half-expected that may be the case and during the week I sat up on a hill on the farm and spent most of the day working on what I was going to say at the last huddle to try and inspire blokes.
BG: Are you serious?
MK: I am. The last huddle in the grand final is always massive if the match is up for grabs. You have got hundreds of people at the huddle trying to listen to you and you only get one last chance to inspire the players.
BG: What was the theme of your speech?
MK: Harry Gardiner had passed away during the season who is arguably the club's greatest ever player and Jayden Kotzur was playing who is his grandson. In a nutshell I said Harry was looking down from above and we need to honour him with a win.
BG: You also decided to drag Chad Willis?
MK: Chad and Dallas Lodge were our two leading goalkickers for the season and both hadn't kicked a goal. Chad had also been known to get sent off so I opted to leave Lodgie on.
BG: History says Culcairn would go on to win by 14-points?
MK: Jayden won the Des Kennedy medal and told me it was one of the most inspirational speeches that he had heard which meant a lot to me.
BG: You bumped into Sanson on the Monday after the grand final?
MK: I did but I resisted the urge to remind him of his comments at the start of the year.
BG: You coached Culcairn for three years?
MK: We were stiff not to make three grand finals in a row. In 2008 Trent Logue missed a goal late in the second semi-final that would have won us the game. The following year scores were level in the preliminary final and Michael Blomley kicked a goal for Jindera with seconds remaining.
BG: You also dislike Jindera?
MK:The Daily Advertiser interviewed me before we played Jindera at Jindera and came up with the headline 'Klemke doesn't rate Bulldogs'.
BG: Jindera used the story for motivation?
MK: I found out after the game that Jindera had copied the story and handed it to its supporters in the crowd. Somebody also pinned it up in our changerooms while the match was being played.
BG: You haven't forgiven Jindera?
MK: I wasn't happy at the time and was hesitant to talk to the Wagga paper after that because in my opinion I had been misquoted.
BG: What do you regard as the highlight of your career?
MK: It's impossible to go past the 2007 flag with Culcairn, especially being coach.
BG: Any regrets?
MK: Probably my knee giving way when I was 28. I would have loved to have gone back to Henty and played for another five or six years after I finished coaching at Culcairn.