Turnbull reflects on football journey

Sunday, June 14, 2020 - 10:30 AM by Katie de Haer

East Perth two-time premiership winning ruckman, three time best and fairest and former captain Ryan Turnbull has reflected on a decorated playing career.

Turnbull’s football resume is impressive – he played 129 games for the West Coast Eagles, 155 matches at East Perth and 23 for Claremont. He won a premiership with the Eagles in 1994, a reserves (1990) and league premiership (1989) with Claremont, and was a member of the Royals’ 2001 and 2002 premiership teams.

Turnbull won the WAFL’s highest individual honour, the Sandover Medal, in 2001 and was runner-up in 1999 and 2002. He is also a two-time Simpson Medallist and captained Western Australia (2002).

He regards the premiership victories as his greatest playing achievement.

“Looking back, I was lucky to be involved in some very good sides with some very good players,” Turnbull told 91.3 SportFM earlier this month.

“I think I came through footy at a good time for various clubs and was able to be part of that success.”

A low point was the losing grand final against his former club, Claremont.

“We lost the one in 1996, which broke my heart and then I watched the boys win one in 2000 which also broke my heart because I thought I had missed the boat.

“I was fortunate enough to be part of the next two.”

Turnbull’s football roots run deep – his maternal grandfather Ted Holdsworth and his father John were both notable players for Swan Districts.

“Ted was a great full forward. There’s stories of him kicking multiple goals by half time and then being swung to the backline to try and plug a hole in the back half. He could play at all ends of the ground.

“My dad played in triple premierships in the 60s – 206 games for Swan Districts. I was fortunate to have good stock.”

He began his WAFL career with Claremont in 1989, but it wasn’t until the end of the 1990 season, after he was drafted to the West Coast Eagles, that he asked to be transferred to another WAFL club.

“I loved being at Claremont, I had a ball there. At the end of 1989, the Eagles were sort of sniffing around and indicating they were interested in me. I was a bit naïve, but sure enough they picked myself and Peter Mann up as pre-draft choices at the 1989 Draft for the 1990 season.

“At the time, Gerard Neesham, who was a great coach, pretty much convinced Peter to stay and really wanted me to stay. I saw it as an opportunity when they (West Coast) picked me up. From that moment on my relationship sort of changed with the club, in particular the coach, and as the year progressed I felt unwelcome to a certain degree.”

Turnbull cited a relationship breakdown between Claremont coach Gerard Neesham as a reason for his departure.

“I actually asked the Eagles if I could transfer to another club but they didn’t want to do that, which was fair enough,” he said.

“In the end, I asked if I could play Reserves for the rest of the year under John Dimmer and then at the end of the year, leave the club.

“The Eagles said they would back that move and I spoke to Gerard and the Claremont people there at the time and basically declared myself unfit for league selection and spent the rest of the season in the Reserves.”

Turnbull arrived at East Perth ahead of the 1991 season, buoyed by more opportunities.   

“At the end of the year, I had the opportunity to choose a club. East Perth at the time didn’t have a lot of big men and they were always a very physical and tough side. I saw that as a really good opportunity.”

Turnbull’s AFL career ended in 2001 and he retired from football in 2004. While his playing opportunities at West Coast were limited in the later stages of his career, Turnbull met with then East Perth league coach Tony Micale who offered some important advice.

“In the latter stages of my career, I almost felt I was washed up at one stage,” Turnbull said.

“I said, ‘I want to pull the pin, mate. I’m done’. Tony gave me some really good advice. He said, come back and enjoy your footy, and I did that.

“From that moment on, those later years at East Perth were unreal.

“Not getting hung up on missing out on a game but just playing footy for footy’s sake. It changed my mind completely. (It wasn’t) about the fact that you didn’t get picked, (it was about) going to play the game you love.”

Turnbull said the support of his Royals teammates and Micale helped him make the most out of the final years of his playing career.

“I felt like the boys rallied around me as well. Every time I didn’t get picked at West Coast, I was going back to play at East Perth.

“I couldn’t wait to get down there, they were good blokes and just so supportive.

“I really enjoyed that period.”