Gerald Ugle flew from Perth to Sydney as a 17-year-old late in 2010, to make his start with the GIANTS. Three years later he flew back home, with three AFL games under his belt, a one-year-old son in the seat beside him and a determination to do whatever he could to get a second chance. Ugle had struggled to break into the team during his time at the GIANTS, and suspected his delisting was coming. But he left with the encouragement of new coach Leon Cameron stuck in his head. “He told me the bad news, but then he told me I should keep going, keep fighting for it,” Ugle said. “I went home thinking, 'I want to get another shot.”
The feeling motivated Ugle through his first year back in Western Australia, and was still there when he decided to move from the club he had played all his junior football at - Perth - to Peel Thunder. Peel had an affiliation with Fremantle, and he thought being close to the Dockers’ program might help him push his own game to new levels. “I thought it would be the best thing and it was, it was a really good challenge for me, to go to a new club and to get to play alongside good, seasoned AFL players coming back down to play for Peel,” he said.
“For the first couple of years after finishing up at the GIANTS I was trying to get back into the AFL, that was a really strong point for me, and playing at Peel and getting to play under an AFL game plan, I thought it would be a good thing for me. And it was. It wasn’t easy to go from Perth, because they’d always been my club, but it was one of the best decisions I made.”
It didn’t end up getting him to a second AFL club. But as Ugle began to notice how many really, really good WAFL players were overlooked each year – and started to lose hope that his second chance would come – other things became important to him, and his motivations changed. In his second year at Peel, his teammates voted him their captain. He led the club to its first-ever premiership, and another one the next season. He did his best to encourage the Docker players dropped back to play in the WAFL, Matt de Boer among them. And most of all he loved working with his young teammates, drawn to the ones who were determined and aspirational.
Along the way his family grew: Cade is seven now, and when Ugle looks at him he can remember living in Sydney, being around Breakfast Point, training with Jeremy Cameron, Dylan Shiel and Adam Treloar. He met two of his future groomsmen, Nathan Wilson and Curtly Hampton, while playing for the GIANTS. And when his cousin Bobby Hill got drafted by the club two years ago - their nans are sisters - he knew he was going to a good place.
Ugle felt a bond with almost everyone he came across in his time at the club, “because pretty much everyone had to leave home to go there, and everyone looked after everyone at the GIANTS”. But he felt especially grateful for Craig and Mel Lambert, and what they did to look after him as a young kid moving over from Perth, and then as a young father. “Waving goodbye to the Lamberts,” he said, “was probably the hardest part of leaving. But like I said, everyone supported me, supported us, helped my wife Shiana and helped us out when Cade came along. We were young parents, but they were our family. He was part of the club, just like us.”
Ugle and Shiana have a daughter now, too: six-year-old Summer. Their second son, Leo, was born last month in Kalgoorlie, where they moved earlier this year. With six years of WAFL footy and more than 100 games behind him, Ugle decided he was ready to start focusing on work and plans to start a mature-age electrical apprenticeship in the next little while. He’ll keep playing footy too: for Mines Rovers, where his father-in-law once played.
“I was a bit up and down with my form in the last year or two, but I always had a crack with my footy and I don’t think I left anything in the tank, with my WAFL or even with my AFL,” Ugle said. “Now it’s time to have another journey and to focus on working and my family.
“No-one in my family has a trade, so it will be good for me family for me to get one and that’s something that’s motivating me. I have a young family now and I want to provide for them and make sure that they’re set up because when you put so much time into football over the years, you need the support of a lot of people to put in that time and do your best.
“The time seemed right to move on. I see my little kids growing every day and it makes me think, OK what can I do now? I had kids at the peak of my career, and I’ve spent a lot of time training over the years so it’s time to catch up on that time now as a dad, just be a good dad and provide for them. It’s good now to be out in the bush, spending more time with them and also being there for my wife because she’s been the biggest support for me over the years. And I think I still have lots of footy left. I want to see if I can play with Cade one day.”
As captain at Peel, Ugle always tried to lead by the things he did, more than the words he said. Without really knowing it, he had spent his time at the GIANTS paying close attention to what Phil Davis and Callan Ward did in their early days as young captains. When he went back home to Perth, people would sometimes ask why he had only been able to play three games, but in his mind, his time in Sydney gave him many, many experiences that he was able to draw upon, especially when talking to young teammates who were desperately hoping to be drafted.
“Of course, I wanted to play more, but to even get a game, one game, you need to be grateful. My mum has taught me that. Over the years she and my wife have been the rocks for me. To be delisted was one of the hard times but they reminded me not everyone gets to play a game and to stay level-headed and grateful that I can play footy and love the game like I do,” he said.
“When I went back to Peel I knew what the Freo players were going though, I understood that it can get frustrating to be in the reserves and could sort of help the blokes who might have been getting dropped or coming back from injury and make them feel welcome and bring the group together. That was something I tried to do and there were things I learnt from Callan and Phil, I just sponged things off them and it really helped me a lot when I was a captain. They set the example for us, and I soaked up a lot of things from my time with them.”
He wants to show the way again in Kalgoorlie, and perhaps as a coach one day, be it back in the WAFL or at a higher level. “I love to work with the young kids, and something I’d like to do one day is go down that coaching path, starting out in the country and maybe going back to the WAFL or even in the AFL one day, it’s something I’d really love to do,” Ugle said.
“With the things I went through, I’ve been able to grab blokes who want to have a good crack at their footy and work on their game. I love taking those guys to the side and helping them out because I can remember being a young bloke, how good it was having one of the senior players come up to you and want to have a kick and want to help you with your game.
“I like that mentoring side of things and that’s what I want to go into coaching, because I believe I can use my experience over the years to help kids make the most of their footy. It didn’t work out for me at AFL, but I look back and I’m proud of my career and what I did. I don’t have any regrets about it. I had a good crack and I enjoyed every moment that I had.”