Thu. Oct 24th, 2019

Gentile joins path of bravery and sacrifice

Calder's Ned Gentile in action against the Western Jets. Photo by Star Weekly / Shawn Smits.

Still a privilege six years on

Written by Jarryd Barca 

They say when you’re on the footy field it’s like going to war.

But when former Cannon and Australian soldier Corporal Cameron Baird became the 40th Aussie soldier to die in the Afghan conflict in June, 2013, many Australians – including the Calder Cannons family – suddenly realised what it truly means to be intrepid and courageous. 

Corporal Baird’s devotion to being selfless was an attribute that came naturally to the son of former Carlton footballer Doug Baird. 

The Gladstone Park local was a talented footballer and was given the chance to represent the Calder Cannons in the then TAC Cup – where he was dubbed by many as the next Wayne Carey. 

Baird played alongside AFL champions Paul Chapman, Ryan O’Keefe, Jude Bolton and David Johnson during his time at Calder but was a shock non-selection in the 1999 AFL Draft. 

Instead he joined the army in 2000 where self-sacrifice was an expectation – something he had in spades. 

“I just hope that I can live up to what people wearing the jumper are expected to do.” 

In 2007 he was awarded the Medal for Gallantry for his actions in a search and clearance operation of a Taliban stronghold, while he was also awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia in 2014 – the first ever posthumous recipient. 

The Calder Cannons Football Club has since awarded one player each season with the number 27 VCMG jumper – the number worn by Corporal Baird. 

The player who wears this jumper displays strong acts of selflessness, discipline, teamwork and a willingness to work above and beyond. 

This year Ned Gentile has been given the opportunity to represent the guernsey in all NAB League games this season – presented the jumper by last year’s worthy recipient and 2019 top-ager Tye Browning.  

Corporal Baird passed in defence of his country. His courage knew no bounds.

Neither does Ned’s.

“It’s pretty significant to a lot of people and to the club as a whole. To be presented that on jumper presentation night was pretty special and it’s a privilege to be given the opportunity that I have,” a humble Gentile said.

“I just hope that I can live up to what people wearing the jumper are expected to do.” 

The 17-year-old is enjoying his second year in the Cannons program and has played a crucial role in the opening four rounds of the season, carrying his head-turning form into their recent Round 4 loss against the Tasmania Devils where he collected 20 disposals, took eight marks and laid six tackles. 

Gentile simply plays with a resilient and determined attitude that instills confidence into his teammates and makes them walk taller.

“Wing is my preferred position,” he said.

“This season I’ve played mostly on a wing, (I’ve) gone through the mid a little bit as well and I like to go forward to try and impact on the scoreboard.” 

Ned Gentile (left) presented the number 27 VCMG guernsey by teammate and former recipient Tye Browning at this season’s jumper presentation.

Standing at just 175cm, Gentile said while he doesn’t tune in to watch one specific AFL player, he takes note of multiple when watching the footy who play with similar attributes – “one that is smaller and has to use things other than their size to get an upper hand on their opponent”. 

The Airport West junior has also played a lot of cricket, “but it was always going to be footy”, and now he’s trying to prove his worth in the newly-formed NAB League competition. 

And the end goal?

“Obviously everyone down here wants to get drafted, that’s our main goal. I’ll work as hard as I can to get my name called out at the end of the year,” Gentile said.

“But if it doesn’t happen, (I’ll) keep working at it and go to the next step, but hopefully we can have some success as a team and at the end of the year maybe some individual success as well.”

The young wingman admitted noticing the pressure of performing in Australia’s premier Under 18 competition.

But it doesn’t phase him. 

“I think it’s actually really good , it’s really healthy competition,” Gentile said of every player in the competition striving to be drafted.

“There’s blokes that want to play for each other as well as try to impress scouts for themselves, blokes going out there and you know they’re giving one hundred per cent every week because they want to show what they can do. 

“There is pressure but you just deal with it, you just go along and play the best footy that you can.” 

Gentile said he’s been impressed with the camaraderie between he and his 2019 Cannons teammates, kick-started by a mentally and physically gruelling pre-season camp in Queenscliff. 

“It really brought everyone close together,” he said. “There’s a few less blokes on the list than there were last year and it’s really brought us closer and closer.”

Forget about pre-game rituals, Gentile tends to head into the trainer’s room roughly 10 minutes before the opening bounce of a game, “but that’s just because I get a little bit hyped up sometimes”.

His energetic persona makes him popular amongst the playing group, but it’s Gentile’s desperation and never-say-die on-field attitude that saw him earn one of the greatest honours within the four Calder Cannons walls. 

Listen to Ned’s full interview in our Episode 1 of our podcast below.