ANTON Hamp couldn’t quite play in a Claremont premiership as a young forward but he's now leader of the Tigers back-line, has claims to be the best WAFL key defender and hopes to help usher in a new era of success at the Tigers.
Hamp was in the early stages of his career playing as a forward in Claremont's last era of WAFL dominance which saw the Tigers win four successive minor premierships between 2010 and 2013 which resulted in three Grand Final appearances and two premierships.
He did manage to play 14 games for 17 goals across Claremont's premiership years of 2011 and 2012, but couldn’t manage a finals appearance at league level despite playing in two reserves flags.
It was a tough forward-line to break into, though, but by 2013 he had put together his best season kicking 34 goals. However, despite finishing as minor premiers, Claremont bowed out in straight sets and hadn’t won another final until last Sunday against East Perth since.
After starting 2014 still as a forward, a string of losses meant then coach Michael Broadbridge threw Hamp into defence and he has remained there ever since turning himself into one of the best backmen in the WAFL.
Hamp has now turned into a young forward during those last Claremont premiership years to being an experienced defender, and he hopes some more success isn’t far away for the Tigers following last Sunday's elimination final victory against East Perth at Claremont Oval.
"I'm very desperate for that success and you never really know with a WAFL career when work or life can come along and your footy career might be done," Hamp said.
"I'm just taking it a year at a time at the moment and trying to make the most of every game, and every season I guess. Hopefully we can have a crack at it this year and if next year's the next crack that we get, then we'll have another red-hot go at it.
"There's definitely a high expectation within the group and I think there always has been. It's just been a matter of everyone gelling together and buying into what we are trying to do at the moment.
"There have been a few difficult patches where we've struggled to get that together but now everyone is on board and pushing in the same direction. You can never say when success is going to happen, but as long as you prepare for it and take the opportunity when it's there, anything can really happen."
He is now a veteran of 127 league appearances, rarely gets beaten in his one-on-one contests and is proficient at taking intercept marks and then setting up play for the Tigers coming out of defence.
The 26-year-old was this week named centre half-back in the WAFL Team of the Year in recognition of yet another superb season as a leader of a Claremont defence conceding just 75.5 points a game in 2018.
Hamp is certainly comfortable in the knowledge he's now likely a defender for life and is enjoying being the senior head in the back-line alongside Haydn Busher setting the standard for the likes of Dylan Smallwood, Bailey Rogers and Declan Hardisty.
"I played a lot of junior footy in the back-line but then switched forward and tried to give that my best go. Then when an opportunity came up a few years ago, I grabbed it with both hands and tried to enjoy it as much as possible," Hamp said.
"One of the best things you can do as a player is focus on how you can help your teammates be better and then once you start feeling relaxed about your own game, performance to a degree takes care of itself and you can enjoy being in the moment out on the ground with the guys.
"It's a pretty young group obviously and naturally with my age you try and take on a bit of a teaching role with them. That's been great for me just to help take the focus off my own performance and instead try to help those younger guys.
"I think that's really helped my own game and we have just been able to gel as a group. Being young players they've been able to play their natural game and play on instinct, and it's working well for us at the moment."
Hamp's job won't get any easier in this Sunday's first semi-final against West Perth at Joondalup Arena with him set to line-up on Falcons' Bernie Naylor Medal winner Tyler Keitel.
But he's looking forward to that challenge and for Claremont to weather the storm from a West Perth team desperate to bounce back from losing last week in the qualifying final to South Fremantle by 98 points.
"They're a really quality outfit with an extremely strong midfield and some weapons up forward and down back. We'll definitely be on our game and they are proud club and looking to bounce back from last week's game. We're going to have to be ready for them," he said.
"We'll probably be on each other at some stage, me and Dylan Smallwood rotate around a little bit and it's really a six-man defensive team effort we employ to get the job done on our men. We rely a lot on our midfield to play good footy and apply pressure to help us get the job done as well."
It's fair to say Claremont started 2018 slowly on the back of missing finals the past two years as well and not having won a final since the 2012 Grand Final with two finals losses in 2013, and an elimination final in 2015 to East Perth thrown in.
The Tigers lost four of their opening five games and finals looked a long way off even at 3-7 after Round 11. But they came home in hot form winning six of their past eight matches and one of those losses was a game they perhaps should have won against the undefeated Subiaco.
They were in form with three straight wins heading into last Sunday's elimination final and then in front of a big crowd creating a terrific atmosphere, they played well to beat East Perth and Hamp can't fault the way they are travelling heading into this Sunday's first semi-final.
"It was a great atmosphere and the new stadium and rooms are great. Brand new facilities are always a good thing and I think once all the buildings are up around the ground and it's all finished that will make it perfect," he said.
"I don’t think you ever really play the full 120 minutes, there's always ebbs and flows in any game, but it definitely felt like the way we were going about it was the right way for the whole 120 minutes even when they made a couple of runs at us and got within a goal.
"We were able to bounce back with a couple of our own goals to start to take control again which was really good."
Hamp has also found the right balance with his work and football life in recent years too and no longer does he overthink his football or put too much pressure on himself, and it's done him the world of good.
"I've started working full-time the last couple of years and I thought that was going to be really difficult to manage my footy career as well when I first started, but I think it's kind of worked out to be a blessing in disguise," Hamp said.
"When I rock up to training in the afternoon now I'm really excited to be there after being at the desk or in the field all day working as an engineer. So once footy comes around it's like getting to training when you've been at school all day, you just can't wait for training to come around.
"Maybe before I thought too much about footy but now I can switch off for a while and then switch back on for training and I'm feeling mentally fresh about it so it's all going well."