The Sentimental Cloke

The Sunday Age

Sunday May 12, 2002

Greg Baum

Jason Cloke's birth was announced on a Richmond matchday run-through congratulating his father, David. As a boy, Jason would untie his father's boots and fetch him drinks after games. One of his enduring memories is of his father's 300th game and the fuss that was made of it.

Jason and his siblings did not barrack for an AFL team, just their father. Jason has consciously played all his football in guernsey No. 34, one more than his father's 33. Father and sons saw more of North Melbourne than any other club, because the Roos played on Friday nights, when they were free to go together as a family.

The Clokes were a close family, and young Jason was proud to follow faithfully in his father's prominent footsteps. Teenage rebellion and the fight for independence could wait. But 18 months ago, he came to a confusing fork, with signs featuring David Cloke pointing in both directions. One was to Richmond, where he had played 219 games in two stints, won two grand finals - kicking six goals in one against Collingwood - been captain and was a life member, and where he was likely to be found on matchdays now.

The other was to Collingwood, where he had moved in 1983 at the height of a bitter recruiting war, and won all hearts in 114 whole-hearted games as an undersized ruckman, and which now had former Richmond teammates Mick Malthouse and Neil Balme as coach and football manager, respectively.

Unusually, Jason was eligible for either club under the father-son rule, for the cost of a second-round draft pick - 19th overall that year for the Magpies, and 25th for Richmond. A series of meetings ensued.

"We talked it over as a family. Both clubs were very keen, and a number of other clubs were, too," said David, who feels equally at home at both his old clubs. "Knowing Mick pretty well myself, and knowing Balmey very well, too, had a bit of a sway. But the biggest thing was Collingwood's young squad. He could be in a group that could be together for six or seven years. They could create something."

Richmond was torn between heart and head. "We wanted to take Jason in the draft, but we wanted to keep our second-round selection for a different type of player, a midfielder," said recruiting manager Greg Beck. "We were all right for the 6'2, 6'3s, the Kellaways, the Hollands, Gaspar.

"Given the perfect scenario, you'd love to have all your father-sons at the club. But it doesn't work out that way. You saw Billy Picken's boy go to Brisbane and Shane Zantuck's boy come here. You've got to balance your list." The Tigers took Mark Coughlan instead.

Collingwood scarcely hesitated. "In the end, we thought it was a bit of a no-brainer," said Balme. "He was going to go in the draft anyway, somewhere between five and 40, so giving up pick 18 seemed fair enough. He was keen, we were keen. It was a pretty easy decision to make."

So Jason was spared one latter-day football agony. "It was a relief and so much easier on draft day," he said. "You know you're not going to go interstate. I went and sat in there on draft day, but I already had the club colours on. I knew where I was going. The kid sitting next to me had no idea." This is becoming a big year for sons of former players. At Collingwood, there are now four.

Of course, the draft was the beginning, not the end. Jason, with more obvious rough edges than, for instance, Josh Fraser or Mark McGough, cooled his heels with Williamstown all of last year. "Playing there and getting in the best each week, it was hard," he said. "But I knew I wasn't ready for it. I knew I wasn't developed enough and had things to work on. I thought if I keep working on them, my time will come."

Balme was soon taken with Jason's work ethic. "Because he's not super tall or super quick, he's the sort of bloke who had to ease his way into the system," he said. "But his attitude has always been first-class. He works hard, trains hard, gives himself every chance. He probably just needed another pre-season to get bit of extra strength and extra confidence in himself."

Jason had his heart set on making his debut in round one this year against Richmond, "dad's old club", perhaps feeling he had two generations' worth of something to prove. "I know when I was playing for Collingwood against Richmond, I always wanted to play that little bit better," said David. "It meant a bit more to me.

"Probably in some ways, Jason feels the same. Collingwood showed just that little bit more enthusiasm in getting him. He probably wants to show Richmond they may have made a mistake."

But, wisely, the Magpies held Jason back until round two. In five games since, his fearlessness, discipline and preparedness to take on bigger opponents has won him his position, favourable comparisons with Glenn Archer and last week a Rising Star nomination.

"He's probably surpassed even our hopes this year," said Balme. "He just plays so maturely. That's probably one of the advantages of father-son. David's played so much footy that Jason could understand how to fit in."

Jason is not a classic chip off the old block, but he is obviously run through with the same sap. "He's a different type of player," said David. "I wasn't the most skilful player who ever played, so I always put in the hard work. If the ball's there to be won, you've got to put your body on the line. That's the similarity. He's willing to put his body on the line for his team and not worry about the personal consequences. That's how I was." Son was never more like father than on Anzac Day, when he knowingly and unflinchingly backed into the hard-leading Matthew Lloyd.

Balme also sees the lineage. "You can see real similarities in terms of their approach to the game," he said. "David was just a really big-hearted bloke who gave everything, never made excuses, pushed himself, always gave his best. You could always rely on him. That shines through in Jason." Like David, Jason has an ungainly kicking style. Like David, Jason plays above his height. Unlike David, Jason can also play small.

David purposely delayed Jason's initiation as a player. "We tried to keep him back as much as possible," he said. "I believe it's a problem these days, that kids play too much . . . two or three games a week . . . multiple sports. They burn out. So we held him back in those years, and I don't think it's hurt him at all."

Jason did not play his first game until he was 12, and only then behind the back of his father, who was overseas on a football trip. He also played baseball, cricket, volleyball and ran cross-country. Baseball remains an off-season favourite.

But all the while football was in his blood, and as he moved about VFL clubrooms with his father, listened to others' tales of his father's feats and learnt from his father the secrets and mysteries of the game, it became his vocation. This was never clearer to him than after a moment of wretched luck on a football trip to Nauru when he

was 16.

"We had a day of roller-blading around the island, and I ended up getting cleaned up by a car that ran over the side of my leg and broke my tibia and fibula," he said. "I ended up getting a couple of pins inserted. I had to get a charter flight back home. My family wondered if I was going to be able to play football again."

Jason was in hospital for three months, a plaster cast for five and missed a year of football, all the more aggravating for the fact that his team made and lost the grand final that year. "But the doctor told me it was probably the best thing," said Jason. "I had a lot of growing to do at the time, and it was all going to come back 100 per cent." The pins are still there, and so is the burning ambition.

David guided Jason, but did not browbeat him. One year, David coached and Jason played for a Park Orchards junior team that won the premiership despite having only 12 regular players. "The next year there were 38; they'd heard Dad was coaching," said Jason.

Jason learnt to suffer the taunts. "You only get a game because you're David Cloke's son," he would hear. "But it wasn't him out there getting the kicks," he said. None the less, he knew paternity was already working for him. "It was a foot in the door. It meant clubs were looking at you," he said. "But they don't have to pick you; you've got to be able to play football."

Jason's way of playing football is like David, from a time past, but timeless. "I don't see myself as a 20 or 30-possession player," he said. "I see myself as someone who goes in and gets the ball, gets it out, plays my role each week. I have to stop my opponent. If I have more one percenters than him, I'll know I've done my job for the side. If I have only six touches for the day, but he hasn't kicked a goal, I'll be happy with that.

"People might think I'm stupid. I don't see myself as a hard nut. I just think that the footy's there to be won, so I go and get it."

Typically, Jason has found AFL football quicker than VFL, but more skilful and so, in a sense, more manageable. "You know you can lead flat chat because the ball's going to hit you smack on the chest," he said. "If you can read the play a bit, you can pick up the pace. I learnt a fair bit from dad about reading the play. It's quicker, but I've found it's a little bit easier than the VFL."

Jason is keeping is feet on the ground, for under the Cloke roof, boasting rights will necessarily be hard-earned. He is intent on football, but is not depending on a football career. For two years, he has been doing a pre-apprenticeship in building.

"I wanted to keep doing it this year, but it wouldn't have given me enough time for my body to recover, so I've put that on hold," he said. "I always want to go back into building when I've finished football. I love making things." Just now, he is making his own name.

SIZE IS RIGHT FOR CLOKE CLAN

Jason Cloke says he has had no particular influences in his life other than his parents, and no heroes other than his father.

The Cloke family would be hard to miss even if David did not have 333 games to distinguish him. David, now 47, is 1.93metres, still the shape of a brick outhouse, and still sporting his trademark moustache. Mother Julie is 1.78metres.

Jason, just turned 20, is 1.90metres. Cameron, 17, is 1.98metres and Travis, 15, is already as tall as Jason. "They've both got size-16 feet," said Jason. "I'm only size 12 and a half. They're both going to be big boys."

Cameron is playing in the ruck for the Eastern Ranges, still shedding his puppy fat and is very much in Collingwood's beady eye. Father David sees more of himself in his second son than his first. Travis, a left-footer, is starring for Park Orchards. Jason will not say who among them is likely to the become the best, for that would be to divide them in a way they have not been divided before.

To complete the family portrait, eldest Jody, 21, is 1.85metres and otherwise notorious for the fact that she has been coaxed by friends into a mild affection for Carlton, and youngest Tegan, just turned eight, is said by Jason to be "the tallest in her class at the moment by a foot". Their's is in every dimension a big family.

The brothers are a fraternity. "If we're not out in the backyard kicking a footy around, we'll be inside helping if someone has some homework to do," said Jason. "With three, there's so many things you can do together. If they all got the opportunity to come to Collingwood, it would be awesome."

David is not holding his breath. "You'd like them to be together, in the ideal world," he said. "But it's not an ideal world."

The three brothers not only wear their sense of family on their sleeves, but on their backs. Jason has always worn 34, but Cameron wears 33 for the Ranges, and Jason was happy to note that since Tyson Lane's unexpected retirement, the No. 33 guernsey is vacant at Collingwood should Cameron be drafted at the end of this year. Travis, meanwhile, also wears the No. 33 for Park Orchards. -- Greg Baum

MAGPIE SONS OF GUNS

Nick Davis, Collingwood: 1999-2001, 51 games, 54 goals. Despite rumours he was keen to join Sydney, Davis is expected to re-sign with the Magpies.

Craig Davis, Carlton: 1973-75, 42 games, 72 goals; North Melbourne 1977-78, 10 games, 20 goals; Collingwood 1979-83, 102 games, 251 goals; Sydney, 1988, nine games,

17 goals.

Jarrod Molloy, Fitzroy: 1994-96, 59 games, 54 goals; Brisbane: 1997-2000, 61 games, 104 goals; Collingwood: 2001, 22 games, 23 goals. Runner-up in the Copeland Trophy, Darren Millane Memorial Trophy for best clubman in 2001. Selected under the father/son rule 1993.

Shane Molloy, Fitzroy: 1969-76, 61 games, four goals.

Mark Richardson, Collingwood: 1991-2001, 132 games, 78 goals. Persistent injuries restricted Richardson to 14 games last season and only three of the last 10 games.

Wayne Richardson, Collingwood: 1966-78, 277 games, 323 goals.

Rhyce Shaw, Collingwood: 2001, four games, three goals. Played four games in 2000 but after playing in the opening round of last season, played the rest of the season in the VFL.

Ray Shaw, Collingwood: 1974-81, 146 games, 200 goals. The former captain won the Magpies best and fairest in 1978 and represented Victoria in 1979.

Tom Davidson, Collingwood: Played with the Geelong in the TAC Cup, won the Harrison Medal as the best player in division two of the AFL National Under 18 Championships.

Gary Davidson, Geelong: 1972-74, 30 games; Richmond: 1978, 10 games, nine goals.

© 2002 The Sunday Age

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