Picture: Hawthornfc.com.au

On the eve of Paul Puopolo's return to Norwood, we spoke to his first senior Redlegs coach, Trevor Hill, about teenage Poppy and the player he has gone on to become.

Paul Puopolo was last seen in a Norwood guernsey back in 2009 and at that point, he had played 68 league games, kicking 13 goals for the Redlegs.

He returns to the club a three-time premiership player with Hawthorn and one of the most admired AFL players of the last decade.

Standing at just five feet, eight inches tall, Puopolo was overlooked early in his career before Alistair Clarkson and Hawthorn took a chance on him at pick number 66 in the 2010 draft.

Pupolo would go on to play almost 200 games with the Hawks, kicking 185 goals and was known for his tremendous work ethic and ability to damage you without the ball, just as much as he did with it.

His first senior coach at Norwood, Trevor Hill, reflected on his first impressions of Paul Puopolo when he got to the club in 2006.

“I’ve got to admit, he didn’t present that well physically,” Hill began.

“I think he had a chronic back injury that affected his training and as I’ve said a couple of times, I think his mum’s pasta might have been a contributing factor as well but he was just a at that age where he was just keen to improve.

“I think that was one of his best qualities. He chased the dream and he actually achieved it in the end and probably went beyond it.

“He was a seriously good lad.”

Between his height and physical conditioning, ‘Poppy’ was by no means a lock for an AFL career from the get-go.

Puopolo put in an enormous amount of work during his stay at Norwood and was rewarded with further opportunity in the national competition.

What he did have, form the outset, was an innate ability that Hill believes is tough to define.

“He showed that he had this… I’m not sure how to describe it, probably ‘bounce’ in him,” Hill said.

“Some players don’t have that bounce and that force that they can generate in physical movement and I thought he was outstanding in that area and I think that was the secret to his success really.

“He had some good work done with our assistant coach, Mick Weatherald, he used to do a lot of work with Paul before and after training.

“Once he got in reasonable nick, the thing that I saw and I think anyone would’ve seen was that he was such a powerful athlete.”

Under Alistair Clarkson, Puopolo shined as the new era of AFL footy and the obsession with ‘frontal pressure’ came to the forefront.

His agility and work ethic allowed him to be useful up forward or down back with his versatility something that Hill believes can be put down to his early days at Norwood.

“The biggest improvement I saw was his kicking. At that stage it wasn’t great, he had a bit of a loose drop so we worked on that a fair bit,” Hill said.

“I think also at that time, I don’t know whether he knew where his best position was and I think some of the other junior coaches may not have known either.

“Later on in his career he was quite versatile so it was trying to find that right spot.

“I think once he got that feeling that he belonged at league level the penny dropped and he was very dedicated.”

His dedication shone through in the AFL where he became one of the most revered defensive forwards in the game, a task that involves endurance and persistence.

As for his coachability, Hill believes that there were few better.

““He was just a kid from the suburbs and anything that was given to him he took it on and I never heard him complain,” he said.

“After he got over those injury issues and his fitness improved, I just think he was very easy to coach because he wanted to learn and he wanted to get better.

“I think somewhere deep inside, and we never even thought of it at the time, but he had this desire to play AFL and probably was overlooked in those early years maybe because of his size or weight or whatever it was.

“He was very easy to coach.”

Now, Puopolo returns to Coopers Stadium a 33-year-old veteran but all signs indicate that he still has plenty to bring to the table.

New Norwood coach Jade Rawlings spoke at the SANFL Launch about the expectation of what Poppy can bring to Norwood this year.

“He’s still got a bit of feistiness in him, pretty competitive, he looks fit and he’s been a really good influence on our young people,” Rawlings said.

“He’s still got that level of intimidation for our players because it’s Paul Puopolo but we’re starting to break through that as well.

“I think he’ll have a fair influence on our team and hopefully the competition.”

Poppy’s back. Paul Puopolo hits the track ahead of a second stint at Norwood. Picture: Norwoodfc.com.au

A sentiment that hill agrees with, Puopolo’s experience will no doubt be invaluable as Norwood chase a return to finals football, missing out by three games last year.

“He will bring experiences that he went through at Hawthorn and under probably the best coach in recent history and all the other assistants, plus the environment,” Hill began.

“I think he could bring not only coaching principles, but I think he could also bring that team factor that Hawthorn relied on with everyone helping each other.

“He’s an experienced AFL premiership player so I think they can learn a lot from him skill wise and team wise as well.”

The hope around the Parade is that Puopolo can thrive on the field, but Hill believes that the true value in a player like Puopolo is his experience.

With a young list and Rawlings citing a number of young players eager to learn, Trevor Hill says that having Poppy back at the club is definitely a good thing.

“I’m really pleased that he’s come back to Norwood,” Hill admitted.

“I think players that go to the AFL and have a dream to go to the AFL and have careers like Paul has had, I think it’s a goal to come back to a club like Norwood and maybe influence others around the club in a positive way.”

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