15/04/2024

Gavin Wanganeen in 1993. Photo: Essendon FC

In round two of 1997, Gavin Wanganeen made his club debut for Port Adelaide against former team Essendon. 24 years later and Orazio Fantasia will follow in his footsteps.

In round two of 1997, Gavin Wanganeen made his club debut for Port Adelaide against former team Essendon. 24 years later and Orazio Fantasia will follow in his footsteps, taking to the field for the Power against old friends at the Bombers for the first time.

Wanganeen is all too familiar with the task confronting Fantasia, and admitted to The Inner Sanctum the first contest against his former side was “one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to play in.”

An AFL Hall of Famer, Wanganeen made the move to Port Adelaide after an illustrious period in the red and black, including a premiership as part of the Baby Bombers and a Brownlow Medal in 1993. He was the first Indigenous player to claim the highest individual accolade in the AFL.

“From my perspective I had six wonderful years at Essendon, winning a premiership and enjoying success there and had some really great memories of that time”, Wanganeen said.

Gavin Wanganeen won the 1993 Brownlow Medal. Photo: Essendon FC

The South Australian moved to Port Adelaide to become its inaugural AFL captain in 1997, with his debut game for the Power coming in round two against his old side.

“It was a weird, weird feeling, really hard to describe. It’s a whole different type of nerves, you definitely don’t feel like you’ve ever felt before,” he admitted.

“You feel like ‘I used to play with these guys for the last six years’, I had premiership teammates I was playing against.”

“It was definitely one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to play in.”

Wanganeen was a beloved member of Essendon during his six years at the club, and the Bombers faithful showed their appreciation for him when he took to the field against their side for the first time.

“My reception was great. I had great relationships with everyone at Essendon, it was all respect,” he said.

“Essendon gave me so much, and similarly my years at Port were wonderful.”

“I have great love for both clubs.”

Essendon coach Ben Rutten said Fantasia was a well-liked teammate at the Bombers, but stated that he’d be treated like the rest of the Port Adelaide side.

“Raz was a popular member of our group and spent a lot of time here”.

“But he’s at Port now and he’s one of 22, 23 players that we’re going to have to combat”.

“That’s how we’re treating him. He’s at another club now and we’ll treat him as we do all the other players.”

“I think we know [Fantasia’s] game a bit better than the other Port players. Maybe that’s an advantage, maybe it’s not, but I don’t want our players getting too distracted by that.”

“We want our guys to play our way”, Rutten stated.

Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley shared the sentiment that Fantasia and Essendon parted on good terms.

“Orazio made it clear his reason for leaving Essendon was not about the club but about coming home to be closer to family.”

“I don’t think there’s any animosity there”, Hinkley concluded.

One thing can be assured on Saturday; when the final siren sounds it will be all love between Orazio Fantasia and his old teammates.

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