Greg Broughton was a third-year apprentice plumber standing in a trench, shovel in hand, in December three years ago when he took a call from then Fremantle coach Mark Harvey telling him he had been rookie-listed.

Fitting. Broughton the footballer has always given the impression of a bloke just going about his work to the best of his ability.

When Harvey told him the news, he did a couple of hours more work before knocking off at lunchtime on the insistence of his boss.

He started training at Fremantle the next day, suddenly a full-time footballer, and is still trying to find time to finish his plumbing apprenticeship.

But Broughton’s no-fuss style does no justice to his high football standards.

In 2011, of 27 key statistical categories kept by Fremantle, Broughton finished top five in 17. And he managed that coming off an injury-interrupted pre-season, hampered by a hamstring niggle that wouldn’t go away for much of the summer.

“I had a slow start then hit a bit of form through the middle of the year, but I tailed off in the end and was a bit disappointed in myself,” he said.

“It is something to improve on. Hopefully I get stronger and quicker in the gym.”

And here comes the good news for Fremantle fans.

Broughton, always understated, has been one of the stars on the track so far this summer and rates himself the fittest he has been.

“In every area I am slowly improving and hopefully I can improve a bit more,” he said.

Broughton, 22 and a veteran of three WAFL premierships before he played his first Dockers game, topped 50 AFL matches in 2011 before his 25th birthday.

The Michael Barlow story may have the hint of more football romance about it, but Broughton’s story is just as impressive.

He hadn’t given up on his AFL dream, but he was starting to wonder if he should.

And even when he got there, he initially wondered whether he was up to it. His first AFL pre-season was a little different to this one.

“I remember it to this day,” he said. “It was a lot of hard work. I got a big wake-up call on the level of intensity that the WAFL guys do compared to the AFL. I had to work harder than everyone else to catch up. I had been rookie-drafted so I hadn’t done much training (before Christmas). I was very underdone.

“Back at Subi, we had only been training for a couple of weeks and we had mainly been doing handball drills.

“At Freo, we did a 3km time trial then skills and more running.

“My fitness wasn’t up with everyone else. I was very below par.

“I was just trucking through, trying to get through training sessions and get everything I could out of it.

“I did have a few nightmares about it. Probably for the rest of that pre-season I wasn’t sleeping that well.

“I was worried about whether I was capable of training and playing at that level.”

But by round three the next season he was in the team and soon to prove himself capable.

Although he missed four of the next five games, the legacy of a rolled ankle during a tackle as he won his first AFL possession, he was an established team member by the end of the season and has been since.

And yet he admits there are still times when he wakes and thinks of himself as a plumber rather than an AFL player.

“It probably still doesn’t hit me that I am playing at this level,” Broughton said.

“Sometimes I wake up and my first thought is to put my work boots on but really I am coming to training. I get to work hard doing what I love doing.”

Broughton’s attitudes are very much shaped by his extended WAFL apprenticeship.

He had played 70 WAFL games before he was recognised by AFL recruiters and required a level of persistence that players drafted younger may not appreciate as much.

“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” he said.

“Playing in three WAFL grand finals and four years of finals, I think I had to work a lot harder than others to get there. I think I matured a bit more too.

“If I had been picked up earlier, I might not have been mature enough to play at that level. It was the right time for me.

“I just went about my business – probably the same as I am doing here. Wherever Subi wanted me to play I played to the best of my ability and played my role for the team.”

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