Western Bulldogs forward Aaron Naughton returns to Optus Stadium for first time since grand final heartbreak

Headshot of Braden Quartermaine
Braden QuartermaineThe West Australian
A dejected Aaron Naughton leaves Optus Stadium after the Western Bulldogs lost the 2021 AFL grand final to Melbourne.
Camera IconA dejected Aaron Naughton leaves Optus Stadium after the Western Bulldogs lost the 2021 AFL grand final to Melbourne. Credit: Gary Day/AFL Photos

The Western Bulldogs’ fairytale run through the 2021 finals series delivered Aaron Naughton an extraordinary opportunity to win a premiership in his home town.

And halfway through the third quarter of the grand final, the script was sticking to the storybook as the Dogs led Melbourne by 19 points.

They would quickly be buried under an avalanche of 12 consecutive goals from the Demons, but Naughton isn’t into what-ifs.

And while describing the match as a blur, the Rockingham product insists his memories from grand final week are largely fond ones.

“It was still a cool experience, even though the result didn’t go in our favour,” Naughton said.

“I just enjoyed the whole week and the lead-up. It was pretty special to play a grand final in my home State in WA.

“It was obviously disappointing, but just good memories of the build-up, playing in front of family and friends, just the way the AFL approached it with the atmosphere.”

Naughton, who kicked a second-quarter goal from his only scoring shot of the decider, hasn’t spent any time dwelling on where it went wrong for the Dogs.

Aaron Naughton celebrates a goal for the Western Bulldogs.
Camera IconAaron Naughton celebrates a goal for the Western Bulldogs. Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

“It’s a bit of a blur to be honest, like most games are really,” he said.

“It’s hard to remember exactly. I think we did plenty right. We were winning up ’til half-way through the third quarter and then it all sort of changed.

“I’m not one that has gone back and, you know, gone into detail and looked into where we went wrong or anything. Full credit to them. Their last quarter and a bit was unbelievable and they deserved to win.

“It was obviously a little difficult when the ball doesn’t come down in the second half. Melbourne’s back-line’s a really solid unit and it’s always tough when you play against them.”

For a freakishly talented kid who was spoilt by a string of consecutive flags with the Rockingham Rams as a teenager, grand final day has proved more challenging in senior football.

As a 17-year-old boom draft prospect in 2017, then playing as a key defender, he was controversially left out of Peel’s WAFL premiership team as retiring Fremantle defender Zac Dawson was included.

Aaron Naughton celebrates a goal with his Peel Thunder teammates in 2017.
Camera IconAaron Naughton celebrates a goal with his Peel Thunder teammates in 2017. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The Sunday Times

As first emergency, Naughton stripped and warmed up with his teammates but wasn’t required despite impressing in seven outings with the league side that season.

“I was probably a little bit disappointed at the time,” Naughton said.

“Being a young player and they obviously went on to win it. I think it just would have been a nice way to top off my draft year. But you can’t really help that they didn’t select me.

“If anyone went down I would have been in. So I was a part of the whole build-up and training and everything that week. So that was a cool experience as a 17-year-old.

“Obviously I got drafted off the back of it and I’m really enjoying my time at AFL. I can’t really complain.”

While Fremantle’s decision to bypass Naughton with picks 2 and 5 in the 2017 national draft has long been hotly debated, the teenager also had his eye on Collingwood’s pick 6 (Jaidyn Stephenson) after growing up supporting the Magpies.

Naughton, who eventually landed at the Bulldogs with pick 9 after St Kilda also overlooked him twice, thought he was a chance to get to the Dockers but said he was realistic about the likelihood of having to move interstate.

“I didn’t think I was a chance to go pick 2, but there was talks around pick 5,” he said.

“But as a kid you’re just happy to go anywhere and you wait to see how it plays out and I think it’s played out pretty well, me landing at the Doggies.”

Having successfully transformed from defender into one of the most watchable key forwards in the league, the headband-wearing left-footer is contracted to the Bulldogs until 2024 and doesn’t see himself going anywhere else.

The outdoors man, who grew up in Rockingham from the age of nine after being born in Victoria, is even feeling at home amid the bustle of Melbourne.

“I’m loving it here,” he said.

“I’ve bought a house here and I’ve settled in. It has taken a few years to get around without using maps because of the traffic and it being so busy.

Aaron Naughton has made a name for himself with his incredible marks.
Camera IconAaron Naughton has made a name for himself with his incredible marks. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

“But now that I do know the city reasonably well and know places to go, it’s definitely enjoyable.”

There’s nowhere to hide in a footy mad town though, especially when you’re the footy superhero Astro-Naught.

“It’s not the worst nickname,” he said.

“It’s kind of cool if you do see little kids and supporters around and they come up referring to you as the Astro-Naught.

“I think that side of it is the good stuff about footy and I have to credit the Doggies media team for coming up with that one.”

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