Born a decade apart, Mumford and Papley’s footy careers have the same roots, which have always been intertwined. When Papley’s father David coached Mumford in the Bulldogs seniors back in the day, Tom was running water for the team. Even before that, he was hanging around the club.
“I remember Tom running around as a young kid. He wasn’t even playing footy then but he always had his little footy boots on and was charging around everywhere with a footy in hand,” Mumford said.
A brute of a human even as a teenager, Mumford was notorious for his seemingly insatiable hunger for sausages. “He was a big boy, that’s for sure – still is,” Papley said. “I think they might have won the under-17s premiership and there was a photo of me going around somewhere on his shoulders.”
Mumford has a tattoo on one ankle commemorating that flag – and on the other, a tribute to Sydney’s 2012 AFL grand final win. Walker is surprised how well Mumford, now 33, is still playing after a year in retirement.
“Catching up with him after that 2017 season, he was done. He wanted to continue playing but his body didn’t allow him,” Walker said. “The time off has just reinvigorated him and he’s hitting blokes harder than ever. That’s been him ever since he was 12. He thoroughly enjoys hurting people.”
Papley was 16 years old and “50kg wringing wet” when he played in Bunyip’s 2012 premiership. He didn’t get his first chance at senior level until very late in the season due to injuries to other forwards – but when it came, he took it.
“He just looked at home in that first game and you couldn’t drop him,” Walker said. “He wasn’t a freak – he just had some natural talent, and some nous around goal.”
Papley was overlooked in his first two draft years but when the Bulldogs made another grand final in 2015, he skipped it to play in an under-21s representative game. It turned out to be a pretty good decision. “That is where, I believe, Sydney saw him play at a high-enough level that they were keen to pick him,” Walker said.
Due to their age difference, Mumford and Papley never played together. The former joined the Swans on a rookie deal 12 months after the latter was squeezed across town to GWS by Lance Franklin’s recruitment. When he got to Sydney, Papley initially wore 41, Mumford’s old guernsey number.
Papley, 23, visits Bunyip as often as he can. The lure of home is strong, but not enough to tear him away from what is building within the current crop of young players at the Swans.
“I’m contracted until 2020, so I think that’s just the media blowing it up,” he said of reports that he will be a trade target for Victorian clubs later this year. “I haven’t heard anything.”
Distance hasn’t stopped him lending a helping hand when required. In March, 29 homes around Bunyip were destroyed in a bushfire caused by lightning strikes. Papley leveraged his profile, setting up a crowdfunding page to raise nearly $10,000 for those affected.
“We dished it out to four or five families, just to help them get some clothes and help pay for rent, because their houses aren’t there – things like that,” he said. “It’s just a little gesture. I’m very grateful for the money that we raised and I’m sure those people are as well. They’ve had some tough fires out there. It’ll get back to where it was.”
Mumford admires the player Papley has become. “Many years ago people probably said he was too small, this and that – he’d heard it all,” he said. “But his resilience to keep going, keep striving to try and get there is quite impressive. And to play the quality of football he is now, he’s had some amazing games this year.”
On Saturday, though, it’ll be on. “He’s pretty good with the gift of the gab,” Mumford laughed. “He doesn’t stop talking when he’s out on the field. It’s one thing I’ve never been short of either.”
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.