Finlayson flying at the Power

This article first appeared on the NSW Australian Football History Society’s website. Check out the site for more great stories and facts about our game in NSW.


There were more kids in Jeremy Finlayson’s new school than the entire population of the town he moved from.

Moving by himself as a 16-year-old from little Culcairn and Billabong High to Sydney’s bustling western suburbs was a shock. But it was shock worth surviving.

It all started with Culcairn footy club, but Finlayson acknowledges if it wasn’t for a couple of years at Patrician Brothers Blacktown, training every week with the GWS seniors and a few seasons of NEAFL with Sydney club East Coast Eagles and the Giants reserves, he wouldn’t have made it in the AFL.

“Going from a town with a population of 950 to a school with 1200 kids was a big shock to me,” the Port Adelaide forward said.

“It was tough, but looking back now I mightn’t have made it in the AFL if I went home.”



After his five goals for Port and seven coaches’ votes in last week’s win over West Coast, Finlayson has climbed to fourth place in the Carey-Bunton Medal for the best NSW player in the AFL.  

Like so many, he started on the Riverina footy production line, and was playing seniors in the Hume League for Culcairn by the time he was 15.

It was a footy club he was very familiar with.

Dad Gordon played 432 games and was club president of the Lions, one of the oldest clubs in NSW, and Finlayson virtually grew up at the place, half way between Albury and Wagga.

After playing senior footy in Year 10, Finlayson was offered a GWS Giants scholarship for Year 11 which meant leaving home and moving to Sydney in 2012 for his final two years of school – right in the heart of rugby league territory.

His schoolmates at Patrician Brothers included Penrith NRL premiership players Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton and Brent Naden, among at least nine Pats boys from his era to have played for the Panthers. Dozens more are scattered through the NRL. But the school also had an Aussie Rules team.

So, with a week that involved playing footy for school, training with the Giants senior squad every Wednesday and playing for East Coast (aka Baulkham Hills) in the NEAFL on the weekend, Finlayson’s footy was progressing rapidly.

When he finished school, he played for GWS reserves in the NEAFL, winning a premiership in 2014 under coach Mark McVeigh who took him under his wing and helped him get drafted to the Giants at the end of that year.

“NEAFL was really good footy, it helped me a lot,” Finlayson said of the second tier league killed off by Covid.

It took him a few years in the Giants’ twos before his senior AFL debut in 2017, and then moved in 2022 to Port Adelaide where he has proved a weapon near goals this season, including his match winner against Sydney in round four.

But, despite his travels, he still knows it all started in the town where his dad was a local fireman (and footy great), his mum worked in the local butcher’s and sport was every kid’s passion.

“I tagged along with dad to the footy, lawn bowls, tennis, cricket, basketball, everything. Culcairn was so little, sport was what you got out of bed for in the morning,” Finlayson, who is closing in on his 100th AFL game this season, said.

And it brought the community together.

He met his best mate Max Nicholas as kids at the footy club and he’s still in touch with the club.

“My best man went to a different school but we’re best mates for life because of the local footy club,” Finlayson said.

“I remember wishing the week would hurry up for Saturday. Mum would make tomato soup and then all the families would go to the footy together.

“That’s where I fell in love with footy – at the Culcairn footy club, it’s an amazing little club.”

While Finlayson moved to fourth place in the Carey-Bunton on eight votes, North Broken Hill’s Taylor Walker has leapt to the lead with seven votes last week to take him to 12, one clear of Mosman’s Callum Mills.

Walker also leads the Bill Mohr Medal for leading goalkicker with 15, while Finley boy Tom Hawkins is one behind him.


CAREY BUNTON MEDAL  Coaches VotesRound 6
12Taylor Walker (Adelaide/ North Broken Hill)7
11Callum Mills (Sydney Swans / Mosman)
9Errol Gulden (Sydney Swans / UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)
8Jeremy Finalyson (Port Adelaide / Culcairn)7
8Nick Blakey (Sydney Swans/ UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)
8 Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast Suns/ Sydney University)
8 Dane Rampe (Sydney Swans / UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)
8Jacob Hopper (Richmond / Leeton-Whitton)
7Tom Hawkins (Geelong/ Finley)5
5Isaac Heeney (Sydney Swans/ Cardiff)
5Will Setterfield (Essendon / Albury)
4Lachlan Shultz (Fremantle/ Moama)
4Jack Buckley (GWS Giants / UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)
3Isaac Smith (Geelong / Cootamundra)
3Todd Marshall (Port Adelaide/ Deniliquin)