Few can match the skill, success and longevity of South Gambier midfielder Brent Howard.
The gritty veteran’s Western Border A Grade career stretches across four decades and at the end of this year he could have a premiership in each of them.
Despite missing the first four games of the 2021 season, Howard returned to the top side and his experience and craft has helped the Demons to the ladder lead.
After a year away in 2020, he said the love for the game returned as the club’s fortunes grow from strength to strength.
“I am enjoying it again,” Howard said.
“Probably having a year off with COVID did not do any harm with my age.
“There is a good feeling (around South) and there was even a buzz at the end of preseason.
“I try not to look too far ahead, but in the back of your mind, I guess the ultimate goal is to win another premiership.” Howard had little choice as to where he would play football being groomed as a Demon for as long as he can remember.
“I was lucky enough both my parents played at South,” he said.
“My father played senior footy and my mother played a lot A Grade netball, so I was born into the club.” With trips to Blue Lake Sports Park a weekly occurrence during his childhood, Howard was given the perfect upbringing to succeed in a South jumper.
He entered the fray in Under 12’s, but was swiftly promoted into Under 14’s and won a flag.
Premiership success continued through his junior career and by the age of 17, Howard was thrown into the Senior squad.
He said the pace set by the 1997 premiership winning side in his A Grade debut remains with him.
“I was lucky to be given the opportunity by Peter Sims and it just stemmed from there,” Howard said.
“It was definitely a step up and a lot quicker and more physical back then.
“I was fortunate we had a good team and knew some of the older players who played with my father and they looked after me pretty well.” The words of wisdom from South’s senior members certainly made an impact on a young Howard, who after playing five A Grade games in 1997 took his game to new heights the following year.
Surrounded by some daring Demons on the field, Howard adapted to the top level and became a vital member of the side playing every game.
His first full season turned out to be a special time as South secured the third of five consecutive flags.
Howard said he will never forget his first A Grade grand final.
“We did not go in as favourites because North touched us up at Millicent a couple of weeks before by around 100 points,” he said.
“Then we just got through against Imperials and we turned it on in the third quarter during the grand final and broke the game open.
“I just remember it was a very good feeling when we won.” Having conquered WBFL at such an early age, Glenelg approached Howard and at the start of 1999 he moved up the highway to Adelaide.
Rooming with fellow Demon Simon Jones, the 18-year-old was keen to take the next step and made his senior SANFL debut just halfway through his first season in the city.
Howard said it was the toughest class of football he played, but several SA legends helped him along the way.
“My debut against South Adelaide down at Noarlunga was another step up again being quicker and even more physical,” he said.
“But some of the players I was fortunate enough to play with like Matt Bode, Chad and Kane Cornes, Matthew Liptak and Rod Jameson gave us good advice.” Sadly during his third year as a Tiger, Howard’s AFL dream and SANFL career was cut short by a freak leg injury during a slippery game.
The unfortunate incident was enough for the Mount Gambier midfielder to call it a day and return to the comforts of home.
It paid off handsomely as Howard jumped straight back into his role in the centre of the Demons’ team sheet and even threatened the goals.
He was in crushing form and was rewarded with the best and fairest medal in 2004, while South enjoyed the ultimate team success with another flag the following year.
Despite achieving so much success at BLSP, Howard said he found himself searching for something new.
“Around 2007 I just felt like I needed a new challenge,” he said.
“At South we were winning all the time, so I just wanted a change from the same lifestyle to meet new people.
“Casterton was a really good football club with some great supporters and I made great friends with the players, so no regrets there.” After almost 90 games at the club, but no significant team success, Howard felt it was the right time to head back home having just welcomed his first child into the world.
Following three competitive seasons, a third premiership for the Demons arrived in unforgettable style.
After four intense quarters under the sun of Vansittart Park, nothing separated North and South before the latter prevailed in extra-time.
Howard who received his second best-on-ground grand final medal said the long afternoon was the most stressful of his career.
“It was a weird feeling when the siren went and it was a draw, but I remember as a team we just pulled each other into a huddle and said we can still win this,” he said.
“We thought North had a few blokes cramping up, so we just had a feeling we could pull it off and we did.
“I remember feeling pretty spent and it took me a week to get over that game.
“It was the hardest game I had ever played.” Howard has hardly missed a beat in the five years since and continues to be an active member in his other passion – harness racing.
The Carlton supporter is a Mount Gambier Gold Cup winning driver and also trains a couple of horses with Mount Schank as the backdrop.