Family-oriented Fejo flourishes with move South

FOR Ronald Fejo Jnr, it would have been easy to stay comfortable living among family and playing football at home in Darwin. But in late-2020, he packed up moved to South Australia with hopes of turning his dream of playing AFL football into reality.

Linking with West Adelaide with help from his manager, Fejo landed a spot in the SANFL ranks and took full toll in 2021. Despite being over-age, his form warranted special dispensation to play with the Northern Territory Thunder Academy and Allies Under 19 side.

With 16 Reserves games and a League berth under his belt, the rapidly rising prospect said the challenge of moving away from home was a “learning curve”, and one which has helped him inch closer to his AFL dream.

“It’s been challenging but it’s also been good,” Fejo said. “I wanted to move away (from the NT) to challenge myself and try to get a look in at the AFL. I thought I wouldn’t have been able to do it from Darwin so I asked if I could get across to a SANFL club.

“If you want to play AFL footy, you’re probably going to have to step away from home… ever since I’ve moved here and gotten a lot more (AFL) interest, I’ve taken footy a lot more seriously and have been doing the right things off the field as well as on the field, so it’s helped me a lot.”

Ronald Fejo in West Adelaide colours | Credit: West Adelaide FC

Behind Fejo’s push for the big leagues is a strong sense of family orientation. He grew up as the eldest of six children and is a role model to each of his five siblings. His wider family holds ties to football. Fejo’s uncle is Gold Coast forward Joel Jeffrey, who Fejo said is more like a brother to him given the two grew up together.

Jeffrey’s father, Russell also played top flight football and remains a key figure in NT footy, while former Richmond cult hero Relton Roberts is another of Fejo’s relatives. With such family history in the game, Fejo has always been “honoured” to pull on the jumper of his home and family club, Wanderers.

He inevitably cracked senior football for the Muk Muks having played there since Under 12s, leaning on plenty of community and club pillars throughout his time in the blue and gold.

“Most of (my mentors) are probably back from my local club to be honest,” Fejo said. “Some of the leaders there like Shannon Motlop, the coach of the team at the time and the captain Braedon McLean. The vice-captain as well, Simon Bates, who was my Under 18s coach for two or three years. He was a pretty good help for me.

“Then you’ve got Jason Roe from NT Thunder, the whole Thunder team and a big one for me has been Joel Jeffrey.”

Fejo in action for his home club Wanderers | Credit: Celina Whan/ AFLNT Media

As Fejo’s mother recounts it, he was “too advanced” for Auskick upon beginning his footballing journey at a young age. The well-rounded runner took up rugby before delving back into Australia’s game, and it shows in the way he plays.

The speedy wingman loves carving a way through traffic and can tear the opposition to shreds with a mix of evasion and endurance. Fejo models his game on the likes of Lewis Jetta and Brad Hill, with his ability to provide outside run, slick ball use, and a sense of confidence all shared traits.

This season, he turned out on the wing for West Adelaide and ventured onto the inside while representing the NT Thunder. He impressed in a one-off dig with the Allies too, proving one of the classier players afield in a heavy defeat at the hands of South Australia.

Having gained experience across a range of teams and competitions, Fejo says he is “pretty stoked” with how his season panned out, and rightly so given how much he has achieved since taking the risk to move down south.

“It was up and down towards the end of the season but the majority of the season I was pretty happy with,” he said. “I thought I would have played a lot more (League) games after being brought up into the side but it is what it is. If I don’t get a chance in the draft this year I’ll probably go back and try have a crack in the League next year.”

Fejo’s next point of call is the South Australian draft combine on October 16. While his season is over, the determined youngster has still been training thrice a week in the lead in to Saturday’s testing event, where he is expected to light up the time sheets across multiple events.

He is set to head back home to Darwin a few days later and “chill out” in anticipation of the AFL Draft on November 24/25, the dates which could see Fejo’s goals of making the big leagues and providing for his family long-term come to fruition.

Featured Image: Ronald Fejo Jnr representing the Allies in 2021 | Credit: Sue McKay/AFL Photos

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