Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
NONE of The Three Amigos mind being called The Three Amigos. Eddie Betts was close to former Carlton player Setanta O'hAilpin, the son of a proud Irish nationalist and an indigenous Pacific islander. Setanta is one of the most potent names in Irish mythology. The Carlton fans called him Carlos because someone thought he looked Spanish. Similarly, the three indigenous players have become the football equivalent of a Mexican guitar band.
Jeff Garlett says he's "pretty much used to the name now - so that's good". Eddie says it doesn't worry him. Chris Yarran starts by saying the name doesn't worry him but ends by saying he thinks it's great. "It's something we're renowned for."
I wanted to interview the Three Amigos because I enjoy the swift, swerving, deadly way they play. Betts and Garlett are exceptional for their size. Yarran is of average height with a slow, bouncing walk, which is the counterbalance to the thrilling speed he shows with a ball in his hand.
I contacted the Three Amigos individually and asked each of them to describe the other two as players. Yarran says Betts is "the most freakish talent I've come across". The Three Amigos are highly appreciative of one another's skills, which is another way of saying they enjoy playing with one another.
In fact, Carlton has four indigenous players - the Three Amigos plus Andrew Walker. Walker has been at the club longer than the rest. Does he mind not being counted as a member of the group? No, he says good-naturedly, that's their thing. He describes the trio as "cult heroes the supporters can enjoy".
It is a source of amusement to some at Carlton that the person who is most drawn to the Three Amigos, seeking to emulate them on the training track, is the blunt, full-throttle Mitch Robinson.
Talking to the indigenous players at Carlton, I was struck by how confident they are. That was another question I put to them - did they feel that Carlton was home? They all said yes. They also all knew about Syd Jackson, Carlton's Aboriginal champion of the '70s, and spoke about him, in Yarran's words, as "someone you can learn from".
Walker joined the Blues nine years ago, Betts came the following year. Yarran and Garlett arrived in 2009. Walker describes Garlett as ''clever''. He says when the four of them were playing together on the forward line their best moments usually started with Garlett doing something "really clever".
Garlett says Betts is smart on the field and off the field. He admires the fact Eddie knows what he's going to do after football.
It is a recorded fact that Eddie had a tough upbringing and was guided to his current status within footy by his mother, Lindy Sambo, and his aunt, Tessa Smith.
Eddie also admits getting arrested for drunkenness two seasons ago after Carlton's infamous boat trip and the torrent of bad publicity that followed helped him change his ways. Eddie, who left school in grade nine, is studying to be an electrician. His partner, Anna Scullie, is expecting their first child in November. Eddie says when you're happy off the field you can play well on it.
Garlett says Yarran is "skilful like Eddie and a smart user of the ball".
Yarran says Garlett is the most laid-back character he's met. The famous story about Garlett is that after arriving at Carlton in 2005 and being met by a Carlton official with a long speech about how he would have to work to make it in the AFL, Garlett replied. "I'll play round one." And he did.
When I ask Garlett how he rates Chris Judd against other great players in the history of the game, he replies, "To be honest, I don't have a clue, but he's the best I've seen of the current players."
Eddie says that, as a player, Garlett is explosive and exciting "but the orange boots are a bit much". The Three Amigos can be entertaining company when they're in a room together. Eddie's the leader and the one with most to say. Eddie says Yarran is the next Andrew McLeod and "has a lot more to give". Of Judd, Eddie says, "He's one of the guys who's done everything - Brownlow, Norm Smith Medal, premiership, MVP. He does everything right except chicken-wing tackles."
Walker is a watcher, a thinker, and a footballer with another passion - music. He describes the change in attitude towards indigenous players during his career as "massive".
"I think it's got to the stage where having indigenous players in your team means a lot to the other players."
He says Betts is the best indigenous player he's played with. "He's so classy and courageous given his body size. A lot of people forget how courageous he is."
He says Yarran may be the quickest player in the AFL and "is so smooth with his ball use".
They all look up to Judd. Yarran describes him as "the most professional athlete I've come across - a first-class example for young players". Garlett admires the way he "gets things out of himself and then gives them back to the team". Walker says Judd "reeks of leadership". "He goes out of his way to get the young kids involved and he's good with indigenous players. He can mix with anyone and he understands indigenous culture.''