TIRED of bombing out early in the finals, Leongatha has turned to Richmond to drive its flag tilt.
Leongatha Football Club has two very different types of heart transplants to thank for the arrival of former Richmond backman Will Thursfield.
The first was a traditional heart transplant for Parrots' 200-gamer and life-member Billy Clarke, now the club's football director.
The second cardiac problem was Thursfield's - his heart simply wasn't in AFL footy any more.
Despite the offer of a contract extension at Tigerland, Thursfield turned his back on a 77-game AFL career in October last year.
Within weeks, the 25-year-old had been named playing coach at Leongatha, in the Gippsland league.
While the Parrots boast a long list of famous coaches, club vice-president Terry Ginnane said Thursfield's appointment was more good luck than good management.
"We've always stayed in contact with Brian Royal, who coached us many years ago," Ginnane said.
"When Brian ended up at Richmond, Billy Clarke had to have a heart transplant and live in Melbourne for a while.
"Billy played in our 1995 premiership side, which "Choco" (Royal) coached, and when Billy was down in Melbourne, Choco had him helping out at Richmond - setting up training drills, working as a property steward, that sort of thing."
Clarke has since returned to Leongatha, but remained in contact with many Richmond players.
"Billy had been talking to Will, and Will had said he was sort of over the AFL," Ginnane said.
"Basically, that's where we began our talks."
Thursfield admits he'd "had enough of that (AFL) life, all the meetings and stuff".
Elevated from Richmond's rookie list in 2005, Thursfield made his big-stage debut against Sydney in Round 14 that season and kept Michael O'Loughlin to one goal.
A knee reconstruction kept him on the sidelines for all but one game in 2006, but he returned to play 15 games in 2007, earning an AFL Rising Star nomination.
In recent seasons, however, Thursfield's appearance in the Tigers' team has been irregular - 13 games in 2009, 14 games in 2010 and 10 games last year - and only one before Round 15.
"My heart probably wasn't in it 100 per cent," he said.
"I've got a landscaping business going as well, so I just decided to go out on a limb a bit and get on with life, get on with the next phase."
But why would a city boy sign at the Parrots, in the centre of South Gippsland's rich dairying region?
"I'd always wanted to go and play country footy because it's always looked like good fun," Thursfield said.
"When the opportunity came up, I thought "Why not?"."
Richmond's loss has undoubtedly been the Parrots' gain.
The club, the breeding ground for current AFL stars Jarryd Roughead and Dyson Heppell, won its last flag in 2001, playing in the Gippsland-Latrobe Football League, an earlier guise of the Gippsland league.
Two years later, it lost to Maffra in the grand final of the West Gippsland-Latrobe Football League, and bowed out in the preliminary final in 2004.
From 2005-08, Leongatha failed to play finals.
But a solid junior structure has fuelled a senior resurgence in recent seasons - the Parrots reached the first semi-final in 2009, and the elimination final in 2010 and last year.
Sick of being the bridesmaid, the club sought to bolster its stocks with an on-field coach.
"We were happy with our coach (former Footscray and Melbourne player Adrian Campbell, who coached the Parrots for five years), but ideally we thought we needed a playing coach," Ginnane said.
"We've got this really good group of young players but we probably needed something extra out on the field to take the next step."
Along with Thursfield, the Parrots have also recruited two more Richmond-listed players in David Gourdis and Tas Clingan.
Gourdis, a defender, played four games with the Tigers in the past two season.
Clingan was on Richmond's rookie list in 2007 and has spent the past three seasons with Wangaratta Rovers in the Ovens and Murray league.
Ginnane said securing the Tiger trio had also helped the club sign a crop of talented players from nearby leagues.
"We've been lucky enough to attract three or four good footballers out of the Alberton league, which hadn't happened for a number of years," he said.
"I think they can see Leongatha starting to build. We've been getting 40 or 50 at training, even up to 60 before Christmas, which was just unheard of.
"It's created a fair bit of interest around the town - during the summer, we had 20 or so blokes coming in after work and watching pre-season training."
Thursfield said he had done his homework on the Parrots before accepting his first coaching gig.
"I didn't want to go in blind," he said.
"I just went on the internet and did a bit of sleuthing around, made a couple of calls and found out they had a good young list with some good senior players."
He said he had been impressed by the high level of fitness among the Parrots' players, but admitted he knew little about the standard of the league he was entering.
"I don't know what the other teams are like and I've never watched a game.
"But I'm happy with how we're shaping up."
Thursfield is the latest in a long list of big-name coaches to lead the Parrots.
Before Campbell came Sydney 217-gamer Andrew Dunkley, Royal, Neville Stone (35 games for Melbourne in the 1960s), Terry Benton (77 games for North Melbourne in the 1960s) and Colin Boyd (44 games for Footscray and Essendon in the 1970s).
Despite living and working in Melbourne, Thursfield said travel time was "not really" a hassle.
"I use the time in the car as time to call people - I've always been a bit lazy doing that," he said.
"It drags on a bit but no complaints."
Many of the club's other Melbourne-based players train at Glenferrie Oval in Hawthorn on Tuesdays, joining the main group on Thursday nights.
Ginnane said the club had been lucky with the quality of its recruits, both on and off the field, in recent seasons.
"They don't just drive in, play a game and get in their car and leave again," he said.
"You need country-type people who want to be involved."
The Parrots will launch their season with a home game under lights against South Gippsland rivals Wonthaggi Power on April 14.