Melican and McCartin set to shine in backline

Sydney Swans defender Lewis Melican has praised team-mate Tom McCartin for his performances throughout the pre-season and says he is eager to form a strong partnership with him in the backline in 2021.14 hrs ago

Sydney Swans defender Lewis Melican has praised team-mate Tom McCartin for his performances throughout the pre-season and says he is eager to form a strong partnership with him in the backline in 2021. 

The pair only played alongside each other eight times during the 2020 season but have shown promising signs of building a strong combination heading into the upcoming season.

McCartin was drafted to the Swans in 2017 as a tall forward prospect with an outstanding marking ability, but his positive transition down the opposite end of the ground in season 2020 showed the 21-year olds versatility and he has further impressed his teammates in the pre-season. 

“I’ve actually been really enjoying playing with Tom McCartin in the backline,” Melican said on Sydney Swans Podcast Conversations with Cal. 

“He’s just a competitive beast, he hates losing. It’s been good to be able to get a pre-season with him and get that partnership stronger between the two of us,” Melican said. 

“I thought he was really good last week (in match-sim).” 

Tom McCartin takes a mark

Melican made his debut in 2017 and has notched up 46 games in the red and white, but has had several seasons hampered by injury.

He has crafted his trade by marking some big key forwards including earning a Rising Star nomination after he shut-down St.Kilda great Nick Riewoldt in Round 18 in 2017.

He has had some good practice at Swans training over the years too with the likes of Kurt Tippett and Lance Franklin just two names he recalls having some hard-fought contests against. 

“I still have a scar under my eye from one session. I was just bodying him (Tippett) up and he tried to run past me and lifted an elbow and it split me open pretty quickly. It hasn’t recovered,” he laughed.  

“There was another day out at the SCG, and it was 18 v 18, and the team had a game in two days.  

“I had been told I needed to be more aggressive with my body work. I just got a pretty good spoil and punched it out of Tippett’s hands, and he went to ground. 

“Horse (John Longmire) was yelling at me over the top of everybody – ‘we’ve got a game in two days what is he doing?’,” he said.  

“I thought I might just pull it back a bit for the rest of training and watch myself.”   

The young gun also highlighted a humorous moment with Franklin that saw the superstar forward deliver a cheeky sledge just moments before taking a mark at training.  

“I’ve also had some good ones with Buddy (Franklin). I still remember the day he was just coming back from an injury and he was out in front of me and I was about a step behind him. 

“He just looked at me and said ‘I’ll just take this one bud’. 

“I took a few easy steps and let him get it, and he wielded it onto his left foot.” 

Jacob Townsend joins the SUNS

The Gold Coast SUNS have drafted Jacob Townsend with pick 5 in the 2020 NAB AFL Rookie Draft.

Townsend joins the club with 60 games of AFL experience after most recently playing 12 games for Essendon in 2020.

Prior to that he played 20 games for Richmond from 2016-19, including the Tigers’ 2017 premiership, after originally beginning his career with GWS in 2012.

Townsend said he was thrilled to be given the opportunity to help the SUNS on their journey.

“I’m really looking forward to getting here and meeting all the boys and hopefully I’m here for a long time,” Townsend said.

“There’s a couple of boys up here which I already know which will make it a bit easier so I’m looking forward to that.

“This list is a pretty young list so I’m looking forward to coming in and trying to show them a few things which I’ve learnt over the years both on and off field.”

Gold Coast SUNS National Recruiting Manager Kall Burns said Townsend would bring valuable experience to the club.

“We’re really happy to be able to secure a quality person like Jacob in the rookie draft and we know he will be a great addition to our group,” Burns said.

“Jacob has been in the AFL system for nine years, is a premiership player and has experience at the highest level which complements our list.”



Collingwood defender Tom Langdon has retired after an 18-month struggle to overcome a chronic knee injury.

The elegant half-back was one of the best afield in the 2018 grand final but was injured only nine matches into the next season and, ultimately, was unable to return.

Langdon, 26, took time at the end of the season to consider his prospects before coming to the conclusion that he could not continue.

Langdon played 89 matches across seven seasons with Collingwood. His selection, with pick 65 in the 2013 national draft, was inspired. He played 41 of a possible 44 matches in his first two seasons and became a feature of the Collingwood backs group with his deft intercept marking and composure.

Versatility was also a strength of his game. At 190cm he was a natural ‘third tall’ defender but his range extended to assignments on the likes of Robbie Gray, Lance Franklin and Jack Darling.

Collingwood GM of Football, Geoff Walsh, described Langdon as an understated character who did little to draw attention to himself other than to position himself in the right spot more often than not.

“Tom played some wonderful football for Collingwood and it was a sad day when the reality of his premature retirement arrived,” Walsh said.

“We saw him work incredibly hard to get back. He pushed himself through so much pain to keep his hopes of a comeback flickering. Given his talent and application, his finish is a cruel football story.

“We’re all confident that Tom will make a success of the next phase of his life and we wish him well.”

Bytel locked in

Promising midfielder Jack Bytel has re-committed to the Saints for a further two years after signing a contract extension this week.

The new deal will see the former Calder Cannons skipper in red, white and black until at least the end of 2022.

Once touted as a Top 10 pick in the 2018 ‘Super Draft’, Bytel’s draft year was derailed by a back injury which saw him slide to pick No. 41 when the Saints swooped.

A lengthy rehabilitation followed, before a string of eye-catching displays at Reserves level saw the talented youngster break through for his long-awaited AFL debut in Round 11 this year.

Head of List Management James Gallagher said Bytel’s was an important signature as the club looks to consolidate its midfield depth.

“We brought Jack to the Saints knowing that he had some significant steps ahead of him in order to get his body right for the rigours of life in the AFL.  We were always prepared to be patient with Jack, as we know that his elite attributes such as his clean hands and outstanding football brain will still be there when his body catches up. It is a credit to Jack that we saw glimpses of these attributes in just his first ‘active’ year in the competition.

“The determination and discipline he showed to overcome his injury was first-class, and he has won a lot of respect from his teammates and staff with how he went about his rehabilitation and the way that he has built a body that is capable of playing regular AFL football.

“We have an exciting group of young players that we are investing in, and Jack has certainly got an important role to play as those guys grow and play more games together.”

Bytel has played three games for the Saints after being selected with pick No. 41 in the 2018 National Draft.

Paton signs on

Ben Paton has committed his future to St Kilda after signing a two-year contract extension.

The emerging young gun put pen to paper earlier this week in a new deal that will see him in the tricolours until at least the end of 2022.

Paton entered 2020 with only 16 games under his belt, but the 21-year-old’s remarkable rise saw him feature in every game this season.

The sought-after stopper became one of the Saints’ most consistent performers, claiming a series of impressive scalps including some of the game’s best forwards.

Head of List Management James Gallagher said securing Paton’s services was a priority for the club.

“We’re rapt to have Ben commit to the future of our club,” he said.

“Pato’s one of a number of young guys we can see leading this footy club forward over the next 10 years along with the likes of Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield.

“The way he’s adapted to different challenges this year and become a really core component of our young backline has been very encouraging.

“He’s a really mature young man, and we’ve been impressed by not just his ability to perform on game-day, but his strong team-first attitude with how he prepares and trains as well.”

Paton played every game in 2020 to take his career total to 35, after being taken at pick No. 46 in the 2017 National Draft.  

Adams awarded Copeland Trophy

Collingwood vice-captain Taylor Adams has capped a stellar 2020 season, claiming his first Copeland Trophy today.

The midfielder didn’t miss a match in 2020 and received 100 votes to take out the club’s best and fairest, polling in all but three matches of the home and away season and finals.

Having earned his debut All Australian selection in 2020, Adams averaged 5.2 clearances, 5.5 tackles and kicked nine goals across the season, also earning him the Gavin Brown Award for pressure.

Captain Scott Pendlebury received the R.T. Rush Trophy for finishing second with 71 votes. Pendlebury has now polled in the top three of the Copeland count in the last 12 of his 15 seasons with the club, the skipper also overtaking Tony Shaw’s club games record (313) and Nathan Buckley’s club captaincy record (161) in 2020.

Rounding out the top five were defenders Jack Crisp (63), Darcy Moore (62) and Brayden Maynard (59).

Brody Mihocek was another dual-award winner, taking home the Bob Rose Award for player of the finals alongside his second consecutive Gordon Coventry Award as the club’s leading goal kicker, booting 25 goals for the season.

Vice-captain Jeremy Howe received acknowledgement for his off-field contribution receiving the Darren Millane Perpetual Memorial Trophy for best clubman despite a season ending injury in Round 4.

2020 E.W. Copeland Trophy top 10
1. Taylor Adams 100 votes (E.W. Copeland trophy)
2. Scott Pendlebury 71 votes (R.T. Rush trophy)
3. Jack Crisp 63 votes (J.J. Royce trophy)
4. Darcy Moore 62 votes (J.F. McHale trophy)
5. Brayden Maynard 59 votes (Jack Regan trophy)
6. Josh Daicos 50 votes
7. Jamie Elliott 47 votes
7. Brodie Grundy 47 votes
8. Brody Mihocek 46 votes
8. John Noble 46 votes

Gavin Brown Award (pressure): Taylor Adams

Bob Rose Award (player of the finals): Brody Mihocek

Gordon Coventry Award (leading goal-kicker): Brody Mihocek (25)

Harry Collier Trophy (best young player): Isaac Quaynor

Darren Millane Perpetual Memorial Trophy (best clubman): Jeremy Howe

Joseph Wren Award (best VFL player): Nathan Murphy

GIANTS Pay the Perryman

GIANTS wingman Harry Perryman has signed a contract extension until the end of 2022.

Perryman has become one of the GIANTS’ most reliable players with the ability to play across the half back line as well as through the midfield, regularly hitting the scoreboard.

The 21-year old kicked nine goals across the first four rounds to lead the Coleman Medal early in the season before playing a more defensive role late in 2020. 

Perryman played 16 of a possible 17 games in 2020 to take his career tally to 52 games across four seasons. 

Originally from the Riverina town of Collingullie, Perryman joined the club as pick 14 in the 2016 Draft having developed through the GIANTS Academy.

Perryman has become a fan favourite at the GIANTS for his unrelenting attack on the ball and was last week nominated for the AFLPA’s Most Courageous Player Award. 

Perryman said recommitting to the GIANTS was an easy decision.

“I love the club and the culture we’ve developed so I’m glad to be here for at least another couple of years,” said Perryman.

“It’s been a challenging season this year but the future is exciting for our club and I can’t wait to get 2021 underway.”

GIANTS General Manager Football Jason McCartney said he sees a bright future for the 21-year old.

“Harry has become an integral part of our club and we’re delighted he’s re-committed to the GIANTS.

“He’s a tough and courageous player with terrific skills who took his game to the next level this year.

“All of us at the GIANTS are looking forward to Harry continuing to grow as a player and a leader in the years to come.”

Numbers backing up Darcy’s growth

A number of key statistics suggest that Sean Darcy is already starting to emerge as one of the better ruckmen in the AFL.

At 22, Darcy is still one to the game’s youngest to play regularly as a ruckman, a position that is traditionally dominated by the older and more experienced players.

Darcy ranks seventh in the AFL in total hitouts despite playing 14 of a possible 16 games this season and a heavy rotation system through the ruck with Rory Lobb.

Darcy has had less opportunity than other rucks to rack up big hitout totals, attending 617 ruck contests in 2020, significantly lower than the likes of Todd Goldstein (995), Brodie Grundy (993) and Max Gawn (767).

B.Grundy (COFC)1699351952.3
T.Goldstein (NMFC)1699545345.5
J.Witts (GCFC)1693744947.9
N.Naitanui (WCFC)1575844759
R.O’Brien (AFC)1698343544.3
M.Gawn (MFC)1376743256.3
S.Darcy (FRFC)1461730349.1
O.McInerney (BFC)1673029740.7
I.Soldo (RFC)1457429250.9
S.Lycett (PAFC)1261927844.9
C.Sinclair (SYFC)1264127042.1
M.Pittonet (CFC)1263226341.6
T.English (WBFC)1689126029.2

Importantly, Darcy has seen a significant increase in his hitouts to advantage in 2020, where 15.9 per cent of the time he will tap the ball to the advantage of a Fremantle midfielder. 


This rates well compared to other AFL rucks, trailing only Ben McEvoy, Paddy Ryder, Max Gawn and Nic Naitanui. 

B.McEvoy (HFC)153326419.3
P.Ryder (SKFC)124468418.8
M.Gawn (MFC)1376714118.4
N.Naitanui (WCFC)1575812917
S.Darcy (FRFC)146179815.9
S.Lycett (PAFC)126199615.5
I.Soldo (RFC)145748615
S.Jacobs (GWS)73905814.9
B.Grundy (COFC)1699314414.5
J.Witts (GCFC)1693713514.4

And compared to rucks around his age, Darcy is one of the standouts.

S.Darcy (FRFC)142215.949.1
I.Soldo (RFC)14241550.9
R.O’Brien (AFC)162512.844.3
M.Pittonet (CFC)122412.741.6
S.Draper (EFC)72110.336.6
T.English (WBFC)16228.929.2
T.De Koning (CFC)6217.831.7

Fremantle head of development Simon Eastaugh, a ruckman at Fremantle between 1998 and 2002, has mentored Darcy since his arrival and has been impressed with his achievements.

“With these young guys coming through in the ruck, it has its challenges,” Eastaugh told 6PR.

“I think when you talk about the calibre of the players Sean has played on in the past few weeks, Max Gawn and Todd Goldstein in particular, it’s no mean feat that Sean’s been able to hold his own.

“We’re starting to see him emerging with a huge amount of confidence in his game.”

While Darcy has impressed at stoppages, Eastaugh said Darcy has room to grow in his follow up work.

Darcy averages just under three first possessions per game, behind the likes of those renowned for their work around the contest in Nic Naitanui (6.2 per game), Todd Goldstein (5.6), Brodie Grundy (4.3 ) and Max Gawn (4.3).

“I think the key to (Darcy’s emergence) has been his follow-up,” Eastaugh said.

“He had six first possessions and three tackles against North Melbourne.

“It’s the kind of game that we know Sean’s very capable of doing but it just takes a little bit of time. Playing against those big dominant guys, is no easy feat.”


Turf toe, pneumonia, quadriceps strain: The ‘other’ McKay’s long road

Ben McKay has finally locked in a regular spot in North’s 22. Picture: AFL Photos

JOSH Walker’s recruitment last year was effectively North Melbourne acknowledging that Ben McKay and co. weren’t ready to replace Scott Thompson.

McKay was drafted way back in 2015, with the No.21 pick – 11 spots after Carlton selected his twin brother, Harry – yet by the end of his third season he’d played just one senior match.

Then, after busting through to play the first three games of last year, the 22-year-old wasn’t sighted again for the rest of the season.

With Thompson retiring, McKay’s opening was suddenly there, but instead the Kangaroos signed delisted free agent Walker and pushed him back down the order.

Walker started this season in North’s side and has remained in, but McKay’s chance finally arrived in round seven, when Cam Zurhaar’s sore calf saw him come in as a late inclusion against Richmond.

The 201cm defender hasn’t been out of the team since.

“I didn’t panic,” McKay told this week of his long stint out of the team.

“I played the first three games of last year and I learned a lot about what it takes to perform at AFL level.

“Then I got dropped and got injured and I was sick also last year, so I certainly had a lot of time to think about how I can improve and be a consistent AFL player.”

Across a five-week period last season, McKay suffered through turf toe, pneumonia, then a quadriceps strain.

It was a hammer blow to his early momentum of playing consecutive senior matches for the first time and he couldn’t break back in, even with Majak Daw sidelined.

However, while it looked like McKay – who had the security of a contract through the 2021 season – was treading water, he was working really hard with development coach Gavin Brown.

But what did he really think of Walker’s signing?

“When ‘Turbo’ (Thompson) left, it was a good opportunity for a lot of our key defenders, like me and Sam Durdin, to potentially fill that void,” McKay said.

“The club did its due diligence and got some experience in with ‘Walks’, but I saw it as not really a problem for me and that I just needed to worry about me.

“In the past, I’ve probably worried about things out of my control, but this time it was, ‘That’s all right, I can just worry about me and if I train and play well, I can earn my spot’ – and I think that’s what I did.”

McKay’s climbed so far in coach Rhyce Shaw’s thinking that he now takes the opposition’s best tall forward each week.

He kept Tiger Tom Lynch goalless in his return game – Lynch’s one goal was on someone else – and he’s since played on the likes of Tom Hawkins, Charlie Dixon, Ben King, Eric Hipwood and Sam Weideman.

McKay’s match-ups in 2020

 MinutesDisposals ConcededGoals Conceded
R7 v Tom Lynch (Rich)8630
R9 v Tom Lynch (Adel)48140
R10 v Tom Hawkins4962
R11 v Sam Weideman75102
R12 v Eric Hipwood8371
R13 v Mason Cox5541
R14 v Ben King7571
R16 v Charlie Dixon8292

Dixon got hold of him in one early contest last Saturday night to kick a goal from point-blank range, but by game’s end had added just one more.

“He’s starting to take some big scalps now,” Shaw said.

“I think with any young guy, especially the big guys, they might take a little longer and Benny needed to find out what it’s all about and he went to work.

“He was really diligent over the pre-season and over the COVID break and invested in his game and … he’s really growing with confidence and I’m just really pleased for him.”

Shaw laughed as he recalled the moment he told McKay he had the job on Dixon, saying he’d “never seen a bloke more excited”.

That’s because McKay feels ready now, after all the effort he’s put in behind the scenes.

He knows he still has more to prove, but he’s starting to feel like he belongs at the elite level. However, there is still the matter of facing his sibling, Harry, in an AFL game.

The twin brothers are known for their humorous Twitter banter and have played on each other once in a VFL match, but doing so on the AFL stage would be a whole new experience.

“It’s been a long time coming and it would be a special day for the family,” McKay said.

“Mum and dad will be more nervous than anyone, but hopefully it happens next year and we get a good win and I play all right.”


Papley, Charlie, Eddie … The star scalps of an unheralded super stopper

CHARLIE Cameron and Tom Papley have more in common than just being All-Australian calibre small forwards.

They’ve both been quelled by St Kilda’s new super stopper in 2020.  

With 16 games to his name entering this season, Ben Paton’s reputation is growing by the week as he locks down on the opposition’s best small forward.

The unheralded 21-year-old defender has played all 13 games to date in the new-look Saints line-up with his scalps only growing in profile.

Keeping Carlton’s Eddie Betts to one goal in round five was followed by wins over Papley and Cameron, proving a major factor in the Saints’ bounce back up the ladder this year.

“It’s good that the players and coaches trust me to do those roles and it gives me a bit of belief,” Paton told this week ahead of the Saints’ clash with Melbourne.

“You’ve got to manage what they (opponents) can do and get on top of their strengths, but you’ve got to know what strengths you’re bringing as well.

“It’s about not getting too worried (and thinking), ‘Oh they can do this, they can do that’, but believing in what you can do.”


 v minutesDisposals concededGoals conceded
Rd 5 v Eddie Betts6641
Rd 6 v Travis Colyer4250
Rd 7 v Tyson Stengle4260
Rd 9 v Tom Papley8571
Rd 11 v Gryan Miers4960
Rd 13 v Charlie Cameron5731

*Champion Data only recognises match-ups over 40 minutes

The third-year Saint credits the club’s increased emphasis on mindfulness in delivering added confidence and belief he has what it takes to succeed at the top level. 

Saints head of mental health and wellbeing Ben Robbins, who played 92 games for the Brisbane Bears, Lions and North Melbourne, crossed from the Roos ahead of this season.

“The mental side of things has been the biggest thing, (having) the belief you’re good enough to play AFL footy and just trying to believe you can do it,” Paton said.

“Our psychologist Benny Robbins has been awesome for us.

“He works with us every week, you can do stuff with him individually, but as a group he’s been really good thing in the mental side of the game and it’s probably what separates players and teams now.

“I do my own stuff (as well) to try and get the best out of myself.”

Since the end of last season, Paton’s path to becoming a mainstay in the Saints side has taken him to all corners of the globe and country.

A holiday in Thailand was followed by a visit to America with four teammates to get a headstart on pre-season at the EXOS human performance centre.

“We went to LA for a week… it was Nick Coffield, Doulton Langlands, Jack Billings, Oscar Clavarino and myself,” Paton said.

“It’s a company that deals with the NBA and NFL players in their off-season and guys that are about to get drafted,” Paton said.

“It’s that agility, footwork and speed stuff and it was awesome to spend some time there with those guys.”

A cultural trip to the Tiwi Islands was followed by a visit back home to the family beef and dairy farms in Tallangatta (near Wodonga) with bushfires raging nearby.

“There were a couple of days where it was a bit scary, but we were lucky in the end not to get burnt out,” he said.  

“I was there at the time through January when they started, and I was stuck there for a couple of weeks.”

A return to Melbourne began year three with housemate Jack Billings in what was only planned as a short-lived stopover when Paton was first drafted via pick 46 in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft.

“I was only meant to stay with him for a couple of weeks and move in with a host family or find someone else, but I must’ve done a few things right and he asked me to stay,” he said.

“I’ve probably slacked off a bit on the household stuff since, but he’s been really good for me.

“He’s been awesome and one of the (bigger) pros at the club and things like recovery and nutrition, he’s all over it.”

After a six-week dash home to work with his dad on the farms during the season shutdown, Paton’s return to Melbourne was short-lived before heading to the club’s the quarantine hub in Noosa.

On Saturday night the Murray Bushrangers product will head to Alice Springs to tackle the Demons with small forwards Kysaiah Pickett and Charlie Spargo in his sights. 

And after earning a one-year contract extension in 2018 on top of his initial two-year draft deal, Paton finds himself out of contract at season’s end.

His sharp form is expected to soon be rewarded with a new multi-year extension with Saints list boss James Gallagher beginning talks with Paton’s management in the past month.

SOURCE: Mitch Cleary,

In, under, out and about as Pies’ Adams matures

Taylor Adams has been Collingwood’s most consistent midfielder in 2020.

When injury and suspension hit the Magpies, the bullocking Adams stood up to keep the season on track.

In the past four matches he has earned coaches votes, his uncompromising and robust approach at stoppages helping Collingwood win the territory battle more often than not.

Throughout the ups and downs, Adams’ optimism in Collingwood’s prospects has not wavered with that belligerent look on his face when he enters contests reassurring to anyone in the black and white wondering whether their team is still in the fight.

“I’m really optimistic about where we sit,” Adams said, with Collingwood inside the top eight.

But the result of their huge match against Carlton at the Gabba on Sunday is set to determine whether their grip on that spot on the ladder tightens or not.

That the biggest match in close to a decade between the two clubs is being played in Brisbane doesn’t bother Adams, although he concedes it’s akin to running the Stawell Gift in Gundagai.

“It doesn’t feel like a traditional rivalry game, does it?” Adams said.

It will when the ball is bounced, however, and loungerooms across Victoria become places of quiet desperation with Adams certain to be at the centre of things.

Adams knows that and will be chasing the football like a greyhound chases a lure, however he will be a different beast to the one who played against the Blues in a Collingwood jumper for the first time as a 20-year-old in 2014.

He has become less obsessed with his own game, taking a wider view of both the world and his role when he is at the football club.

On Friday he sat by the pool for a time reading a memoir of comedian Greg Fleet that Jordan Roughead had recommended to him, an absorbing tale of family dysfunction and addiction.

He is studying a Masters of Business Administration at Deakin University and has invested with teammate Levi Greenwood in a business located in Port Melbourne and Point Cook called 12RND Fitness.

He loves a hit of golf and took the time to watch the boxing bout between Tim Tszyu and Jeff Horn on Wednesday night. He remains in contact with long-time mates from Geelong, near where he grew up in Mt Duneed.

“My outlook on football has changed,” Adams said. “[There are] other things in my life I am really passionate about now and I put time and energy into that. That feeds my passion for footy and training and my teammates and the footy club.”

Mention the two dogs, Alby and Charles, that Adams and his partner Ellie own and have left back in Victoria, and the tough exterior disappears into the ether as he explains how Charles will have gone from a puppy to a dog by the time he returns.

Spending time away from the club productively allows him to focus on helping others when at the club.

No one is perfect in doing that and Adams is the last to suggest he is but his empathy is genuine and, as with his kicking, he hits the target more often than not nowadays (Adams has kicked 8.1 this season, a good return for a midfielder who is yet to kick 10 goals in a season).

With Carlton looming and Sidebottom gone the Magpies are in for a battle. Adams knows the vice-captain will be impossible to replace directly but he is confident that those coming into the side will keep the team strong.

It’s a team game and Adams knows that now better than he ever did as the Magpies strive for that elusive flag.

“The motivation of the group has not changed … there is no question that this year’s premiership is going to be one of the best ones ever won given the circumstances,” Adams said.

Source: Peter Ryan, The Age

Sam’s Darwin days: A Fev encounter that didn’t go to plan, U12s on huge grounds

Sam Walsh in action as a junior in the NT, and with Carlton in round four against Essendon. Picture: Supplied/AFL Photos

WHEN Sam Walsh spent three years living in Darwin growing up, the footy-mad youngster would sell copies of the local Record outside games for the Northern Territory Football League.  

The Walsh family relocated to the Top End for three years from 2010-12 as Sam’s father Wayne took up a job with AFL NT. Going to games every weekend became Sam’s routine.  

“I’d make a bit of pocket money, and then once games would start I’d finish up and get a pie and a can of coke and watch the games,” Carlton’s NAB AFL Rising Star told this week.

One time, ex-Blues star Brendan Fevola, then playing in the competition for Waratah, stopped to buy a Record. Or so Walsh thought. 

“He picked it up from me and had a read through it, and checked if he was on the front cover or not and then gave it back to me. It was pretty funny,” Walsh recalled. “I was a bit star-struck and then I thought he was going to buy it off me and maybe give me a tip, but he just gave it back.”

Walsh returns to Darwin this week in something of a parallel universe. This time he, not Fevola, is the Blues’ gun, and this time he will be running out onto TIO Stadium as Carlton takes on Gold Coast in the opening game of Sir Doug Nicholls Round on Friday night.

“I never really thought I’d be able to play an AFL game up there. I played a lot of junior footy at TIO and got to meet a lot of great people, so I’m looking forward to it,” the 20-year-old said. 

00:18MINSPublished on Jul 19, 2020, 2:39pmWow, Walsh, that’s a breathtaking markSam Walsh displays unbelievable courage to haul in this stunning grab

Walsh’s time in Darwin was important in his evolution as a player. 

He remembers the heat and humidity of the Territory, but also the open and “flairy” brand of footy that was played. It was where his representative career begun, playing for Northern Territory in back-to-back under-12s state carnivals against the likes of Rhylee West (Western Bulldogs), Curtis Taylor (North Melbourne) and current Carlton teammate Finbar O’Dwyer, who were on opposing Victorian sides.

It was also where he immersed himself in the game. In the winter competition, Walsh would play in the under-12s side. Once the NTFL season started, he played in the under-14s Nightcliffe team – as an 11-year-old.

Carlton star Sam Walsh in action as a junior in the Northern Territory. Picture: Supplied.

Often the junior side would play at TIO Stadium before the main games, so Walsh will be familiar with the surrounds against the Suns.

“They didn’t bring the boundary line in for those games either, which might have helped with my endurance,” he said. “It was a big ground to cover but it’s pretty open and it suited some free-flowing footy. I think this week might be a bit different, Gold Coast like a contest so we’ll be up for that as well.

“Those three years being in Darwin shaped my footy a fair bit. I was pretty fortunate to have footy all year round. To go back to a place that’s helped my footy a lot as a junior and where I really started to grow a love for the game is going to be pretty cool.”

Walsh will hit the game in good form, too. He gathered 24 disposals and kicked a goal in Carlton’s last-ditch win over Fremantle last week, following 20 touches and a goal the previous week against West Coast. He has booted five goals from Carlton’s previous five games as he becomes accustomed to a new role almost permanently on a wing for the Blues.

Champion Data statistics show Walsh has spent 85 per cent of this season playing on the wing, compared to 9 per cent in the midfield and 6 per cent in attack. By contrast, he played 48 per cent of last year as a wingman and 36 in the midfield.

Despite being outside the centre square rather than right in the middle of it, the No.1 draft pick’s numbers remain similar to last year’s brilliant debut season. 

Walsh said heading away with the Blues to the Gold Coast, then to Perth, then back to the Gold Coast and now to Darwin, had given him a chance to focus on how he wanted to finish this year.

“Coming up here, I just wanted to reset. I probably wasn’t playing the way I wanted to early in the year, and I think I’m just back to playing to my strengths and really using my endurance and reading of the game to help me out and get me involved,” he said.

“Off the field I’ve been doing a bit of stuff to keep on building on my strength, which is a big focus area for me and probably will be for the next couple of years. 

“But even little things like trying to get forward more and impact the scoreboard has been a bit of a focus for me.”

Extra time with teammates has also led to other things, like devising goal celebrations. Walsh’s on the weekend – when he extended his arms to his waist after slotting the goal – was a homage to an NBA star. 

Sam Walsh celebrates a goal in Carlton’s round 12 win over Fremantle. Picture: AFL Photos

“LeBron James does the odd celebration where he pumps the bent leg and I did a smaller version of that. Especially with the basketball being back on TV, it was a bit of a tribute to LeBron,” he said. 

“We always have a bit of fun during the week around what our celebrations will be or our favourite celebrations, so it just popped into the mind and I went for it. It got a little bit of airtime.”


Sholl leaving his mark at West Lakes

Young Crow Lachlan Sholl has only been at West Lakes for the past 20 months but has already left an indelible mark on his teammates. 

Senior leaders Tom Doedee and Brodie Smith both spoke glowingly of the latest Crows debutant and his commitment to getting better.

Doedee, who hosted Sholl at his home when he first arrived in Adelaide at the end of 2018, said the 20-year-old’s progression has been incredible to witness firsthand. 

“From day one when you first got to the club, you were up in the gym,” Doedee said during Sholl’s guernsey presentation at Adelaide Oval last Wednesday.

“You were living with me, but I couldn’t get you home because you were upstairs kicking with Neddy or on the shed floor doing extras.

“More and more time has passed, and you’ve continually got better at your extras, you’ve become a better footballer.”

Smith described Sholl as “one of those guys who loves to learn and get better”, declaring the Victorian as one of the best kicks he has seen.

He also revealed Sholl was in regular contact with coach Matthew Nicks and the senior leadership group during the recent coronavirus shutdown period, seeking to learn as much as he could about structures. 

Lachlan Sholl kicks the footy during Wednesday’s clash with Melbourne. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Sholl’s desire to familiarise himself with the team’s structures came off the back of a positional change to the wing at the start of the calendar year.

The Calder Cannons product wanted to ensure he was “ready to go if I was lucky enough to get a chance”, which was certainly the case from the opening bounce against the Demons.

By quarter time, Sholl had five disposals, four contested possessions, two clearances, one inside 50 and one rebound 50 to his name while operating at 100 per cent efficiency. 

“I was nervous going into the game a little bit, but when you get there you realise that you’ve done the work and you’ve earned the spot,” Sholl told AFC Media.

“Being able to go out there and just play footy was awesome.

“To have the crowd there was a massive bonus. There were times when the crowd would go up and be up and about, and you’d sorta look around and go ‘this is incredible’. I loved every second.”

Sholl’s ability to hit targets on either leg was a standout early in the game, with the young Crow confirming he is a natural right-footer. 

Not surprisingly, the secret to his versatility comes from countless hours honing his kicking – something he continues doing even now as a full-time AFL footballer.

“I’m a right-footer, but I’ve done a lot of work with both sides. I’m pretty comfortable on both,” Sholl said.

“I used to always go for kicks with dad when I was really young, and I just used to love kicking. 

“I got to an age where I just loved footy and I just wanted to try everything, so I’d go down to the park with dad and spend hours just kicking, playing kick to kick.

“It’s really important to keep up the skills that you’ve picked up throughout juniors.” 

Sholl said he would love to feature in Adelaide’s final seven games this season, but right now his focus remains on what he can contribute for the team on a weekly basis. 

“I’d love to get picked this week. Another cliché but just take it week by week, making sure that I’m doing everything in that game,” Sholl said.

“If I am lucky enough to get picked, making sure I’m doing everything I can to have an impact and earn the respect of my teammates.” 

Bytel to debut

Jack Bytel will make his long-awaited senior debut tomorrow night against Geelong after a year-long stint on the sidelines through injury.

Back surgery to repair a bulging disc benched the talented youngster for all of Season 2019 – and moved him to the long-term injury list as a result – but an injury-free run in the new year has seen him rekindle his form in St Kilda’s reserves.

Bytel will become the third Saint to make his debut in 2020 along with Max King (Round 1) and Ryan Byrnes (Round 7).

The 20-year-old has been a regular feature in the Saints’ practice matches, being named as an emergency for the first time in Round 9 against Sydney.

Bytel only played six matches for Cannons in his draft year – plus three for Vic Metro – before stress fractures in his back halted his run by late July.

The Calder Cannons co-captain was tipped to be a high draft selection prior to his debilitating injuries, instead slipping down the draft order to be taken at pick No. 41 in the 2018 National Draft.

An inside midfielder by trade, the 20-year-old is well-regarded for his ball-winning abilities, tackling and strength in the clinches.

Bytel becomes the 1617th player to represent the red, white and black at V/AFL level.

Weightman to debut

First-round draftee Cody Weightman will be unleashed this week by the Western Bulldogs.

The 19-year-old will make his AFL debut against Essendon on Friday night at Metricon Stadium.

Mitch Wallis presented the debutant with his playing jumper at training today.

Weightman will be the Bulldogs’ fourth debutant in 2020, following in the footsteps of Ben Cavarra, Laitham Vandermeer and Louis Butler.

The small forward joined the Bulldogs with pick 15 in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, and has impressed through the pre-season and practice games.