Western Sydney holding hopes in Shipley

Last week, 18-year-old Nick Shipley attended his final day at Mount Carmel Catholic College. In a couple of months from now, Shipley will be graduating from his HSC year, and in November, is also hopeful of graduating to the Australian Football League.

A long-time student of the AFL NSW/ACT Talent Program, Shipley is the first to acknowledge that he is in a fortunate position.

Having grown up in a soccer-loving household, and playing the sport himself until he was 15, Shipley says it was a visit by the GIANTS to his school, which changed everything.

“In Year 7, the GIANTS came to my school and I got invited to an Academy trial by Grady Tapping, when the Academy had just started,” recalls Shipley.

“I gave it a bit of a shot and went to a few training sessions, and then I played for the Camden Cats Juniors, but was still playing soccer at the same time.

“But then I couldn’t play both, so at the time I gave AFL a miss and kept playing soccer.”

It was not until a few years later, when current GIANTS Academy Head Coach, Jason Saddington went to Shipley and invited him back for trials, that he was on board with AFL full time. From there, they kicked-off on not only pre-season training, but also a promising AFL career.

“I was pretty lucky. To be there for that clinic at school, and now here we are.”

But it has taken a lot more than luck for Shipley, who has been able to convert his soccer skills into desired commodities ahead of the 2017 NAB AFL Draft. Next week, he will test as a part of the ‘Medium Midfield’ group at the 2017 NAB AFL Draft Combine at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.

AFL NSW/ACT State Manager for Talent and Coaching, Darren Denneman, says Shipley’s midfield experience – the same position he played in his soccer days –  will bode well for him at the Draft.

“Nick is a medium inside-midfielder who can bullock his way through contested situations,” says Denneman.

“He is able to break game open with good ball use and smart decision making. Nick consistently brings his teammates into the game with creative handballs.

“He is a dedicated individual who works very hard on all facets of his game.”

Should Shipley have his name called on Draft night in November, he will take with him a piece much anticipated history. Having grown up an hour out of Sydney in Campbelltown, he is set to become the first ever Western Sydney born-and-bred player to be Drafted to an AFL team.

“If it happens, it would mean a lot. Not just to me, but hopefully for Western Sydney,” says Shipley.

“To have someone show kids that they can make it, and they can do it as well from wherever they are – I want to give everyone hope in the area that they can play footy too.

“But still, I’m not thinking about it too much as I don’t have a clue if it will happen or not. I’m just going to go in and give it my best shot – and if it happens, it happens.”

While Shipley admits that his playing AFL is a still a bit of an anomaly in Western Sydney, he says the game has grown leaps and bounds since the GIANTS came to town.

“It’s definitely growing. I remember in Under 12s, when I went to those GIANTS Academy clinics, there were about 30 kids. But last year during pre-season, there were Under 12s and Under 13s kids coming in and training for the Academies, there were so many more – hundreds!

“The word has just has spread about footy in Western Sydney – it’s great.”

Shipley says that the game is still a little ‘foreign’ to his mates who all play soccer, but their support throughout his AFL journey has been a big factor in his success.

“They’re pretty happy about it – they read all the stuff. They’re really happy for me. They are definitely good friends.”

Living so far from training – for GIANTS Academy and his local AFL Sydney Club, the St George Dragons – support from Shipley’s family has also been imperative.

Shipley’s father, Craig and his mother, Jessica have been instrumental in getting him to where he is today – on the verge of a professional AFL career.

“My old man takes me to every game. I appreciate it heaps when he drives me around.

“I listen to him a lot. He always helps me out. He gives me more of an impartial view on how I have played. Tells me how it is, straight. I listen to him and try to improve. Constructive criticism – it’s good.”

As Shipley picked up AFL around the same time the GWS GIANTS entered the AFL, his family have been GIANTS supporters since the very beginning. With his mother hailing from South America, and his father a long-time rugby league supporter, Shipley’s move into AFL was not expected, but welcome all the same.

“At first, Dad didn’t [understand the game], but when I started playing he got more and more into it. Now he watches footy games with me as well.

“My mum comes from a soccer background as she is from overseas. She comes from Peru and there, all they do is play soccer.

“But now the whole family sit down and watch the footy together, especially GIANTS games.”

Come November 24, the Shipley’s may be watching a great deal more of AFL, should their son make the ‘big time’. Though before the Campbelltown teenager is handballed an AFL contract, he must first face his biggest test.

Next week, Shipley will join 82 players from around Australia in testing in front of the 18 AFL clubs at the 2017 NAB AFL Draft Combine. Being analysed on skills such as his vertical leap, kicking, and cleans hands, Shipley is also hoping to bring one of his biggest assets to the table – his endurance.

Noted as one of the biggest positives of the game that drew him away from soccer, his ability to keep pace for long periods, makes him a welcome prospect for teams on the lookout for a new midfielder.

“I’m looking forward to the two-kilometre run and the ‘Yo-Yo Run’. It’s similar to the beep test, but a bit different. You get some little breaks in between.

“I like running both ways and always being at the source of the ball. And tackling, I don’t mind tackling.

“Meeting AFL recruiters too – that’s probably the biggest thing. I’m waiting for those weird questions they ask. I heard once they asked if someone could spell ‘orange’ backwards.”

With many clubs on the lookout to increase their midfield depth, Shipley is set to be thrown the tough questions by multiple clubs. To be invited to test at the Draft Combine, a player must be nominated by five or more clubs – a feat proving wide interest for his talents.

While any teenager could be daunted by this chance to fulfill their AFL dream, Shipley is preparing as best he can to ensure he is ready to go when the time comes to test.

“Scroopy [Daniel Scroope of the GIANTS Academy] gave me a program so I am following that. It has running, sprint tests, and includes some kicking tests, so I’ve been practicing my goal kicking and general kicking.

“I practice down at the Campbelltown Swans home ground. Just myself and my old man.”

It is this dedication that has also seen Shipley selected to play on the MCG on Grand Final Day, as a part of the 2017 NAB AFL All Stars curtain raiser match alongside other AFL NSW/ACT Draft prospect, Jarrod Brander.

Should Shipley succeed in his chance to join an AFL list, this will hopefully not be the last time we see him during that one day in September.

Nick Shipley will join 82 players from around Australia at the 2017 NAB AFL Draft Combine on 3-6 October 2017 at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. Stay tuned to the AFL NSW/ACT website and social media platforms to keep track of his progress throughout.