2021 draft talent chase their dreams, virtually
It’s not about the destination, but the journey to get there. Remind any draftable football talent of this cliché and you’ll likely get a door slammed in your face.
COVID has wreaked havoc on lives and livelihoods over the world and although sport pales in comparison to a person’s health and wellbeing, the simple fact is, sport is at the centre of many people’s lives.
On 24 and 25 November, 2021 the best male football talent will collectively hold their breath as they wait to hear their name called and have their dreams realised at the NAB AFL Draft.
Before this fateful moment, players have had years of fun, training, matches and hard work. If they are considered genuine draft prospects, they get invited to the NAB AFL Draft Combine.
Unfortunately for the five NSW and ACT products invited to the combine in 2021, this year’s event has not been staged in Melbourne as an all-in few days of testing, interviews, scrutiny and pressure. Our players have had to log a two-kilometre time trial run on Strava and rely on previous testing results to show their mettle to recruiters.
This has tested our players beyond their physical capabilities. Most have had the better part of two years training in exceptional circumstances, often alone, with no one but the voice inside their head pushing them to improve. Games have been few and far between, and the opportunity to stand out from the crowd has thus been diminished.
Two of our region’s players who excelled in the two-kilometre time trial were Josh Fahey of the Queanbeyan Tigers/GIANTS Academy in the ACT and Angus Anderson from the Sawtell Toormina Saints/Sydney Swans Academy on NSW’s north coast.
Josh Fahey tearing it up solo in Canberra
Josh Fahey is a medium defender who has impressed wherever possible in recent years, winning (among other things) best afield for the NAB AFL Academy against Geelong’s VFL side in April this year.
He’s aware of his chances of pulling on an AFL jumper next season and is determined to achieve elite status. But, wisely, he’s taking it one step at a time.
“My main goal for the year was to get into the combine and then after that, the draft,” he said.
“Motivation’s been a bit tough [due to COVID], but it isn’t something new. Last year was a bit hard at times because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Now I’m not playing footy or training to play, I’m just training to be the best player I can be…I think it’s about being ready at all times.”
Fahey has been working with Scott Smith, high performance coach for the GIANTS Academy, up to four times a week to improve his strength, speed and aerobic capacity.
It’s clearly paying off for him. Despite having a lengthy stint off running due to a foot injury earlier this year, Fahey managed a 5:59 for his two-kilometre run. Only three other players nationally went sub-six minutes.
“I just ran as hard as I could for two kilometres, really,” Fahey said of his result. “Running’s one of the strengths in my game. Being able to outrun others and go that extra five kilometres during the last quarter when some players that don’t do the work, or just think it’s going to be easy, can’t get through it.”
The challenge for Fahey was beyond the physical. With athletics tracks closed in Canberra due to COVID, Fahey admits he searched Canberra for a week to find the best surface. He settled on a synthetic athletics pitch and would hit the track alone without a crowd, a pacer or a coach.
Now the time trial box is ticked, Fahey can focus on finishing Year 12. But there’s plenty more on with his 18th, his sister’s and his aunt’s birthday falling between now and draft, as well as his Year 12 formal.
“At the moment my goal’s just to get that Year 12 certificate finished and enjoy school for the next three weeks,” he said. “November’s going to be a very busy month but also an enjoyable one and an exciting one.”
Fahey in training with the NAB AFL Academy in 2021
Angus Anderson dreaming big on the north coast
Around 800 kilometres away and at least eight degrees warmer, Angus Anderson is also shaping up as a legitimate draft prospect.
The 18-year-old midfielder is six foot two and 90 kilograms – that’s a seriously enticing shape for any club looking for a ready-made player. Glance at his two-kilometre time trial time (6:14) and it’s clear Anderson is quite an athlete.
Like most, his year’s been interrupted. A pre-season with Southport Sharks’ VFL side and an appearance for the Sydney Swans’ VFL side have been highlights, as was getting invited to the draft combine. “I was stoked, to be honest. To be a kid from a little country town in Sawtell to be invited and acknowledged as one of the best in Australia is pretty unreal,” he said reflecting on how he felt after Jared Crouch (Swans Academy Head Coach) phoned to tell him the news.
“I’ve grown up playing local footy in Sawtell from Auskick all the way to seniors now,” said Anderson when thinking about his status as one of Australia’s best young talents. It’s rare for a person in Sawtell to play footy, almost impossible for them to be on the AFL’s radar.
Anderson was handed a gift earlier this year when he learnt that former Melbourne and Collingwood fitness and conditioning coach, Nick Morgan, had moved into town. The pair now spend up to three times a week together, honing Anderson’s physical capabilities and providing some insights about the life of a professional footballer.
“It’s pretty crazy hearing about club life from the outside in. I just hope I get a chance to see it from the inside,” said Anderson referring to the stories Morgan tells him.
In contrast to Fahey, Anderson did not have to think about where he would do his two-kilometre combine time trial – at his local footy ground, of course. Flanked by supporters, he set off at 6am on Sunday, chasing a sub-6:30.
“It was really great. I had heaps of the local Sawty people come out to watch from the club. Both juniors and seniors came to cheer me along at six o’clock on a Sunday morning. I’m very grateful for those people to come out and support me on my journey.
“It’s pretty surreal to see the support that a little country town has for just a kid who dreams big.”
Now the supporters have quietened down, Anderson will concentrate on the final stages of Year 12 and keep fit and ready for an AFL pre-season. Here’s hoping.
Anderson in action for the QBE Sydney Swans Academy