NSW/ACT Player of the Week: Mitch Clisby
By James Matthey
Mitch Clisby has had to take a longer route than most to make his way to the elite level, but all those years of hard work are starting to pay off for the talented youngster as he aims to cement his spot at the Melbourne Demons.
The NSW product grew up in the Riverina playing for West Broken Hill, often finding himself pitted against Adelaide spearhead and good friend, Taylor Walker.
Clisby showed promise from an early age, and was selected in the NSW/ACT RAMS Under-18 side in 2008 alongside a host of young guns who have since gone on to play in the AFL.
“We did have a pretty talented squad with Breusty (Luke Breust), Craig Bird, Taylor Duryea, Jordan Williams, all those guys ended up on lists at the end of 2008, so it was good to be around a group of talented footballers,” said Clisby.
“I certainly learnt a lot off those guys and now that I’m in the same system as a few of them it will be interesting to see what happens when we come up against one another.”
However, Clisby’s career didn’t follow the same path, and when he wasn’t drafted at the end of 2008, he moved to South Australia to play for North Adelaide in the SANFL.
The four years he spent at the Roosters were arguably the making of Clisby, as he learnt that if he wanted to achieve his dream of playing in the AFL, he would have to work harder than everyone around him.
Those formative years spent under the tutelage of former Port Adelaide star Josh Francou have since prepared the 23-year old for the rigours that he now faces on a weekly basis at the highest level.
“I was probably more jealous than anything that they were in the system and I wasn’t, but I guess now that I’ve worked harder than what they’ve had to work I’m finally in there and hopefully I can come up against them and have some good battles,” said Clisby.
“There were times, especially over the last two or three years where I thought maybe I wouldn’t make it, but I’m glad I stuck to trying to achieve my dream and now all that hard work’s paid off and I can start to build a career.
“I think it’s prepared me pretty well, the SANFL is definitely the second best comp in Australia behind the AFL, and there’s a lot of mature age players who have played a lot of AFL or are on either the Crows or Port lists.
“Playing against the mature bodies and the more experienced players for a few years has helped me at the start of my career in the AFL system, so I would say it’s definitely helped me.”
His performances in the SANFL saw him picked up by the Demons with pick number 19 in the 2013 Rookie Draft, before he was chosen as Melbourne’s mid-season rookie elevation after impressing in the VFL for the Casey Scorpions.
Clisby then realised his long awaited ambition of making his AFL debut in the same week, collecting 24 disposals against St Kilda at the MCG.
He said the occasion was a special moment that he will never forget, sharing it with family and friends who had been supporting him throughout his whole career.
“I got the news mid-week that I’d been elevated and then that day I got told by Neil Craig that I’d be debuting against the Saints.
“As you can imagine I was pretty excited and made a few phone calls to tell the family.
“It worked out well, my family came over, I had about 30 people from Broken Hill come over so it was just an amazing day.
“It would have been good to get the win but I enjoyed every minute of it despite the loss.”
Clisby has played all seven games since that day, with arguably his best performance coming in last weekend’s match against the GWS GIANTS in which he kicked his first AFL goal, made four tackles and had 22 disposals.
However, he is far from content to settle for being merely a good player, with the running defender intent on making his mark on the game’s biggest stage.
“I’ve had a few chats to some of the coaches and they’ve mentioned that you can be a good AFL player and just go through the motions and continue to get a game, or you can be a better than good player and really leave your mark on the AFL.
“My mindset is to be better than good and really help build the Melbourne footy club and hopefully I can contribute something towards the club being successful.
He also believes that AFL clubs will start to look at recruiting more mature aged players because they come out of local competitions as ready-made AFL players.
“You look at the last few drafts and the number of mature aged players being picked up either from the SANFL, the WAFL or the VFL is growing every year and I think clubs are picking up now that some players who come out of these systems are ready to go and they can slot straight into an AFL environment and play consistent footy.
“I think clubs are going to target those sorts of players going forward a lot more.”
Despite being just a handful of games into what looks to be a long and illustrious career, Clisby is hoping that his individual improvement can play a part in the long term success of the Melbourne Football Club.
“I think I’m improving every week I think and it’s definitely getting harder, you learn something new with every game you play and different opponents you come up against.
“I feel like I’ve gradually improved in the seven games I’ve played and hopefully I can continue to play decent footy and hold my spot in the side.
“I can see us being a good side in the future with a lot of talented young kids coming through, so if we can keep the core group of mature aged players together I can see us having success in the near future and I want to be a part of that.”