Zac chalks up 150th

By Paul Stephen

Even though he considered himself a bit of a teenage rock star in Narrandera, Zac Williams never thought he’d get to the stage where he’d play 150 AFL games.

Williams was already playing senior footy for Narrandera as a 15-year-old and in a footy mad country town of 3,000 people in southern NSW, that brings some status.

“It was great, playing for the seniors in a small country town, made you feel like a rock star walking around town as a 15-year-old playing senior footy,” Williams said.

Fourteen years on, the Carlton defender-cum-midfielder-cum-forward plays his 150th AFL game this weekend when the high-flying Blues play Richmond.

But, without the love and support of his mum and sister and a lot of faith from Kevin Sheedy and the GWS Giants, he reckons he wouldn’t have played one game, let alone 150.

After the death of his father when he was only six, Williams’ mother Joy O’Hara and big sister Sam pushed him to pursue his dream and then Giants coach Sheedy took a punt on him to bring him to Greater Western Sydney in the 2013 rookie draft as an 18-year-old.

“Family means everything to me. My sister and mother were the ones who pushed me to follow my dream of playing footy, they pushed me to be the best I could,” he said.

“I was talented, but I never thought a young bloke from Narrandera would end up playing in the AFL, but they believed in me.”

He rated himself “no chance” of playing AFL, especially after missing the national draft in 2012.

Williams in one of his first matches for the GIANTS in 2013

Catching the eye of old pros

But, after years in the GWS Academy and playing for the Giants reserves in the NEAFL, he was still on the club’s radar.

“Sheedy and Leon Cameron saw enough of me, they took a gamble and gave me a rookie spot, if it worked out, it worked out. If it didn’t, there was no skin off their nose, it was just a rookie spot. I never thought I’d get to 150. Now that I’m here, it’s pretty surreal.

“I owe a lot to Sheedy, he looked after me a fair bit and took me under his wing.”

After 113 games in nine seasons with the Giants, Williams moved to Carlton in 2021, but the shift was anything but smooth. He played 14 games in his first year and only nine in 2022, while an ACL injury ruled him out of the entire season last year. But 2023 brought more tragedy to the family with the death of his inspirational big sister Sam to cancer.

“Last year I had a few mental demons after my sister’s death, I wondered if I’d ever get back to playing footy again,” he said.

“So it’s pretty cool to be where I am now and to be able to reflect on my journey over the past 12 years.”

And he’s very conscious the journey started in NSW.

“One hundred per cent, I’m a New South Welshman. I always mention I grew up in a small NSW country town,” he said.

“Some people think I’m Victorian, my wife is from Perth so some even think I’m West Australian, but definitely I always correct them and tell them I’m from NSW.

“There’s a lot of talent coming from country NSW. I always keep an eye on the boys, it’s great to see.”

Narrandera nuggets

One of those boys is old Narrandera clubmate, former Giants teammate and now West Coast ruckman Matt Flynn.

Williams played his last game for Narrandera in the 2012 Riverina Football League grand final, when he was best-on-ground in the Imperials’ premiership win two days after his 18th birthday, with a young 15-year-old Flynn running the water.

“I was playing pretty well, so Matt and another mate kept bringing plenty of water out to me,” Williams said.

“It’s really cool we’re both playing in the AFL and it was cool we got to play at the Giants together. Our careers have drifted apart, but we’re still in contact.”

He sent Flynn a message when he made his debut for West Coast this month – “I said it was good seeing him back in the Narrandera Imps’ blue and gold – the colours suit him.”

“It’s awesome to see another person from Narrandera playing at the highest level, whatever sport it is, but it’s especially great it’s in the AFL.”

Williams could have made it any sport. Like most kids growing up in Narrandera, sport was a big part of life and he also played rugby league, soccer and basketball until AFL took priority when rep footy got serious and he was making NSW teams while playing first grade as a teenager.

“I was very young when I was playing against grown men. It was a great introduction to get used to playing footy against bigger bodies,” he said.

“Country boys are always deemed as the tough kids in the system when you get drafted. It’s a good thing to have that on your CV for the draft, that you’ve played senior footy at a young age.”

But he’s going to find it hard to stay tough on Sunday at the MCG when his mum and Sam’s three kids and her husband make the trip from NSW to join his own wife and two-year-old daughter to help him celebrate the 150 games they’ve played such a massive role in helping him reach.

Proudly NSW: Despite being NSW/ACT’s MVP at the 2012 National Championships, Williams was not drafted, having to wait until the Rookie Draft to get his shot.

Carey Bunton Medal heating up

In other news, Errol Gulden is bridging the gap on Swans teammate Isaac Heeney as he defends his Carey-Bunton Medal as the best NSW player in the AFL.

Gulden picked up nine votes in the derby against GWS last week, while runaway leader Heeney claimed four to lead the count on 89 votes, 27 ahead of his teammate who is the only player with any chance of beating him to the medal.

Special mention to Newtown junior and Sydney University under 19s premiership player Caiden Cleary who kicked a goal with his first touch in AFL footy for the Swans Saturday.



Coaches Votes for the Best NSW Player in the AFL Round 15

89 Isaac Heeney (Sydney Swans/ Cardiff) 4

62 Errol Gulden (Sydney Swans / Maroubra) 9

19 Nick Blakey (Sydney Swans/ Eastern Suburbs)

13 Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast Suns/ St Ives)

9 Jack Buckley (GWS Giants / Maroubra)

9 Todd Marshall (Port Adelaide/ Deniliquin)

8 Harry Himmelberg (GWS Giants/ Mangoplah- Cookardina Eastlakes)

8 Kieren Briggs (GWS Giants / Pennant Hills)


NSW player Leading Goalkicker in the AFL Round 15

21 Isaac Heeney (Sydney Swans/ Cardiff)

20 Todd Marshall (Port Adelaide/ Deniliquin) 1

18 Lachlan Schultz (Collingwood/ Moama)

17 Taylor Walker (Adelaide/ North Broken Hill)

14 Tom Hawkins (Geelong/ Finley)

11 Jeremy Finalyson (Port Adelaide / Culcairn) 1

10 Zac Williams (Carlton – Narrandera)

10 Errol Gulden (Sydney Swans / Maroubra) 1