In the off-season circus that almost overshadows the game itself, “potential” rules the world.
With comparisons and traits analyzed by fans and draft watchers alike, the potential of the teens who make their name on the draft stage has been around for a long time. Every year, diehards from all 18 clubs will swear they walked away with a crop of 300 players, you know, if all goes well.
Spoiler alert: Not all conscripts live up to their lofty potential. Even for those who do, the path from bottom to top is not uniform or paved with gold.
Different players bloom at different times. Sometimes a positional shift is needed. Extra opportunities often yield impressive results. Choosing which one will succeed is part science, part luck, and a whole lot of hard work.
This season, a number of players have seen the breakthrough and turned that potential into actual production. This column could list dozens of players, but will focus on three who should be in discussion to currently be part of the expanded All-Australian squad. All three are in their early twenties and have faced various difficulties in their careers so far.
This is how Dylan Moore, Tom Green and Nick Blakey have conquered the competition thus far in 2022.
They give Moore
Stop us if you’ve heard this before.
Talented young junior, hard on finding the footy but overlooked due to his height. It’s not Lachie Neale, or Dayne Zorko, or Caleb Daniel. In an era that emphasizes size all over the ground, players who are just a little shorter can offer some of the best value in design.
Hawthorn dynamo Dylan Moore has followed the mold of some of the ones mentioned above and has been shining for the improving Hawks.
Moore entered the draft and had an impressive final season of junior footy, finally breaking into the Vic Metro lineup and playing at TAC Cup level. Draft watchers rated his ability to both win the ball and use it effectively, being able to hit teammates and the scoreboard with the Sherrin. An elite junior athlete, what Moore lacks in sheer speed he makes up for with stamina and repeated effort.
After struggling for game time in his first three years with a Hawthorn team desperate for the flag, Moore thrived on the extra opportunities presented to him. More and more versatile, Moore’s game develops from just a little push and a ball forward to a distributor and also a ball winner.
An inside midfielder in his earlier days, Moore is no stranger to putting physical pressure on him despite his size, sitting near the top for tackles within the 50 in the past two years. trusted to win evictions, especially in the front half of the ground from standstill.
Moore’s improvement is somewhat difficult to separate from the general improvement of the Hawthorn forward line this year – especially their ability to score efficiently from the 50s. Rather than a game that changes key position forward (or two) , as they did in their recent dynasty, the Hawks trusted each part to do their job on the day.
So far this year, Moore leads Hawthorn for tackles within 50, fourth for marks and scoring engagement and fifth for yards won.
While he’s averaged more than one goal per game this year, his greater value comes from the pressure he exerts and how he distributes it among his teammates. That doesn’t usually make headlines, but it’s crucial in the modern game.
Green rises higher than the stars
Sliders in the design also happen at the top of the design. Top picks are raked in more than anyone else, with weaknesses reinforced on a national podium.
However, that’s probably not why Tom Green dropped the order in the 2019 design. It also didn’t affect his eventual home.
As a member of the GWS academy, Green was long associated with the Giants, making the choice more or less academic. Nevertheless, on a good pick, some clubs preferred players who would wear the club’s colors rather than one who would not, leaving Green to pick 10.
It’s about as far from Moore’s story as you could get.
Green, a super-sized midfielder with clean, creative hands and a hard edge to his game, was billed as a ready-made difference maker at the centre.
The Giants have long struggled to provide enough opportunities to the plethora of talented midfielders on their roster. It’s generally a good problem to have, but it means some players take circuitous paths to their final form.
GWS’ pursuit of immediate success meant playing the young Canberran in the reserves or on the fringes of the game. In 2021, he started playing occasionally as the deep striker on the bounce, stranded in the goal field. While his height and strength mean he can fight in a match, it is far from his strength as a player.
Despite playing out of his best position for much of the year, Green still managed to finish second in last year’s Rising Star Award. It also makes his rise this year even more impressive.
Part of what makes Green so special is his ability to predict where the hard ball will go and read it off your hands, being able to make lemonade from the sourest of the hard ball lemons. He’s also surprisingly creative when he gets his hands on the pill, being able to work his way through the scramble his size to see through the match.
The Giants are the fourth best team in scoring cleanups, with Green leading the way against the Giants for both holdups and center cleanups.
Green can also influence play later in possession if necessary, with his kicks within 50 generally correctly aimed.
In some ways he resembles fellow taller redheaded midfielder Clayton Oliver, both of whom are capable of really damaging opponents down the middle.
As new coach Mark McVeigh imposes his new strategy on the Giants, several players are seeing more time in the center, such as Harry Perryman. the inner ring for congestion around the ground. As a result, Green’s numbers may decline in the second half of the year.
Whatever happens from here, Green has already stamped his application to join this year’s club of the best midfielders in the game.
Blakey finds his home
Like Green, Sydney’s Nick Blakey was a product of a NSW academy, but he had a slightly more unconventional path to the Swans. Due to his father John’s long playing career, Blakey also qualified as a father-son roster for Brisbane and North Melbourne. In the end Nick chose the local Swans.
Blakey’s field trip was a similar process of finding a home, with the young long being thrown to the ground early in his career. Starting on the front lines, Blakey was a pivotal part of the later Franklin years forward. That is, until the goals and touches dried up.
The UNSW-Easts product was then tried as a left player, higher half-forward and even stints on the ball with little success. Blakey fell in and out of a struggling Sydney side, both struggling to find their football identities.
Blakey’s career revival has come after a slump, first in the reserves and then in the seniors. It makes just as much sense in real life as it does on paper.
Blakey’s ability to read the ball in flight is a perfect match for his size and speed, allowing him to close out matches and maintain Sydney’s rock solid defense structure.
But what elevates Blakey is what he can do with the ball in hand. Few players of his size can use the ball at distance as well as Blakey.
The Swans are in the top four for points from defensive half turnovers, with Blakey’s runs and kicks a key promoter in the transition.
After the departure of Jordan Dawson (one of last year’s most improved players) in the off-season, Blakey has taken on a bigger role in the Swans counterattack.
This ability to attack from defense is critical to Sydney’s success and is the foundation for their return to the ladder.
It also means the Swans can credibly play four bigger defenders in addition to brothers McCartin and Dane Rampe.
Few attacks can beat the Swans in size, and those four have enough mobility to cover most smaller forward lines. Blakey’s massive ability in the air and on deck makes the Swans more flexible than most parties.
While the early career shuffle may have been frustrating for Blakey at the time, it was beginning to pay off.
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