The final two games of the recent under-18 championships saw a young man in the number one guernsey for South Australia impress a lot of good judges, attracting an impressive amount of the football for the carnival-winning Croweaters.
Caleb Daniel certainly garnered a lot of attention with both his lack of size and helmeted head, but importantly he accumulated 48 disposals across the two shortened games against Vic Country and Vic Metro, and his disposal efficiency of 92% was remarkable for the amount of ball he attracted. Further to this, Daniel booted six goals and laid 11 tackles and was one of the most influential figures in the South Australian victory in the championships.
On these numbers alone, one would imagine that Daniel would be an absolute monty to be drafted come November, but there is one key flaw in Daniel’s make-up he has no control over which may dismay recruiters. Of course, anyone that has seen Daniel up close will notice his lack of height and at just 167 cm, the 18-year-old seemingly has a natural disadvantage that could well prevent him being picked up in the national draft.
However, should his lack of size be the be all and end all for Daniel’s prospects of an AFL career?
Most AFL fans will recall Tony Liberatore digging in and under packs in 283 games for the Bulldogs, and at 163 cm, he remains the shortest ever player to take out the Brownlow Medal, as well as being named in the Western Bulldogs’ team of the century. Liberatore’s example shows that it isn’t impossible for the smaller players to be successful at league level, just that perseverance and luck will play a big role.
To Daniel’s advantage is the fact that he has already cracked the senior side at South Adelaide and in his three games this year, he has handled himself quite well, averaging 16 disposals per game at 73% efficiency, averages 1.7 tackles and has kicked two goals.
Current South Adelaide coach Brad Gotch has praised Daniel’s efforts under his tutelage. “He’s got unbelievable endurance, speed, he’s got elite agility, decision-making and foot skills,” Gotch said. “At the start of the year I thought it might be a bit difficult for him [to be drafted] but now I think he might be an exception to the rule.”
Clearly, as his disposal tallies in the Under-18 championships have shown, Daniel has the ability to win the football, and more importantly uses it extremely well. On exposed form, he appears to have the talent and potential to take his game to an AFL level, and while he is unlikely to be a first or second round selection, it would surprise if he isn’t picked up at all at this stage.
Furthermore, with the remainder of the season still to be played at South Adelaide, Daniel still has plenty of time to impress potential recruiters, and earn himself a place in the AFL.
For those footy fans that like an underdog story, for Caleb Daniel to make it to the big time should instantly make him a cult figure at any club he joins. He has the ability, all he needs is a club to take the chance on the little man from South Australia.