WHEN Liam Stocker came from the field with a broken jaw in Sandringham Dragons’ clash with Gippsland Power at Morwell, it meant the talented midfielder’s hopes and dreams of representing Vic Metro were dashed. Instead of worrying about the uncontrollable factors, Stocker went head first into his recovery, shortening it from eight weeks to six and getting out on the park the first chance he got. From then on the inside midfielder went from strength to strength, earning the admiration of not only his teammates and coaches, but the umpires as well.
Stocker out last night’s 2018 Morrish Medal, the accolade awarded to the player judged as the best and fairest in the TAC Cup competition, joining the likes of Brisbane’s Hugh McCluggage and Richmond’s Jack Higgins as winners of the award. Stocker finished the vote count with 18 votes, two ahead of Western Jets midfielder Connor Thar.
The inside ball winner has been uncompromising in his approach to his football this season, overcoming that broken jaw to play 12 games for the season. Stocker averaged 22.8 disposals, 2.8 marks, 4.8 tackles, 5.7 clearances, 5.2 inside 50s and 2.1 rebounds. He has won 55.6 per cent of his possessions at the coal face.
Speaking of the moment his season would change, Stocker recalls how it was just a concoction of bad luck.
“Basically I got an errant handball, and stuck my jaw out where it was meant to be hit and copped a shoulder across the face,” Stocker said. “I sort of woke up in a daze – I think I was out for a minute and a half or so. “It was more the concussion that got me in strife, but went in and had surgery at the end of that week and I knew I had a pretty long road ahead.”
Stocker’s injury dealt him a heavy blow when he missed opportunities to play with Vic Metro – including running out on AFL venues, the MCG and Optus Stadium. He turned the disappointment into motivation and, coupled with a huge preseason, believed they were the factors instrumental for his strong back end of the season.
With a big shift in perception following his injury, Stocker sought to reestablish himself as a real competitor in the TAC Cup before season’s end. According to the Morrish Medal winner, much of this success came off the back of his new mindset instilled by Sandringham Dragons’ Senior Coach, Jeremy Barnard.
“I sort of thought ‘you know what you can go and be a mediocre player for the rest of the year and not care about your performance, or you can take some attention to detail and knuckle down,” Stocker said.
Knuckle down, he did. So much so he finished the season as the best player in the competition in the umpires eyes. When asked about his success, Stocker believes he was lucky with the team he had behind him. He said the medal is more a testament to the talent of Sandringham’s midfield group and their continued support, claiming it as more as a collective reward than his own.
“I had a couple games around the season where having the support of my teammates probably helped me a lot more than anything else, so I kind of view this less as a personal award and more as, you know, the midfield group behind me with Bailey (Smith), Ryan Byrnes, Kai Owens behind me,” Stocker said. “They kind of got to me the situation I’m in now, rather than just a huge personal effort.”
The Sandringham Dragons have selection challenges throughout the year with so much of their list playing school football, but luckily for Stocker, the midfielder knows how to adapt. He has a unique backstory having spent a portion of his childhood in Hong Kong, remembering how tough it was playing against bigger bodies as a child.
“The only access we really had to footy was Grand Final day where all the Australians in Hong Kong would go and watch the Grand Final together,” he said. “Beyond that, I went to Auskick in the summer, but you have 16 year olds over there thinking they can make the AFL from Hong Kong Auskick. “It wasn’t much fun there, I was sort of getting poleaxed 24/7 as an eight year-old.”
He has not had to worry about that much lately, with the strong midfielder able to use his bigger frame to win the contested ball. The potential first round pick will be hoping to do plenty of that as he leads the Dragons onball brigade in September, starting with the Murray Bushrangers in the elimination final this weekend.
Morrish Medal Leaderboard:
1 Liam Stocker – Sandringham Dragons (18)
2 Connor Thar – Western Jets (16)
3 Atu Bosenavulagi – Oakleigh Chargers (14)
3 Campbell Hustwaite – Dandenong Stingrays (14)
3 Sam Walsh – Geelong Falcons (14)