TO finish off what has been a huge year for first-year players, we take a look at some of the top performers from each AFL club now the season is done and dusted. In today’s piece we look at the first nine clubs, from Adelaide through to GWS GIANTS, with the remaining nine clubs to come next week.
The Crows were thrilled, perhaps even surprised, when their boy from south-east SA was still available to the Crows at pick 12 of the 2017 National Draft. Debuting in round one, Fogarty’s first kick was a beautiful set-shot goal – a theme Crows fans would soon become accustom to. He averaged 8.4 disposals (5.7 kicks and 2.7 handballs at 68 per cent disposal efficiency), 3.2 marks and two tackles for the year, also managing nine goals (just three behinds) in his ten matches. Fogarty played predominately as the third Adelaide tall forward, alongside the well-established Josh Jenkins and Taylor Walker, laying out plenty of fierce bumps – not a common thing for a draftee. No doubt “Fog” will have learnt plenty in his first season at AFL level. His main focus for the pre-season will be to again improve his tank, allowing him to spend more time on ground. However his ferocious attack on the football, beautiful foot skills and brute strength should see Darcy become a focal point of the Crows forward line for the next 10 years.
One of the success stories in a lean year for the Crows was the birth of Lachie Murphy. Fans of the TAC Cup may remember him fronting up for the Northern Knights back in 2016. Not being picked up in the draft, Murphy moved to Adelaide to play with the clubs SANFL side and was rewarded for his strong form with a rookie selection. The energetic small forward brought with him manic pressure, speed and an eye for the goals in his 11 games, in which he managed 12 goals and an average of 3.7 tackles and 8.7 disposals. “Murph” will look to maintain his place in the competitive Adelaide side as they aim to bounce back in 2019.
The number one draft pick always has a certain level of expectation associated with them, however being up at Brisbane, away from the media bubble of Melbourne, would have no-doubt helped Cam Rayner settle into life in the AFL. Utilised as a medium forward with stints in the middle, he played all 22 games for the club, averaging 13.5 disposals (73 per cent disposal efficiency), 3.5 marks, 20 goals (14 behinds), 1.7 clearances, 2.4 tackles and 2.5 inside-50s. His ability to launch for pack grabs was exciting for Lions fans. Like many draftees, he will look to build up endurance in his second pre-season.
The skilful small forward/balanced midfielder fronted up for 12 senior games games, averaging 13.5 disposals (74 per cent disposal efficiency), three marks, 2.3 tackles. Next season, competition for selection will be as tough as it has been in a long time at the Gabba, particularly given the likely inclusions of Lachie Neale and Lincoln McCarthy. However rest assured Zac Bailey remains well within the clubs plans for the future as the look to return to the glistening heights of the early 2000s.
It was a tough year for the Blues, however the encouraging performances of prized draft pick Paddy Dow gave fans a glimpse into the future. Playing a solid amount of midfield minutes in his 20 games, Dow averaged 14.2 disposals (67 per cent efficiency), two marks, seven goals, 2.6 clearances, 3.2 tackles and 2.6 inside 50s. Perhaps most impressive was his smarts around the stoppages for such a young player. There’s no-doubt Carlton will look to form their midfield core around Dow, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Patrick Cripps and potentially number one pick Sam Walsh as the continue to rebuild.
The top 10 draft selection spent the year playing across half-back where he was able to show off his classy foot skills and speed. O’Brien was given plenty of opportunity, playing 18 matches, where he averaged 14 disposals (at 71 per cent efficiency), 222 metres gained, 4.4 marks and 2.1 rebounds. His best game came in the final round in what proved to be a hefty loss to Adelaide. Here, O’Brien accumulated 22 disposals, sent the ball inside-50 on six occasions and took four marks.
The deserved Rising Star winner, Jaidyn Stephenson played a full-forward-type role for the Grand Finalists, which often allowed him to get out the back, beat his opponent one-on-one and speed away using his rapid pace to advantage. “Stevo” kicked a super impressive 38 goals in his 26 games, including two in the first quarter of the Grand Final, to go with an average of 12.3 disposals, 3.9 marks and 5.2 score involvements in what was a remarkable season. May spend more time on the wing next season where his blistering speed and athleticism will once again be expected to excite ‘Pies fans.
Mihocek’s story is one of the best of the year. Rookie drafted as a mature aged recruit from Port Melbourne in the VFL, Mihocek came in as one of the best tall defenders in the state leagues, but was moved forward to fill a need for the Magpies. He crucially provided a decoy for tall teammate Mason Cox, with his ability to get off the chain and take a stack of marks important. Averaged nearly 2 goals per game, 11.6 disposals (73 per cent efficiency), 4.9 marks (1.4 contested) and 5.6 score involvements. With the Pies in pursuit of some tall timber, it remains to be seen where Mihocek will be played in coming seasons.
Essendon’s mature-aged recruit from WAFL side Claremont, Matt Guelfi came into the Bombers lineup and filled a variety of roles, showing off his strong versatility in his 15 senior games. He held his own at the highest level of football, averaging 15.1 disposals, 3.3 marks, one clearance, 3.1 tackles and also kicking five goals. In the WAFL his stoppage nous and contested ball winning were strengths, so it will be interesting to see whether he is able to push for more midfield minutes in 2019.
The high draft pick managed to play 17 games in his debut season in the west. He spent a large chunk of time in the midfield alongside stars Lachie Neale and Nat Fyfe, from whom he will have learnt plenty. Averaged an impressive 15.9 disposals (69 per cent efficiency), 2.9 marks, 1.5 clearances and 4.4 tackles with his ready-made frame and willing attitude ensuring a strong start to life at the highest level for the brother of Angus and Hamish. However his season came to an early end when he was unfortunately on the receiving end of the now infamous Andrew Gaff uppercut, perhaps stealing the limelight from what was a sturdy start to his career.
Adam Cerra, the second of Fremantle’s 2017 first round picks, showed moments of absolute class off half-back. After debuting in round two, Cerra went on to play all remaining games for an average of 13.7 disposals (71 per cent efficiency), 3.3 marks and 3.4 tackles. Despite his precise foot skills and polish, Cerra showed he was not afraid of cracking in hard. Could potentially spend more time in the middle given the impending departure of Lachie Neale. The former Eastern Ranges midfielder looks destined to become one of the leagues most damaging onballers.
Tim Kelly produced one of the greatest debut seasons ever seen at AFL level. He slotted into the star-studded Geelong midfield with ease, complimenting the likes of Dangerfield and Ablett. A key aspect of his game was the ability to push forward and hit the scoreboard, allowing the coaching staff to play one of their star on-ballers up forward for stints. His work at the coal face was super impressive, extracting the ball and evading would-be tacklers with class. Playing ever game for his side, Kelly averaged 22.9 disposals, 368 metres gained, 3.3 marks, 4.2 clearances, 3.5 tackles and kicked 24 goals. Additionally, the former WAFL star sent the ball inside 50 on an average of four times per game. Could not as for much more.
Lachie Fogarty, Geelong’s first selection in the 2017 National Draft, came over the Cats from the Western Jets regarded as one of the better midfielders in the draft. Yet due to the Cats strong onball brigade, he was limited to a forward line role where Fogarty’s renowned tackling created plenty of forward pressure. Averaged 13.3 disposals and 3.5 tackles, but will aim to sharpen up his kicking in-front of and around goals, with a scoring accuracy of just 24 per cent. However he will have been pleased to have played 15 games for the finalists.
The athletic South Australian utility came from the clouds to be drafted in the third round of last years National Draft. Given his light-frame, the former Sacred Heart College student will be rapt to have broken through for 11 games, debuting against the Bulldogs in Bendigo. He was never going to set the world on fire with his statistics, but showed plenty of promise, particularly in the air, taking 39 grabs for the season (average of 3.5 per game). Was utilised down back and up forward, although those who have seen him play at school and club level with Sturt know of the X-factor he provides on the wing. Gold Coast will be patient.
The big ruckman certainly has some spunk about him with his slick hair and mustache. A member of the Gold Coast Suns Academy, Crossley played 10 senior games for the battling club, averaging six hit-outs and 9.4 disposals (at 69 per cent disposal efficiency). Isn’t one to shy away from the hard stuff, averaging more contested than uncontested possessions and laying 22 tackles on the whole. Will need time to learn but is developing nicely and already has a strong frame.
Greater Western Sydney
Having played just the four games for the Dandenong Stingrays in 2017, due to an ACL injury, Bonar managed a further four games this season, albeit at senior level in a strong GWS side. His supreme athleticism, explosiveness and acceleration were evident, as was his tackling intensity. The tall midfielder/third tall forward averaged 10.5 touches at a neat 71 per cent efficiency, to go with three marks, 4.5 tackles and a total of five goals. He shapes as being a star of the game, with his size and strength making him hard to contain at the stoppages. Will only improve as he increases his endurance.
Taylor, a key component to the Western Australian under-18 Championships side last year, played eight games for Greater Western Sydney in what was yet another injury-riddled season. He averaged just the 8.9 disposals per game, however it was his clean ball use out of the defensive-50 which really caught the eye. Given his foot skills were regarded by some as an area in need of improvement, he and the Giants will be pleased with a disposal efficiency of 80 per cent. Looks set to be a key defensive prospect the club can rely upon.