IT IS commonplace that the more ever-present and reliable players of a squad are the ones to take a back seat to the superstars, but that is not the case for Stefan Radovanovic at the Western Jets. In a team that boasts the likes of draft fancies Xavier O’Halloran, Zak Butters, Buku Khamis and Daly Andrews, the Keilor product went about his business in an admirable way this season, looking to prove his durability and leadership capabilities.
Off the back of a bottom-age year good for the Western Jets best and fairest award, Radovanovic came into the season looking to build on the foundation he had laid through steady development and simple goals. The plaudits he had already earned and that steady improvement was enough for Radovanovic to earn a call up to the Vic Metro squad, playing a key role in defence alongside Jets teammate Khamis, and behind their TAC Cup skipper, O’Halloran.
Football has been a constant in Radovanovic’s life, a passion which spawned at a time of great change for his family. When his parents divorced when he was just three years-old, it was Radovanovic’s football mad step-dad who introduced him to the game and helped to set him on the right path.
“My mum found my step-dad and he was heavily into football in his family so he got me into football, I started kicking with him, went to the park and kicked with him,” he said. “Then I got enrolled in Auskick at Keilor and went all through my junior levels with Keilor,” he said.
A club with a proud history and strong contingent of young stars to burst onto the AFL scene of late, Keilor proved a happy hunting ground for Radovanovic’s junior progression.
Seemingly surrounded by similar stories and success, Radovanovic also attends Maribyrnong College with fellow Jets top-agers Butters and Khamis, as well as bottom age starlets Josh Honey and Emerson Jeka. The balance between school, footy and social life is often central to the journey of a TAC Cup hopeful and is something that Radovanovic knows well, but is made easier by having those around him who are going through similar experiences.
“Obviously you’ve got school five times a week and that takes up a big chunk out of your life, then you’ve also got training,” Radovanovic said. “We train Tuesday and Thursday after school and on Thursdays we have dinner so that takes out your whole night basically, and then you’ve got the off-field commitments like gym so it does take a big chunk but it’s just about finding that balance with your social life as well.”
Despite these personal hurdles to contend with from week to week, Radovanovic maintained a selfless outlook towards his football and on-field leadership responsibilities, looking to provide a benchmark for his teammates.
“I just want to play a good, consistent brand of football, and also for the bottom agers I want to show them what needs to be done to play at this high level,” he said. “The leadership group is also working hard to try and bring the team as a collective together to play well as a team. So I just want to play consistent football and then also bring other teammates into it.”
Leadership is something that Radovanovic sees as one of his strengths, with the hard-running rebounding defender always looking to expand his horizons.
“(My) personal strengths are my one-on-one contests, and I believe that I’m very strong around the ball – I’m hard to get knocked off,” he said.
Having proved his worth in defence, Radovanovic has looked to utilise his contested ball nous by spending more time in the middle of the ground throughout the year, with a midfield role “definitely” something he is interested in adding to his game.
“We’re working on going to different positions to show that I’m more durable and can play different positions… it’s definitely a different look in the midfield but I’m enjoying it,” Radovanovic said.
And with expansion comes highlighting room for improvement, with Radovanovic well aware of the areas he needed to work on in order to reach his ultimate goal.
“I definitely want to improve my fitness, I think that’s a big flaw in my game,” he said. “Then also my leadership, I want to keep working on that and then also my kicking at full speed.”
And the Jet is not taking his spot in the Western Jests Under 18 program for granted, saying it was a privilege to be a part of in helping him to learn, and recognising the dedication required to make the step-up from local football.
“It’s definitely a privilege because there are definitely a lot of kids who would like to be here. It’s only cut down to about 40 and yet there’s like 80 that show up at try-outs so it’s definitely an honour and does take a lot of hard work to get here and you have to actually be dedicated with everything to do with it,” Radovanovic said. “You definitely have to prepare well for each training session and also for games, games are very high intensity. And fighting for spots is also a big thing as well so you have to do the best that you can to push yourself to play consistently.”
With the Jets navigating their way through this year’s Wildcard Round, only to be knocked out comprehensively by eventual grand finalists Oakleigh, it has no doubt been a season of ups and downs for Radovanovic and the Western side. But with over 25 TAC Cup games under his belt over two years, experience on the biggest Under-18 stage with Vic Metro, and one last chance to prove his worth to keen eyes at the Victorian State Combine, Radovanovic will surely view his year as a successful one – regardless of how it may end.