Right tone crucial in trials amid AFL Draft hype | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

MENTOR: Six-time Hampden league premiership coach Adam Dowie is now leading the Rebels' satellite training squad in Warrnambool, entrusted with setting the right tone for promising juniors. Picture: Rob Gunstone

MENTOR: Six-time Hampden league premiership coach Adam Dowie is now leading the Rebels' satellite training squad in Warrnambool, entrusted with setting the right tone for promising juniors. Picture: Rob Gunstone

EXPECTATIONS for emerging junior footballers must be handled with particular care right now.

AFL Draft is viewed like a grand final for TAC Cup under-18 clubs, complete with unexpected twists and dreams made or denied.

Draft hopefuls and their families are prepared for this. But the draft cycle overlaps.

North Ballarat Rebels trials have been playing out across western Victoria the past fortnight. Invited potentials from Ballarat, the Wimmera, Hampden, Hamilton and Warrnambool regions have already undergone close-scrutiny fitness screenings and skills tests.

They are predominantly green, keen and their first real taste of elite football is right amid the growing intensity of draft time – where they want to get to before they have really got started. 

The Rebels screen scores of potentials before whittling their final list down to less than 40 young men. There is always flexibility to modify the list, but earning a Rebels jumper is always a mammoth achievement.

This year’s crop is real young with a strong turn-over of top-age players from the 2016 squad. There are lots of new faces.

Rebels head coach Gerard FitzGerald says initials testings can feel like a first day of school and, like the first day of class, it was important to set the right tone from the start in showing new potentials how he wants work done. It is the first step in preparing boys to play the game at the highest level.

There is an added buzz that comes with draft time in seeing players like South Warrnambool’s Hugh McCluggage and Horsham Saints’ Jarrod Berry credentials spotlighted by leading AFL commentators, knowing that a year ago such players were in their shoes.

POTENTIAL: Rebels' under-16 hopeful Connor Hinkley powers through a 20-metre sprint in AFL-style screenings in Warrnambool earlier this week. Picture: Rob Gunstone

POTENTIAL: Rebels' under-16 hopeful Connor Hinkley powers through a 20-metre sprint in AFL-style screenings in Warrnambool earlier this week. Picture: Rob Gunstone

Rookie Me, screening by an external body, gives players and coaches extensive results – and the chance to jump online and compare profiles to previous top AFL draft picks.

Altogether, these are great incentives, a strong pathway, but should never be mistaken as an entitlement by potentials or their families.

This is where a lot comes back to the right club culture.

Unlike suburban clubs, Rebels’ territory is vast and FitzGerald cannot oversee all sessions. He says it is vital to ensure the right people – not just good footy people, but good people – take the lead in each satellite base. Coaches like local legends Shayne Breuer in the Wimmera and Aaron Sinnott in Camperdown. The Rebels latest addition is highly-respected, six-time Hampden league premiership coach Adam Dowie in Warrnambool.

It can be so easy to get swept up in AFL Draft hype because it is such an exciting time. What is most important for potentials, and their families, is to stay focused on the Rebels’ essential primary purpose – young player development.

No matter how the list shapes up, pre-season training and trials is an incredible opportunity for all potentials to learn a lot about themselves and improving their game for wherever it may take them.

This is a chance to really work with leading mentor from their own patch who are striving to get the best out of players, as footballers and young men.