After the rookie draft intermission, it is time to return to the next instalment of player projections.
27. Tony Armstrong
A customary oversight on my part, overlooking Armstrong in the previous instalment after his removal from the senior list. Perhaps it was also a Freudian slip to some degree, given that I wasn’t enthused with the Armstrong signing to begin with and if we enjoy a more favourable run with injuries next season, I’m not expecting Armstrong to be much of a factor at senior level.
He deserves some credit for his herculean effort late in the year, although for every bit of kudos to Armstrong there needs to be an equal amount of criticism directed at our selectors for that unforgivable mistake. After helping our VFL side get over the line against Geelong, Armstrong had to make the mad dash from Sleepy Hollow to the MCG in order to complete the second part of what would be a marathon effort.
No doubt historical accuracy – at least Herodotus’ embellished version – was overruled by sponsorship commitments, with Armstrong being warned in advance to yell out “Star Athletic” as opposed to Nike upon entering the MCG. Unfortunately for the poor lad he also diverted from the classical script by not keeling over there and then, but was instead forced to endure another three-and-a-bit quarters of football.
Once more, credit to Armstrong for running out those two games and he certainly wasn’t our worst in at least four of the five games he notched up at the death of the season. My concern with Armstrong is that he has been in the system long enough now where it really shouldn’t have taken until the end of the year – with our list depleted – for him to get a look in. I tracked him at VFL level and for the majority of the year really wasn’t impressed; in fact, I was growing increasingly frustrated at our decision to recruit him.
His kicking is neat but not all that adventurous and whilst being prepared to carry the ball occasionally, he rarely looks to really take the game on. Defensively he has a tendency to lack concentration and even commitment at times, making him a risk if playing him out of the back half where he’ll have to be responsible for an opponent.
Who knows though, given his transfer to the rookie list and what may now be a familiar feeling of a career in jeopardy, he may surprise a few people by leaving everything on the field. Considering the players we’ve drafted and some of the names returning from injury, he’ll have to turn heads to even get a whiff of opportunity, as he needs to be elevated first before even standing a chance of senior selection.
He’s a hard worker on the track and from all reports a good character, but he needs to be conspicuous amongst our VFL bests on a weekly basis, with a view to forcing the hand of our selectors if he’s any chance of extending his career beyond next year.
31. Jackson Ramsay
I admit to just about drawing a line through Ramsay towards the latter stages of this season, as despite performing some admirable defensive jobs at VFL level he just seemed to fall into that vanilla bracket. As our injury list reached critical levels during the final stanza, Ramsay was given an opportunity to make a case at senior level in our final two games against GWS and Hawthorn.
I was pleasantly surprised by how Ramsay took to senior level and whilst his performances weren’t of a vintage standout quality, he found targets by foot and gave a more than adequate account of himself as a defender. He’ll still have his work cutout for him to cement a spot, but there was something about his commitment and carriage that looked the part.
A role as a small defender appears to be his best chance, particularly if we look to run Williams through the midfield, which will place Ramsay in competition with the likes of Sinclair and a few of our newest recruits for a senior spot. He has had a taste now and despite being exposed somewhat by Hawthorn’s crisp ball movement and dangerous smalls in Puopolo and Breust, he’ll have learned a lot from his brief glimpse that he can take into next season.
He’s got a competitive demeanour and is visibly invested in stopping his man, which is a good starting point attitude wise. Needs to stand up every week at VFL level and grab hold of any opportunity that comes his way. It’s natural for our newest recruits to be the hot topic at the moment, but Ramsay should get first crack assuming he impresses early, allowing our youngest brigade to earn their stripes first.
32. Travis Cloke
Another up and down year for Trav – admittedly mostly down – where he recorded a few bags whilst also struggling to hit the scoreboard in other games. Normally robust, his season ended early this year through injury, taking no part in our final two games. The absence of Reid and the indifferent form of White made life difficult for Cloke, as he once again struggled amidst a malfunctioning forward setup.
The debate as to where we play Reid will likely carry into the early stages of next year, but if he manages to stay on the park and we push him forward once more, we may be able to free Cloke up to return to true centre half-forward. He was stagnant for long stretches last year, left to battle flat footed against multiple opponents, denying him the opportunity to use his tank to run opponents around.
He is one of the best contested marking players in the game, but this element to his game stands out more when he’s able to get a run and jump at the ball. No doubt he’s an appealing target when deep, but even in those instances he’s generally better after motoring back home, where he has the chance at holding off an exhausted defender and securing pole position in the drop zone.
Of course, a lot also depends on the service he is provided by our midfield and for a few seasons now the last kick inside 50 has been a problem. Cloke rarely gets the ball put to his advantage even when he does manage to get one out, so we need to find significant improvement in this area of our game if we’re to get full reward from Cloke’s strengths.
His kicking remains a bugbear for the faithful, although he did look comfortable in certain games this year with the new technique he was using. As frustrating as Cloke can be for black-and-white onlookers, he is a vital structural component – particularly given our current key forward depth – and when in form an exceptional player in his own right.
If we can allow him to get on his bike once more and shake up the forward line with some new faces – I’m thinking the likes of Karnezis, Fasolo and Kennedy – our shift from being so one dimensional, even though it’ll mean less ball directed to Cloke, could actually bring him back to his best as opposition defenders will be spread a lot thinner.
33. Patrick Karnezis
Probably fitting that I tackle Karnezis immediately after Cloke, as he may prove to be one of the answers we require for what was a predictable and blunt forward structure in 2014. I was actually a little perplexed as to why we didn’t give Karnezis a taste in the final rounds this year, as we were scraping the bottom of our list just to put together a senior team and the rangy yet cunning forward had proved a goal kicker at VFL level.
I understood his fitness concerns, on the back of a restricted preseason and some hamstring setbacks through the year, but nonetheless I would have been happy to see what he could provide in the ten minutes of peak performance he would have been capable of prior to blowing up each quarter.
That wasn’t to be, but it will be interesting to see how quickly Karnezis comes into consideration in 2015, as for mine he projects as an almost ideal target to inject into forward line that needs something new. He knows where and when to lead and despite not being the strongest type, knows how to use his body in marking contests. At ground level he’s just as crafty, a classy finisher even when snapping around his body.
Even though his year at VFL level was somewhat stop/start due to injury, in 13 games he only failed to hit the scoreboard on two occasions, although on one of those occasions he was still named among our best players for his work further up the field. Impressively he recorded one bag of six goals, three bags of four goals and two bags of three, before rounding out his other games with one or two goals.
The bottom line is he knows how to hit the scoreboard and queries on his fitness base should be alleviated somewhat ahead of next season if his preseason continues to progress as it has been. Whilst there remain some doubts as to whether Karnezis can make the ground on a permanent basis, he was a talented junior who has some genuine forward nous — which is something we’ve been lacking.
I’m hoping to see Karnezis provided with a fair bit of senior opportunity this year, provided he continues his goal kicking form and remains healthy. As much as anyone up front, he could prove to be the circuit breaker.
34. Alan Toovey
Returning from an ACL was never going to be easy for a player who relies on speed and agility to perform his role, so it’s not surprising that Toovey wasn’t as prolific in shutting down opponents this year. Part of that also had to do with a depleted and inexperienced defensive unit, which was often exposed when we broke down further afield.
At his best and despite how unfashionable he often looks, Toovey remains an immensely important component in our back line. His versatility enables him to put the glove on various opponents and perhaps a testament to how important I consider him to be was how deflated I felt amidst the other horrors visited upon us on ANZAC Day in 2013, when Toovey suffered his season ending injury.
When the loss of one player has serious ramifications for the remainder of the season, their worth becomes immediately apparent.
I’m hoping that Toovey will bounce back next season as his confidence in his own body returns in full. If he can rekindle his best football, he’ll prove immensely valuable given the retirement of Maxwell and the likelihood of our defensive unit once again featuring a few inexperienced heads.
35. Jordan De Goey
It’s par for the course for first round selections to be spoken of as instant starters, particularly when they appear even slightly ready-made, however I tend to take a more conservative approach to first year players.
There’s no doubt that the shake-up to our midfield is likely to open up some early opportunity for many players – including first year types – as we draw a few players into the engine room and open up slots elsewhere on the field. That said, I consider the likes of Kennedy, Broomhead, Karnezis and Freeman as those who will get first crack at the senior side ahead of any of our most recent draftees.
If De Goey is given a taste and performs well enough right out of the box – either during the preseason scratch matches or the early VFL rounds – then I’m not opposed to blooding him on a forward flank, assuming one or two players aren’t already performing at senior level. I consider estimations regarding him notching up 10 or more senior games to be fairly optimistic, although not impossible, depending on well he settles.
I would be happy if he gets a taste – something in the vicinity of five games give or take – whilst building steadily throughout the year as an important part of our VFL side. Being capable forward of centre improves his chances of seeing more AFL time, but I’ll temper any expectations until I get to see him first hand in our colours.
He looks a more than solid prospect and at the very least he’ll provide the faithful with plenty of incentive for getting down to Victoria Park.
36. Dane Swan
Swan’s best football is most likely behind him, but that’s not to say he doesn’t stand a good chance of turning the clock back somewhat and changing our fortunes next season. In his own words, he considered his football this year to be “putrid,” which is Swan at his candid best but an assessment that was as fair as it was blunt.
It became fairly obvious early that he was carrying something – let alone the touch he lost after double wrist surgery in the off-season – as it became clear that a hobbled Swan is a largely ineffective weapon. I was as frustrated as any when we persisted with playing him rather than sitting him out in favour of some others, since although I understand the age old belief that a certain type of champion can add something even when operating at half rat power, in most games this year this just wasn’t the case.
Perhaps the one positive to come from such a poor year is that a return to even a semblance of his best form will provide a significant boost to our chances. At the same time, with Pendlebury being the prime target for opposition attention in the middle, Swan may be able to slip under the guard a little more often in his twilight phase.
I expect Swan to be switched between the forward line and the middle, and quite aggressively at that. Buckley needs to strike the perfect balance with how he uses Swan, with a view to helping him recapture that burst quality that made him so damaging back in 2010.
From reports, he has been healthier this preseason than last, so we’ll get a good idea fairly quickly as to whether he is just playing out time, or was truly stung by his own poor form last year. I suspect he’ll be determined to make amends, he’s the epitome of laconic but I have no doubt that he takes a lot of pride in his own performance.
37. Brayden Maynard
Our second live selection (#30 overall) in this year’s draft brought another Sandringham Dragon to the club, coincidentally with some comparable features to last year’s product in Tom Langdon. A well-built and utility sized flanker, Maynard’s kicking is his most apparent strength, whilst his competitive aggression has also been noted in most reports.
Hine has already flagged our hopes that he may be able to transition into the midfield at some stage, as despite only getting a brief taste in this role at U18 level, Hine saw enough to believe it a possibility. Midfield or not, Maynard could bring a lot to the table if he makes it as a player, even if operating predominantly across half-back.
His endurance has been flagged as an area needing improvement, but fortunately that is one area that should be rectified quite naturally amongst a professional program. He appears to read the play well enough to compensate for any lack of tank, but the top level will require a certain fitness base nonetheless.
He’s an appealing prospect given his attributes, particularly if he can become a multi-dimensional player as hoped. He finds himself amongst a crop of similar types in Langdon, Scharenberg, Oxley and Seedsman; not to mention rookie recruits in Manteit and Abbott. Competition amongst these players and how we manage to accommodate them is going to be interesting in the years to come.
I expect him to be developed initially across half-back, where we’ll be judging his ability to keep an opponent quiet but above all, what he can offer going the other way. This is where my preference would be when deciding who of the aforementioned flankers to fast track, as we need to make substantial gains in ball retention and movement. If he becomes accomplished in this role, we can then explore his prospects in the engine room.