Jaeger O’Meara, Brad Crouch, Oliver Wines, Nick Vlastuin and Tom Mitchell. If you were to ask any avid football fan who the best performed youngsters of 2013 have been, those names would almost certainly enter the fray. However amidst this talented pool lies a vast amount of players who have impressed thus far. Here’s just a few of them.
Taken with pick #5 in the 2011 rookie draft, Laird failed to make his debut in the 2012 season. Considering his age and factoring in Adelaide’s unforeseen jump into the top four, it was understandable. After impressing in the SANFL for West Adelaide, Laird made his debut against the Western Bulldogs following Adelaide’s somewhat surprising loss against Port Adelaide the week before. Despite only tallying eight disposals, he was able to keep his opponent Jason Tutt to the same amount whilst conceding no goals. Laird’s purple patch started in round 10 in the Crows’ nail biting loss against Fremantle, he kept fellow teenager Hayden Crozier to 10 disposals and three marks whilst gathering a handy 24 disposals, seven tackles and even a goal. Since then, he hasn’t missed a beat and is seemingly entrenched in the Crows’ best 22.
Perhaps living up north and playing for Brisbane has hidden Sam Mayes from the media limelight, but it obviously doesn’t bother him as he is already making a big impact. He was taken with pick #8 in the 2012 AFL Draft and has averaged 16.9 disposals. Mayes started his career like a house on fire, impressing others with his ability to find space when there was none to find. 10 marks and 21 disposals in round 3 is a clear representation of this – not bad for an 18-year-old playing his first game. Mayes’ best game of the season came in round 21. His freakish ability near goal was on full display against the hapless Giants. It’s not often you see a first year player kick 4 goals in half of footy and Mayes had no problem toying the young GWS side. Mayes could consider himself hard done by after only receiving one vote in the Rising Star voting.
If you were to describe Adam Tomlinson in one word, it would have to be ‘persistent’. Tomlinson was taken at pick #9 in the 2011 Draft along with a significant proportion of GWS’ list. His Riewoldt-esque ability to repeatedly lead up the ground and provide options for his teammates is unrivalled by others his age. Tomlinson’s role in the team isn’t to kick goals, otherwise he wouldn’t be playing as he is yet to master that area of his game. He’s kicked four goals for the season and averages 15 disposals a game as well as seven marks. Despite this, it’s only natural for the coaches to expect Tomlinson to improve his goal sense. Judging by his innate marking ability and leading patterns, GWS will definitely have a player on its hands if he can add goal kicking to his arsenal.
It’s hard to believe Neale is yet to play 20 games and is only in his second year. He’s another player who was taken relatively late in the draft at pick #58. After playing 2 games in round 4 and 5 this year, Neale didn’t return until round 17 where he managed to avoid the sub vest and accumulate 21 possessions as well as hold his spot for the next round. Since then, he’s averaged 27 disposals, five marks and over a goal a game and has been a revelation. He adds another dimension to Fremantle’s quick midfield which already contains the likes of Stephen Hill and Danyle Pearce, along with Michael Walters and Hayden Ballantyne who occasionally rotate through the midfield.
Williams was taken at pick #35 in the 2011 rookie draft, adding to the already wealthy list of young guns taken late in the draft. After earning himself a promotion onto the senior list, Williams certainly didn’t start the season the way he would have liked after being forced to work with the Salvation Army due to a club punishment following assault charges in late 2012. After missing the first seven matches, Ben Johnson’s unfortunate injury on ANZAC Day opened the door for Williams and it was an opportunity he took with both hands. Williams manages to retain Johnson’s defensive ability whilst providing needed run off Collingwood’s half-back line. Since returning, Williams has been a mainstay in Collingwood’s best 22 and doesn’t look like going anywhere.