Three AFL Players Redefining Their Club's Expectations
The 2021 season is still agonisingly young, the likes of which we’re all still desperately trying to make sense of.
One such compelling storyline pertains to a trio of players who are making their clubs (and fans) think differently about their team’s trajectory both in 2021 and beyond.
Let’s take a look.
Coming in to this season, there was no shortage of anticipation surrounding Kysaiah Pickett with critics anxious to see what the young star was capable of in season two.
So far, audiences have been left spellbound.
Not only has ‘Kozzy’ emerged as a key cog in a rejigged Melbourne’s forward line, but he’s played a starring role in the Demon’s 3-0 start, and in the process helped re-configure expectations regarding their short and long-term prospects.
Melbourne’s decision to draft Pickett with the the 12th pick in the 2019 draft raised plenty of eyebrows, largely due to how rare it is for clubs to reach so high where small forwards are concerned. While Hawthorn’s 2007 selection of Cyril Rioli was a complete game-changer, it’s not as though clubs have been queuing up to take similar chances.
Melbourne were one such club, and are reaping the rewards.
While the Demons have hovered around the fringes these past five seasons, even qualifying for a Preliminary Final in 2018, what’s been missing is a knock-out blow in the forward line, with Pickett’s emergence packing the potential to take the long-suffering club to rare heights.
So far, Pickett’s 7 goals is the clubhouse leader at Melbourne, yet it’s what he’s doing at ground level, coupled with his infectious tenacity, that’s making the Demons such a compelling proposition.
While Melbourne’s midfield, as always, is keeping up its end of the bargain, with the likes of Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca fuelling the club’s equal league-high 60.7 inside-50s per game, Pickett’s at the forefront of an attack that’s hell-bent converting those opportunities into goals, and furious about locking the ball in when they can’t.
So far, Melbourne’s 44 tackles inside-50 top the competition, with Tom McDonald actually leading the league having already applied 8 which is a staggering return for a player of his size, while also representing the entirety of his 2020 contribution. Pickett meanwhile, along with Coleman medal favourite Tex Walker, are the only two players averaging at least two goals and two tackles inside-50 per game, while Pickett’s also contributing a hefty 16.7 pressure acts per contest.
The moment the Bulldogs consummated the trade for Brisbane’s Stefan Martin last October, doggies fans began fantasising about what this could mean for their emerging star, Tim English.
While the young pup has at times appeared on the cusp of breaking out since debuting in 2017, he’s routinely been found-out in traditional ruck situations, often neutralising the effect of the largely brilliant Bulldog midfield.
Enter Stef Martin.
Through just 3 games the Bulldogs are already seeing the fruits of this wicked combination with Martin’s physicality and durability allowing English to spread his wings, terrorising opponents in the process.
Adding Martin to the midfield has helped the Dogs jump from 10th in the league last year from a clearance differential perspective to first, representing the driving force behind the club generating a massive +18 inside-50 differential- easily the best figure in the league.
Meanwhile English has been let off his leash, leading the club with 8 contested marks, providing assistance to Martin in the ruck and support in defence. Yet it’s up forward where the young West Australian is causing most havoc.
While opposition defences are already distressed having to deal with the threat of Josh Bruce and Aaron Naughton, throwing English into the mix makes the Dogs extremely potent, with English already hauling in 6marks inside-50 and contributing a handful of goals.
So long as Martin can stay healthy, and so long as Luke Beveridge and his coaching staff can remain creative with their deployment of the 2016 first-round pick, then the Dogs can indeed make some serious noise both this season and beyond.
There’s a certain laconic magnificence about Harry McKay that belies his exceptional talent and which has him on the cusp of stardom.
In this his fifth season with the Blues, it appears that McKay is not only ready to consistently deliver on his immense talent, but perhaps drag the Blues to the kind of places they’ve only been able to conjure in their dreams.
While McKay has announced himself as a genuine threat over the last couple of seasons, achieving top-10 finishes for marks inside-50 in both 2019 and 2020, he appears set to make a claim on the league’s #1 key-forward mantle this season, jumping out to out to a big lead having already reeled in 17 marks inside-50.
Like the Demons with their emerging star Kysaiah Pickett, the Blues are fortunate enough to have a brilliant midfield in place, yet have been waiting patiently for their forward line to come to life. And while last week’s 109-point effort against the Dockers wasn’t exactly jaw-dropping, it did constitute the club’s best return since Round 12, 2015, with McKay’s 7-goal haul a career-best return.
The Blues will be further delighted with McKay’s marked improvement in goal kicking accuracy. According to Stats Insider’s Shot Charting tool, the young Blue has converted 65% of his set-shot opportunities this year, up significantly from the 46% he’s achieved over the last 3 seasons, and hopefully putting behind the horrors of last year’s disastrous 39%.
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