In the middle of the 2018 season, Williamstown coach Andrew Collins pleaded with AFL recruiters to take a closer look at the talent on his club’s list.
The phone had not been ringing a whole lot, so either the recruiters were looking at his players from afar or they were not looking at all.
But someone was watching, because the Seagulls had an incredible haul of three players selected in the draft.
“How good is it for the Williamstown community and mature aged recruits to get three guys taken from a stand-alone VFL club in the national draft?” Collins asked.
“It’s a real credit to those clubs that took those players.”
Those players – Ben Cavarra, Lachie Schultz and Brett Bewley – had their AFL dreams realised on Thursday night.
All three mature aged prospects had been overlooked in multiple drafts, but their willingness to keep pursuing their goals of making it to the AFL paid off in the long run.
Cavarra, a high-pressure goal sneak, was the first Williamstown player off the board, selected by the Western Bulldogs with pick 45.
At 22 years and with the Bulldogs crying out for a small forward after the departures of Clay Smith and Luke Dahlhaus, perhaps Cavarra can impress straight away and earn a regular berth in the senior team.
“One of the most inspiring premierships of modern times was the Bulldogs of 2016,” Collins, a triple premiership player with Hawthorn, said. “That premiership was built on forward pressure.
“To get Will Hayes [a draftee from Footscray VFL] and then Ben Cavarra, that’s a real nucleus of putting that forward pressure back into that forward half for the Bulldogs.”
Not long after Cavarra’s name was read out, Fremantle pounced on two more Williamstown players.
Schultz, an electrifying small forward, and Bewley, a hard-working utility with elite skills, found their way to the Dockers with picks 57 and 59 respectively.
Collins gave credit to the Bulldogs, Fremantle and the maturity of the AFL industry for recognising how valuable mature aged recruits can be.
“Most clubs are doing a great job with their recruiting, but in particular the interstate clubs,” Collins said. “Fremantle are one of the leaders in the industry when it comes to mature aged recruiting.”
Collins envisages further growth in the drafted Seagull trio because of the fact they will be able to focus on footy and not have nine-to-five jobs.
“They all have enormous upside,” Collins said. “Look at Ben – he’s been studying, working two part-time jobs, one as a teacher’s aide and another one in hospitality. But now he gets the chance to focus on footy.
“I expect all three of these guys … to go to a whole new level as full-time footballers.”
If there was a disappointing aspect to the draft for Williamstown, it was the non-selection of two-time Liston Trophy winner Michael Gibbons.
“As his coach, I know that I’ve got the best footballer in the league [VFL],” Collins said.
“That includes AFL players that come back and play in the VFL.
“All I can do is support Michael so he plays his best footy and support Michael off the field that he’s in a good place.”
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