Williamstown is striking the right balance between what is good for the team and what is beneficial for the individual when it comes to its mature-aged recruits in the Victorian Football League.
The Seagulls have carved out a reputation as one of the best developers of mature-aged talent and it has only enhanced the side’s on-field results.
Mitch Hibberd became the latest Williamstown player to land on an AFL list at last week’s draft, taken by Essendon with pick 10 in the rookie draft on Friday.
It follows on from a hugely successful 2018 draft when Brett Bewley, Lachie Schultz and Michael Gibbons found homes in the big league.
Last year, former Seagull Kane Lambert claimed his second AFL premiership with Richmond.
“That’s really great news for us as a footy club,” Seagulls coach Andrew Collins said of the latest draftee.
“We’ve got a really great culture here that you can learn and keep moving forward in a high performance and supportive environment.
“It’s a really great reward for all the work that he [Hibberd] put in as well.”
Hibberd’s stay at Williamstown was a short one, but in his 12 months at the Seagulls nest, he changed opinions about the way he plays his football.
The 23-year-old managed four games with North Melbourne before he was delisted, but he was placed in a role that might not have showcased his greatest strengths.
“Unfortunately he was sort of pigeon-holed as an outside player at North Melbourne, on the wing and on the half-back flanks,” Collins said.
“When I met him and spoke to him about the way he thinks his football could improve, that was playing as a big inside mid.
“The change was nothing more than the focus on his position of play.”
Hibberd excelled in the Williamstown midfield, playing a key role in the side’s run to the grand final.
So not only does Hibberd have those outside traits that he used in his time with North, he has added a string to his bow with his inside game and defensive work.
“He was leading all the pre-season testing and he was incredibly fit, so I knew that I had a terrific driven athlete,” Collins said.
“When I started playing him as a mid, he was brutal. “Physical, great tackler, really wanted the ball.
“In the end, he became one of the leading midfield players in the competition and I think he’ll be terrific at an AFL level and I’m hoping he’ll play AFL straight away.”
The hard luck story for Williamstown was Nick Ebinger.
Ebinger was a revelation this season as a dynamic medium-sized forward.
Given it was the Williamstown CYMS product’s breakthrough season, perhaps clubs were afraid to pull the trigger.
“No one had heard of him until this year of footy,” Collins said.
“His finals series, in particular, drew great attention to him, but he played some good footy through the year as well.
“He’ll go from strength to strength.”
The other break-out player from Williamstown that drew some hype later in the year was versatile tall Joel Ottavi, but he was overlooked.