Premiership captain. TAC Cup medal winner for best-on-ground in a grand final. Vic Metro representative. Tied Morrish Medal winner for the TAC Cup’s Best and Fairest. Likely Eastern Ranges Best and Fairest winner.
Usually, winning all of these accolades in a season would point to the player in question having high draft prospects, and being regarded as one of the best young players in the TAC Cup system. Usually, such a player would be named in the top 20 possible draft picks of the coming year. Usually. But this is not a usual situation.
All these accolades belong to Ben Cavarra, the pint-sized Eastern Ranges midfielder and captain, who, despite a superb TAC Cup season, was not invited to the AFL’s Draft Combine in October. He heads a list of young players who have had good seasons who missed out on an invitation, a list which includes Gippsland Power forward Josh Scott, the league’s leading goal kicker for the season. Ironically, Scott also tied with Cavarra, Geelong’s George Cameron and Bendigo’s Jacob Chisari for the TAC Cup medal.
There are several knocks on Cavarra’s game that are likely the reason behind his omission from Combine testing. One is his height – at 173 centimetres, Cavarra is diminutive by today’s modern standards, in which midfielders are generally between 180-188 centimetres. The second is his kicking efficiency – often, Cavarra bursts out of packs at such speed and with such intensity that his kicking is almost a secondary thought, such is his desire to put the ball to advantage. Precise and effective kicking has become an art form in the AFL, and Cavarra’s deficiency in this area may have let him down. Finally, the fact that Cavarra is surrounded by highly rated prospects Tom Boyd, Michael Apeness, and Mitch Honeychurch
However, the positives of Cavarra’s game far outweigh the disadvantages. He is the engine room for the Ranges, constantly plucking the ball out of packs and getting into the hands of his team’s running midfielders and half forwards. He burrows into packs, winning more clearances and contested possessions than most other players. He has great vision and football awareness, and even when his kicks miss the target, he is able to put them to advantage. His second efforts are second-to-none, often backing up two or three times in his sheer desperation to get the ball. Perhaps most importantly, however, he is a fantastic leader on the field, always encouraging and supporting his teammates, and issuing instructions.
His game in the grand final victory on Sunday was just another example of typical Cavarra worth ethic and determination. He amassed 30 disposals, and seemed to have a role in every contest. His gut running and ability to win the contested ball helped Eastern to an insurmountable 62 to 13 lead at half time, a lead that they built on in the third and fourth quarters. In the third quarter, when it seemed that Dandenong were beginning to win the contested ball and more one-on-one contests, Cavarra stepped in to ensure his team still won their fair share of contests.
All these attributes are things AFL clubs love, and which are difficult to teach. With Cavarra, any club will have a great on-field leader who gives an honest performance each week. Which makes his omission from the Draft Combine all the more startling.
Cavarra plays like a player who has had to work hard to get the most out of himself as a footballer, who has not been able to take anything for granted. He plays every game like his life depends on it, never shirking from a contest. The accolades he has won this year are a testament to his work ethic. If he does not get drafted, it will surely not be through lack of trying.