DANDENONG Stingrays are coming off a self-proclaimed “very successful” year, with Talent Manager Darren Flanigan pleased a number of bottom-agers were able to squeeze into the team last year and are more prepared for the year ahead. Flanigan said the measure of success for the club was in terms of development, and thus the Stingrays were thrilled with the result at the drafts.
“I think we had with 13 Stingrays players added or upgraded onto AFL lists onto AFL lists,” Flanigan said. “That’s some previous blokes being picked up in the preseason draft, four girls and five boys in the National Draft. “As well as Mitch Riordan in the mid-season draft, so an incredibly successful year as far as draft goes and I think that’s our measure.”
While double-figure players made their way onto senior AFL lists at the drafts, three of those came on night one in the first round, with Hayden Young (Fremantle), Cody Weightman (Western Bulldogs) and Sam De Koning (Geelong) earning spots on AFL lists early in the draft.
“To have three boys picked up on the first night was a really, really great boom for the club and shows we are doing some things right,” Flanigan said.
De Koning was one of a number of talls who provided plenty of height across the ground for the Stingrays, but this year the team will look different with most of the towering types on the younger end of the scale, and the top-agers predominantly smalls to medium types.
“This year we’re a little bit short,” Flanigan said. “Probably our tallest two are Paddy Gerdan the 16-year-old who played some games last year and is now a 17-year-old and we’ve got Walter Delahunty across from the Sandy Dragons who at 199cm are really are our only real genuine talls. Then you’ve got young Hudsyn Hill as a bottom-ager who’s got a lot of development left in him. “So we’re not overly endowed with talls. “Bryce Milford‘s had a pretty good preseason, he’s put on eight kilos and he’s now a pretty good size, so we haven’t got any 200s but we’ve got a few 195s.”
Last year the Stingrays ability to blood so many 17 and 16-year-olds gave them plenty of scope for 2020 and 2021, particularly late in the year agains stronger opposition. Flanigan said that extra experience also saw the players come back bigger and better for this season.
“Yeah that’s one of the most impressive things about preseason is Miller Bergman and Connor Macdonald and Paddy Gerdan have all come back in really good nick,” he said. “They’ve actually performed really strong in each of the practice matches so they’ll be in line for selection even as early as Round 1. “Justin Davies has come back in good nick, his hands are super he’s kicking it well. “Lachie Robinson‘s another one who’s tall and skinny. We’ve got half a dozen bottom-agers who will certainly be in the mix for Round 1.”
The Stingrays started the preseason a 60 which meant more focused attention on the bottom half of the list to make it a highly competitive one for spots this year. Flanigan said there were a couple of surprise packets who have shone on the track, including Vic Country hub member, Will Bravo.
“His (Bravo’s) form was pretty exposed but him and Bayleigh Welsh have been outstanding as far as they’ve attacked preseason,” he said. “Their testing and the way they’ve led the group. “They’ve been really good and we’ve been really pleased with how they’ve come on. “Of course Will’s already in the Country hub and we’re hopeful that Bailey might get an opportunity after three or four rounds to put his hand up as well. “Those two are probably the two who have been the standouts over preseason.”
Bravo and Clayton Gay are Dandenong’s two Country hub members, and both offer different aspects to the team and were shining as leaders amongst the 2020 playing group.
“Clayton’s probably the natural footballer, he’s got really good skills, he understands the game well. Can play back and forward,” Flanigan said. “Will’s a hard worker, he’s a really strong, really quick, plays with high intensity. “We’re really pleased with the way they’ve attacked preseason, constantly improving week in, week out. “Clayton’s leadership’s been really good as well.”
The Stingrays also hold a Melbourne Next Generation Academy (NGA) member in Deakyn Smith who possesses some nice athletic traits and is ironing out other aspects of his game.
“Good speed, really good speed,” Flanigan said of Smith. “He’s doing a bit of work with Melbourne and Corey Maynard on just his fundamental skills. “Occasionally in games he collapses in and hunts the footy whereas you’d like him to stay on the outside and use his speed. “(We want to) use his run to his advantage, so we’re sort of educating him on that as well. “Once he gets strong in pre-season, you look at at the way he just ran there, well under three for the 20. “Just good form, good strong body. “He’s got school footy again this year, which is going to be a challenge, balancing that with us and his school commitments, but it will be a big year for Deakyn.”
The trio of Bravo, Gay and Smith will play a multitude of roles to show off their talent, but will begin in their preferred positions at the start of the season.
“Will will probably start inside mid, Deakyn will start outside mid and Clayton will probably be behind the footy,” Flanigan said. “But they can all play forward, they can all play inside, outside. “We’re really blessed to have talent that can play multiple positions. “But at this level you like to expose them to multiple positions so the AFL clubs can see them with more than just their A grade.”
Along with a host of bottom-agers, a number of overagers have returned to the club to share their time between the Stingrays and respective Victorian Football League (VFL) clubs.
“Blake Kuipers has been approved to come back as a 19-year-old and he’s been doing a lot of preseason down in Frankston which is exposing him to the next level,” Flanigan said. “He’s come back into our group the last couple of weeks. “You’ve got Jarryd Barker and Will Lewis, one’s at Casey and one’s at Northern Blues so they’re all our 19-year-olds.”
“As far as newbies, probably Josiah Kyle is an interesting one. He’s an Indigenous lad from far North Queensland whose been living in the region for a couple of years and he’s shown some signs that he could be a player. Jye Culley has shown a bit as well. “He’s a taller, stronger-bodied bottom-ager middle-ager with a strong left foot. “Probably won’t play Round 1 those two but they’re kids who have just come from outside the system and done well.”
Overall, Flanigan was quite pleased with how preseason had gone to-date and was just excited for the season to start.
“It’s a really close group,” he said. “They’ve united really well. “The coaching staff have done a tremendous job preparing them physically and for footy. “The club’s ticking along quite nicely.”