NORWOOD midfielder and AFL Academy member Cooper Murley has had an interrupted start to his 2021 football season. Having played two games in the SANFL Reserves, an ankle injury kept him out of action for one and a half months, resulting in him missing the AFL Academy game against Geelong VFL in April.
After returning through the Reserves in Rounds 8 and 9, Murley was brought in to the Norwood Under 18’s side in Round 10 for its clash against South Adelaide. The contest was close but ended with the Redlegs going down by nine points to the Panthers. Murley was prolific in his first Under 18’s game for the season, with a team-high 34 disposals and seven clearances, to draw attention for this week’s SANFL U18’s Player Focus.
Norwood/ South Australia
Position: Midfielder/Small Forward
SANFL Reserves: 4 games | 12 disposals | 7.8 kicks | 4.3 handballs | 3 marks | 2.8 tackles | 0.8 clearances | 2.3 inside 50s | 0.8 rebound 50s | 0.8 goals (3 total)
2021 SANFL U18s, Round 10 | Norwood 10.10 (70) def by. South Adelaide 11.13 (79)
#1 Cooper Murley (Norwood)
Stats: 34 disposals (22 kicks, 12 handballs), 5 marks, 3 tackles, 7 clearances, 8 inside 50s, 2 rebound 50s, 2 goals, 1 behind
To start off his 2021 Under 18s campaign, Murley wasn’t overly involved early. He was put into the forward line initially, unable to impact much outside of drawing a player at an early inside 50 stoppage. It wouldn’t be until the 10-minute mark of the first quarter that Murley would come alive. Once moved into the midfield, he looked lively around stoppages, positioning himself well to be a handball receiver from whoever gathered first possession. His first clearance would come not long after his move into the guts, having it palmed down straight to him around the defensive 50 mark, handballing back and then getting it again closer to the boundary line, unable to hit his intended target by foot in the middle of the ground.
He worked hard to assist in defence when it was down there, earning himself a free kick at one stage and initiating a promising bit of play with his switch kick. From there, Murley’s work was done exclusively at ground level, able to pick the ball up cleanly, even when under direct pressure, and fire off precise handballs to teammates. His approach to ground balls was near perfect in the first quarter, positioning his body well to protect himself and keep his arms free from contact, then getting the handballs away quickly as he stood up, rather than standing up then handballing.
It was a strong start to his Under 18’s return, looking a class above when he had the ball and in contests, able to beat bigger opponents at ground level almost exclusively with how he positioned his body when picking the ball up.
Murley once again started the quarter in the forwardline but looked to push up straight away, in a high half-forward sort of role. This got him pushing up the ground deeply and more involved in transition from the defensive half for Norwood, where he was the target of a lot of kicks early on. In those situations, he utilised his speed to run onto the ball, even taking a mark running with the flight. He showcased his clean hands below his knees a few times, with the most impressive being a clean pickup off the ground as soon as the ball hit it, so much so it could’ve been paid a mark. To follow that up he handballed to a teammate, then worked hard to u-turn and get in front of the running pack of players, getting a handball over the top and having a shot on goal from 50 out, which was touched just before the line.
Two things were really obvious in the second quarter in regards to Murley; number one was how good his repeat efforts are, having a couple of marks spoiled or just not being able to hold them, but following up superbly at ground level to win the footy and shoot off a quick handball to a teammate. Number two was how dangerous he was when given even the slightest bit of space to work with, taking the advantage from a couple of free kicks for teammates, where he’d burst away, take a bounce and deliver well forward, with a moment like this leading to his second goal of the quarter right before the siren.
His first goal was a great showing off his work rate and danger in transition, where a teammate put the ball in front of him, he ran onto it and picked up cleanly, then delivered a pinpoint kick to a teammate inside 50, ran hard to get the handball receive and snapped it through.
Overall it was definitely a higher production quarter from Murley as he got more involved. As he did so, it got him more attention from opposition as he was being stuck to like glue around stoppages towards the end of the quarter, and given a bit of rough treatment in tackles, which he handled well. His use by foot improved from the first quarter which made Norwood more dangerous in transition.
A quieter quarter than the last for Murley, though he still chimed in with moments of class when he was given the space and used by teammates, with his kicking taking yet another step up to hit essentially every target, or be put to their advantage, perfectly.
Murley’s hands were extra sticky in the third, holding onto a few handball receives he got at pace, before quickly composing himself to deliver a kick forward. His first real involvement played out exactly like this, with the kick and inside 50 that should’ve been marked, but wasn’t. He took a mark a little later at the back-end of the centre square, quickly wheeling onto his right side and kicking it a good 50 meters to go out the back of a pack for Norwood’s quick smalls to run onto. Later on in the quarter, he took an impressive contested grab on the far wing, not breaking stride to play on and deliver it well to a teammate at the top of the 50.
It was more of the same brilliance for Murley overall, with his one-grab pickups below his knees continually impressive and his vision excellent to hit targets most others wouldn’t even attempt.
Started the quarter in the midfield for the first time all game as the Redlegs needed to find a way to put the game to rest. He was in and under from the get go, getting first hands to the ball from the ruck tap and being wrapped up straight away. Unfortunately he had to spend some time on the bench as early on he copped a corkie after being ran into on the boundary line, coming on about five minutes later.
Murley didn’t let the injury stop him throwing himself into contests and getting involved, earning a free kick in the defensive half for a good tackle and looking to spread it out wide. He took a mark later on in the quarter and sent it deep inside 50 for a teammate to mark, but unfortunately miss the resultant shot on the goal.
It’s no surprise that Norwood started to struggle when Murley had to go off to deal with the corkie, highlighting his importance to their play in what was the worst time to see it.
There’s no doubting Murley’s quality as a player and it’s clear to see why he’s part of the AFL Academy for 2021. Despite being smaller in stature he wasn’t phased when in contests with bigger bodies, using his smarts to gain the advantages he could and win most contests reliably. At ground level there was no one better, Murley never fumbled and his hands were too quick for opponents to react to in close. Balancing himself as a midfielder is a real strength of Murley’s as well, working hard on the inside and outside to fill the roles well, and that versatility is an asset to any team he ends up a part of in future. Whilst his kicking and marking were more often good than not, they’re two areas from this game he could look to sharpen up on.
Image Credit: Hannah Howard/SANFL