By JESS WEBSTER
Photo: Matt Corby/NEAFL.
Matt Wilson had done just about everything right in his breakout NEAFL season in 2016.
A member of the Sydney Swans Academy, Wilson had played 17 games – including the Grand Final – earned a NEAFL Rising Star nomination, and was the Swans leading goalkicker, all at age 18.
He joined Sydney University in the off-season with the intent of producing a similar season to put himself firmly back on the AFL Draft radar.
But the Maroubra Saints junior was about to learn a valuable lesson, that a week – let alone a year – is a long time in football.
After playing the first four matches of the season, Wilson was dropped from the NEAFL side due to a lack of form.
It took seven games over the next 11 weeks with North Shore in the AFL Sydney Premier Division for Wilson to be given another opportunity in the NEAFL against Canberra Demons last Saturday.
It was an opportunity he wasn’t going to let slip.
“It was a good start to the year, but then I dropped off a bit of form,” Wilson said.
“I wasn’t playing as well as I had been playing before, and I was finding it hard to fit in at the start with the forward line being so good and so experienced.
“But just training with them and earning their respect more and getting used to the players, I knew once I got my opportunity again I wouldn’t give them another chance to drop me.”
Wilson booted four goals amongst 16 disposals, five tackles and four inside 50s, as well as polling six NEAFL MVP votes to make a welcome return to his blistering best for Sydney University.
According to Champion Data ranking points, Wilson’s Round 3 match against Redland (35 points) was the worst of his 25-game NEAFL career.
Last Saturday against the Demons, his 137 points was his highest on record.
Wilson – who earned a second NEAFL Rising Star nomination on the back of his performance – said his mid-season setback was important for his development.
Not only did it give him some perspective, but it made him hungrier than ever to get the best out of himself.
“At the beginning of the year I thought I had to play the best I can to get drafted, and then when I got dropped I started focusing more on work and life in general,” he said.
“But then I came to the realisation that… I had been training well and the team had been going well, and I really wanted to get back in the side and give it my best shot.
“I knew once I was training and I doing everything to get back in, that when I got my shot I’d do my best for the whole four quarters, which luckily I was able to do on the weekend.
“I’ve realised how important it is that when you get your chance, you have to make the most of it. At the beginning of the year I thought it was just going to be the same for me.
“It set me back when I got dropped. But I think it’s what I needed to get me back to where I was playing last year.”
Wilson has been named an emergency for Sydney University on several occasions throughout the year, but he, Kane Murphy and James Loneragan all got their chance to impress last weekend in the hopes of cementing their place in the Students’ best 23.
With so much competition for spots, the goal for Wilson is to back up his impressive effort against the Demons and maintain his place in a star-studded side aiming to go deep into the NEAFL finals series.
“I’ve definitely grown more. Last year everything was sort of there for me to do but this year I’ve had to fight my way back to get to where I was,” he said.
“I definitely feel like this game I pushed for the whole four quarters, compared to last year where I was in a really good team where I sort of got on the end of the few goals.
“At the start of the year I thought, I might not play the whole season, but if I can get myself back in the team and locked in the team for finals, that would definitely be a win.”
The Rising Star is awarded to the most promising young talent in the NEAFL competition.
Nominees must be under the age of 21 and played less than 20 senior games (excluding games as AFL Academy players) at the start of the 2017 season.
Keep track of all our 2017 nominees here.
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