By MICHAEL WHITING - AFL.com.au
Canberra has been one of the success stories of the NEAFL season and it’s a diminutive midfielder who’s leading the charge for the Demons and surging into draft contention.
Standing just 175cm tall, Mitch Maguire has been the competition’s standout player to this point with his mix of ball-winning and goalkicking ability from both the midfield and forward line.
Reminiscent of Brisbane skipper Dayne Zorko, Maguire was a GWS Academy player but has been overlooked in multiple drafts.
Like many before him, Maguire’s smaller stature may have been seen as a limiting factor, but his relentless work ethic and ability to get between contests is too hard to ignore.
The 20-year-old leads the NEAFL’s Most Valuable Player voting to this point.
A couple of delisted Brisbane players in Josh Clayton and Matt Hammelmann have also taken their setback on the chin and gone back to the NEAFL to prove they are now better players.
This man from Northern Territory is a true draft smokey. Needs a lot of work to physically develop but has a gift for winning the ball at stoppages. Had a fantastic past 10 weeks, including two games where he’s racked up a ridiculous 26 contested possessions. Ankers sits third in the competition – behind Aspley pair Andrew Swallow and Matthew Payne – for contested footy. Throw in another match of 20 touches and three goals and the ability is there.
A player you have to project to see the upside of, Baker is having an excellent season on the comeback from an ACL injury. Formerly a member of the Swans Academy, the tall midfielder is athletic and can get from contest to contest. He tore the ACL early in 2017 but since moving to Canberra to get greater opportunities, is thriving and a big reason for the Demons’ improvement.
After three seasons with Brisbane, Clayton was delisted at the end of 2017. The versatile midfielder has barely put a foot wrong at Southport and is a big reason why the Sharks have risen to the top of the ladder. Clayton is super fit, runs hard and his excellent skills make him an ideal ‘outside’ player. The 22-year-old has improved the contested side of his game, though, and now has a more even balance. Still improving and good enough to get another chance at the top level.
Much like Clayton, Hammelmann was cut by Brisbane at the end of last season and has gone back and done everything possible in the NEAFL. Despite playing in a Redland team that has won just once, he leads the goalkicking table with 55 goals from 15 games. Just 22, Hammelmann is a terrific athlete with excellent speed that is hard to beat on the lead. Has shown he can play both ends of the ground and will surely be on the radar of clubs looking for versatile key position players. He spent three years with the Lions and played 12 games.
A little under the radar, the 21-year-old from Sydney University is best suited in defence as either a half-back flanker or back pocket. Hebron was in the Sydney Academy and played in the Swans’ losing 2016 NEAFL Grand Final team before heading to Sydney Uni. Standing 186cm and with a strong build, he can play on quick, smaller types, but is also capable of playing taller and leads the NEAFL in marks this season. Won’t be found on many highlight reels, but gets the job done every week and would fit into most backlines.
The competition’s MVP leader before voting was closed off to the public, Maguire is a standout candidate. Described as a “Dayne Zorko clone”, the 175cm midfielder has a good aerobic capacity, can play midfield or forward, kicks goals and is excellent at repeat efforts. Now 20, Maguire is from the Riverina and was in the GWS Academy. Averaging 27 touches and five clearances this season, he has put on size and blossomed playing for Canberra.
This story was originally published on afl.com.au.
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