Peel trio shine on national stage

Monday, July 14, 2014 - 3:01 PM by Alex Paull

Peel trio shine on national stage
Alex Paull

THREE of Peel’s brightest stars have proven themselves as part of the next crop of AFL stars, following the completion of the NAB Under 18s National Championships earlier this month.

Rockingham product Brad Walsh, Halls Head defender Dylan Winton and Warnbro youngster Ben Hancock all represented Western Australia at the carnival, with Walsh captaining the side.

With only one win WA struggled to string together consistent games across the carnival, but Walsh said the side managed to remain positive.

“It was quite tough when we weren’t playing well in the first few games, it restricted us in terms of showing our full potential out on the ground,” Walsh said.

“It was good in the last game to finally gel as a group and I felt that improved my game as well.”

A clearance machine, Walsh played all six games for WA for an average of almost 17 possessions and he said he relished the opportunity to captain the state.

A natural leader, Walsh was appointed the captain of the AIS-AFL Academy and is regarded as one of the best leaders in the current crop of prospects.

“As skipper you have to try and lead the boys the best you can even if things aren’t going your way, so I tried to put that into perspective with my performance,” Walsh said.

“It’s how you handle things, but when the team isn’t performing as well as hoped, there is a bit more pressure, but it’s important to not let it get to you because you have to lead and keep their heads up.”

Walsh was joined in the leadership group by Winton, who showed some strong signs as a versatile defender before an injury in the first game against South Australia planted seeds of doubt into his mind.

“I didn’t know how I was going to get back into the team or whether I was going to get back, so that was the main challenge, and to cement my spot and put in some good performances was pleasing,” Winton said.

Winton bounced back and was among the side’s best in the third round loss to South Australia with 22 disposals and five marks.

He said being named in the side’s leadership group was a real honour.

“Knowing your teammates trust you and have faith in you to help them out was really good, and I enjoyed helping out a few of the younger guys as well,” Winton said.

Ben Hancock was handed some tough jobs during his brief stint in the Peel League side, an initiation he said helped him prepare for the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the championships.

“It gave me a lot of experience, especially playing against the likes of Paul Bevan from Perth who is an AFL premiership player and with a bigger body, so I found that really helped me to adapt,” Hancock said.

He showed promising signs in the first two games, but after missing the clash with South Australia, Hancock’s form tapered off.

He remains committed to improving his game, and he said the experience at the carnival would help that process.

“Playing on the elite young talent gives you an insight into what to expect if you make it into the AFL, the challenges you face, and you just have to keep improving in all aspects and never drop off,” he said.

The trio are close mates and they started out their footballing journey in the Peel Under 15s and through various development squads.

“That was one of the best parts of the carnival, running out onto the big stage with those guys was awesome because we’ve been through so much together,” Winton said.

“You get to know them more and I think we’ve built a really strong bond between the three of us over that time, and it was really good to share that experience with really good mates.”

For Walsh, the experience served as a climax to a whirlwind period which saw him travel Europe as part of the AIS-AFL Academy, culminating in a second-place finish in the Ben Mitchell Medal as the player who best embodies team values in the Academy.

He said it was the trip of a lifetime, with highlights including locking horns with the European Legion side made up of the best players in Europe.

“I learnt a lot about professionalism, in terms of recovery, training, gym work and games, and being able to do that in another country was a great show of character, so we learnt a lot about what it takes to be an AFL player in terms of the day-to-day routine,” Walsh said.

The trio are the latest in a long line of development success at Peel Thunder, boasting a very strong track record of nurturing young talent.

“The key to our success with developing young players is that we have hard working, enthusiastic coaches in our development squads who all provide quality feedback, run quality training sessions, and we are always reviewing and seeking to improve our programs,” Peel player development manager John Deitz said.

“I think the boys’ performance reflects strongly on the coaches that have worked with the boys through development football, and that our program is providing strong opportunities for all boys to develop their football from Under 14s.”

The trio all have had a taste of WAFL League football with Peel, and they will be hoping to cement their spot in the side in the lead-up to the draft combine later this year.