Sam De Koning has witnessed the evolution of key-position players in recent years and made it one of his primary goals in 2019 to develop into a ‘swingman’ at the Dandenong Stingrays.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Collingwood tall Darcy Moore – adept in both defence or attack when required – 18-year-old De Koning played mostly as a key back until this season, when he was also tried as a key forward and ruck in the NAB League.
The Mount Martha (Mornington Peninsula Junior FL) product averaged 10 disposals and three marks per game in 11 matches for Dandenong this year and also represented Vic Country at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships.
* Visit the ‘Highlights’ section of the NAB League app to watch Sam De Koning’s 2019 season highlights.
He truly announced his presence to the football world on the national stage, earning NAB AFL Under-18 All Australian selection after starring for Country as a 200cm intercept-marking defender with mobility and neat skills.
Having confirmed his credentials behind the ball, De Koning turned his attention further up the field in an effort to show clubs his versatility ahead of November 27-28’s NAB AFL Draft.
“I definitely wanted to secure my spot as a defender in the Championships and show everyone how good I can be in that role,” De Koning said at the recent NAB AFL Draft Combine.
“I’ve really honed in on my defensive craft over the years and I think up until the Championships I was definitely a defender, but I also want to be an attacking player who can go into the ruck and the forward line.
“A huge goal of mine for this year was to become that ‘swingman’ and be able to play multiple positions.
“I knew my ability and I think some of the things I’ve achieved have shown that, but I set the bar pretty high and it’s still raised higher than what I achieved throughout the year.”
De Koning doesn’t have to look far from home for an example of how to play as a forward/ruck. Elder brother Tom has spent two years at Carlton in such a role, appearing in two AFL games (both in 2018) since being selected with pick no.30 in the 2017 AFL Draft.
Tom De Koning averaged 11 disposals, four marks and 12 hitouts per game across 11 VFL matches for the Northern Blues in 2019 and his off-season training program gave Sam an insight into the standards required at the top level.
“A lot of my off-season work was about the physical stuff and getting my skills to a great or even elite level,” Sam De Koning said. “I did so many extra sessions over the holidays to get better.
“Tom had a 10-day break from Carlton and I worked a bit with him then. We worked on our skills together, but he had his own program with a lot of running and gym work. I just tried to stick with him in the running and then he went off to the gym.
“Working at that AFL standard was huge for me and it really built my confidence going into the season.
“Tom got swept away after the 2017 draft and hasn’t lived at home since, but I think our bond is really close when he does come back. He’s such an inspiration for me, because he’s living out the dream I want to live out at the end of the year.”
NAB LEAGUE ‘FAST FIVE’ QUESTIONS
Most influential person on your football at Dandenong:
“Gareth Snow, my back-line coach. He really helped me this year, not only with my back-line craft but my leadership in the team. Our defence was filled with bottom-age players who didn’t have much experience at the level and he asked me to step up as a leader. I really appreciated that.”
Most valuable lesson learned in the NAB League:
“Just how to be a good person on and off the field. You don’t just affect your own life as a football player but also those of the people around you. I think being a good clubman comes ahead of everything else.”
Teammate you’ve most enjoyed sharing the NAB League journey with:
“Ned Cahill. We’ve come all the way through the ranks at the Stingrays together. His family is basically my second family and we have a bond we’ll share for the rest of our lives.”
Most difficult NAB League opponent:
“Harrison Jones (Calder Cannons) is a NAB League player I found hard to play on in the Under-18 Championships. He’s so active off the ball and just keeps you guessing. Whenever a forward can get you off your own game, that’s a huge thing. I had to re-evaluate everything and start defending him first before I tried to get the ball myself.”
Most memorable NAB League moment:
“Probably just being part of the squad when we won the flag last year. Although I wasn’t in the Grand Final side, there was a great culture and a great feeling at the club at the time. We all contributed over the year to that win.”
* CLICK HERE to see other stories in our 2019 AFL Draft Watch series.