AFL Talent Ambassador Kevin Sheehan continues his weekly look at a number of AFL Eye-Catchers, this week focusing on Vic Country co-captain and Murray Bushranger Lachlan Ash and a number of the interstate players awaiting Country and Metro in the remaining games of the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships.
One of the primary reasons Vic Country are unbeaten in its two matches to date in the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships has been the eye-catching performances of its co-captain in defence, Lachlan Ash. He has read the play superbly across half back with his ability to intercept and then use his foot speed to make line breaking dashes, a real feature of his team’s performance. He’s also in the top echelon of players for consistency this year averaging 24.8 disposals in five matches for his Murray Bushrangers as well as 25.5 disposals in his two games for Vic Country with his 30 disposals last match against the Allies at 73% efficiency very impressive.
Ash’s ability to win the ball one-on-one, set up the play using his hands and then link up with handball receives (14 handball receives vs Allies) has provided his team with great rebound. His voice and direction which can be heard and seen from the stands, a strong indication of his leadership and confidence. He is also a one touch player below the knees – always the sign of elite potential.
Ash comes from good footballing stock in the Murray region with his father Stephen being an inductee into the Goulburn Valley Football League Hall of Fame in 2016 after a distinguished career of over 300 games, winning numerous Best and fairest awards for Shepparton Football Club as well as the competition’s Morrison Medal on two occasions. He also played for Albury Football Club in the Ovens and Murray League for a couple of years winning two premierships.
At 186cm and 80 kgs, Lachlan Ash has the athletic and football traits of a former Murray Bushranger who has become a star with North Melbourne in Shaun Atley. Both arch the back and are prepared to take on the opposition backing their speed and ability to bounce the ball at full tilt – exciting assets for the AFL game today.
In the only match in the Championships played at the weekend, Western Australian ruckman/tall forward Luke Jackson continued to build on his AFL Draft profile with another strong eye-catching performance as his team lost to reigning titleholder South Australia by 11 points.
Jackson’s ruck craft, follow up at ground level and athleticism were features for the second week running with his 35 hit outs, 14 disposals , 3 tackles and 5 clearances putting him among his team’s best performers.
Only 12 months ago Jackson was on the International Youth Basketball stage representing Australia with distinction at Under 17s level in a World Cup in Argentina in front of NBA and USA College scouts. Shortly after he made the decision to focus on AFL as his professional sporting dream, and from what we can see unfolding, he’s very much on track to achieve that goal.
From East Fremantle, Jackson’s aggression, tackling, intensity and second efforts makes this 198cm and 94kg follower an extra midfielder around stoppages, not unlike Collingwood star Brodie Grundy at the same age. Grundy was also a basketballer at state under aged level coming through before showing promise at Under 16s level for South Australia ahead of committing to the AFL pathway and starring to win All Australian Under 18s honours playing for his state in 2012.
Jackson is stilling developing his footy IQ under the tutor ledge of former West Coast Eagles and Sydney Swans ruckman Mark Seaby and given he doesn’t turn 18 years until September this year, he still has plenty of scope to learn and further develop his natural gifts.
An eye-catcher for South Australia was a youngster who first developed his craft in Mildura before heading to St Peters College in Adelaide and joining Norwood, in its 183cm and 70 kg midfielder in Dylan Stephens. Having already played five matches this year at senior level and handled himself well averaging 17 .6 disposals (including 25 p vs West Adelaide) Stephens is a left footer which draws comparisons to current GWS Giants star Josh Kelly.
Like Kelly, Stephens has that great combination of natural speed and endurance as well as being a great decision maker with the ball in hand. He has the footy smarts. A smooth mover who can play on the inside or outside- on the weekend he played predominantly on the outside for South Australia gathering 23 possessions (9 contested) laying 6 tackles in a solid opening performance in the championships.
Stephens will be in action again this weekend at home in South Australia as it plays host to a Vic Metro side chasing its first win in what promises to be an exciting contest. It’s the second of a double header fixture at the home of Port Adelaide, Alberton Oval with the earlier match to be played between Western Australia and the Allies.