Top WA draft prospect Dom Sheed gives an insight into the lead-up to the big day.
I start the year in one of the toughest ways possible, sweating it out with the rehab group at Subiaco. I'd loaded up pretty heavily on leg weights in the off-season to try and improve my explosive running and ended up getting some groin soreness, so they have backed me off early. They put the rehab group in a room called the sweat box and we do a lot of boxing, the kind of training that makes you wish you were doing 3km time trials! I start running again about a month before the start of the season and slowly build things up. One of my goals for this season is to cement a spot in the Subi league side, so when our new coach Jarrad Schofield, who worked with me in the State academy the year before, names me for our first game I am pretty excited to get out there and get stuck in. I have a decent game, but I know I will have to earn my spot all over again when I get back from the AIS tour of Europe.
Before we go away there is an exhibition game against Collingwood's VFL side at the MCG. We play pretty well but they have some seriously good players available, and I am lucky enough to spend some time on Dale Thomas. What I try to take away from it is the way he uses his body at stoppages and is always on the move. Clearances are a huge part of my game and something I'm always working on.
The AIS trip is something I have been looking forward to for a while. Part of that is because we are going overseas, I've only been to Bali before, and part of it is because I always love the feeling of playing alongside, and testing yourself, against the best players in the country. Everyone is so professional in the way they go about things and I like to think it takes my game and my preparation to a new level. We travel all over Europe but I have to say London is my favourite city. I'm not sure why exactly, there's just a great feeling around the place. We play the European Legion in Guildford and beat them by 86 points, then we split the squad in two and play a game in Denmark. It is a shocking day for footy, with freezing, strong winds but it isn't a bad game. Really I am just happy playing alongside the boys, I think being here naturally makes you lift and I'm hoping to take some of the lessons we learn back to the WA under-18 side.
The Europe trip is also one of our first chances to talk with recruiters from all the AFL clubs. We do a big "speed-dating" session and touch base with all of them, not so much talking about footy, they just want to get to know you.
The week after getting back we are straight into training for the under-18 championships and I am lucky enough to be named captain of WA. We have introduced the Leading Teams program this year which means it is a player vote, which is pretty special, and it is also the first time I have captained a team. All of my teammates have to come to the front of the room and say why they have selected me as captain. Seeing how much faith the boys have in me gives me enormous belief. We are coming together pretty well, but nobody gives us a chance of winning, which motivates us to come out firing in our first game against Tasmania at Aurora Stadium. We kick four goals to none in the first quarter and end up comfortable winners. I have a pretty good game, with 32 touches and eight clearances, so it is as good a start as I could hope for.
The win gives us some confidence going into our second game against Northern Territory back home at Brownes Stadium, but for some reason we start off really sloppy. It seems like they want the footy more. Luckily we find another gear in the second half and end up winning pretty easily. I am happy with the way I play again, but more pleased to see guys like Jonathon Marsh and Clem Smith standing up and helping lift the side. Despite the two solid wins, we know the real test will come the next week against Vic Metro, our first division-one match-up.
Everyone is pretty nervous about the game, we know all the recruiters will be watching, and I think it shows early. Tom Boyd tears us apart in the first quarter before getting injured and while we manage to come back late, the Vics do enough to win the game. I am pretty dirty on myself if I have a bad game and this one is right up there. I hate losing, especially in big games and I feel I didn't handle the spotlight well this time around.
Our next game is against Vic Country in Geelong and I have set myself for a big day. In a way I don't mind the pressure a bad game brings, the coaches and my teammates are looking for me to bounce back and I want to stand up for them as well as myself. As it turns out the game is a ripper. We are down at three-quarter time and end up winning when Cameron McCarthy kicks a goal after the siren. I kick four goals and find the footy a fair bit, so I am pretty relieved. But footy can be a cruel game sometimes and I end up watching Macca kick the goal from the bench after breaking my collarbone.
It is frustrating watching the last game. The boys play well, but South Australia are just too good in the end and end up breaking their championship drought. Going on to the field for the presentations, I don't believe I am any chance to win the Larke Medal. My tip would have been Josh Kelly or Matt Scharenberg. It is obviously a huge honour to be judged best in the carnival but the best thing about it, is the way it lifted the boys after a pretty tough day of footy. I'd be lying if I didn't admit the plane ride home is much easier with a medal around my neck rather than just a broken collarbone.
I go in for surgery about six days after getting home. Sitting at home resting is a stretch for me so I am pretty bored. One thing keeping me busy is the number of clubs wanting to catch up with me after the carnival. I think 12 or 13 have ended up coming to my house for meetings. There has been plenty of talk about West Coast being keen on taking me with their first pick but they certainly haven't given me any guarantees or anything. I start doing some training as my collarbone recovers, but I also use the time away from footy to go back to Kalgoorlie and see my dad and brother and the rest of the family in September.
The combine is an interesting one for me. I am underprepared because of my injury but a lot of clubs tell me to do the testing anyway and see how I go. Apparently the recruiters are more interested in the way you go about the testing rather than test results, which is good for me because I base my game more on footy smarts rather than outstanding athleticism. I speak to eight clubs while I am here - West Coast, Fremantle, Sydney, Collingwood, St Kilda, Hawthorn, Carlton and Geelong - but anything is possible on draft day.
I don't plan on doing too much between now and the draft. I'll keep training on my own, start running harder and get myself ready to hit pre-season with a full head of steam. It's a weird feeling leading into the draft, I know plenty of people think I'm going to West Coast already, but I honestly don't know what's going to happen. I've done all I can do so it's just a waiting game now. It doesn't matter who reads my name out on Thursday. I'll just be stoked to be given the opportunity to fulfil my dream of playing AFL footy.