Former Victoria under 12s coach Andrew Nichol has the rare title of coaching nine of this year's AFL draftees at the same time.ZACH HUBBER December 5, 2012 11:53am
Back Row (L-R): Luke McDonald, Dermott Prout, Serge Campana, Jayden Gee, Matthew Haynes, Edmund Demirdjian, Gene Palazzo. Third row (L-R): Nathan Hrovat Jack Macrae, Jonathan O'Rourke, Anthony Bonaddio, Joe Daniher, Nick Tuddenham, Oliver WInes, Don Stanley (team mentor). Second row (L-R): Terry Plozza (chairman of selectors), William Maginness, Lachie Whitfield, Ben Irving, Ryan Exon, Dean Rodgers (manager). Front row (L-R): Daniel Castellano, Brad Couch (dep. vice capt) Craig Wilson (asst coach) Jason Pongracic (capt), Andrew Nichol (coach) Jack Viney (vice capt), Sam Heavyside. Photo by winkipopmedia.com.au
When you have five of the top-10 AFL draftees in one side, you know you are onto a good thing.
But when they are all aged 12 or under, you might not realise how much of a good thing you really have.
That was the reality for former Victoria under 12s coach Andrew Nichol, who coached the side in a national carnival in Darwin in 2006.
The team included number one draft pick Lachie Whitefield, Jono O’Rourke (pick two), Jackson Macrae (six), Ollie Wines (seven), Joe Daniher (10), Nathan Hrovat (21), Jack Viney (26), Brad Crouch (mini-draft) and Luke McDonald (2013 draft).
2006 AFL Exchange Victorian Team photo taken in Darwin, NT. Photo by winkipopmedia.com.au
Nichol, an assistant coach with Melbourne, said he remembered the team as a ‘‘really good group of players’’.
‘‘I remember we had to play about six games in seven days and one day was a double-up, so that was a fair introduction to professional football in the Darwin heat,’’ he said.
‘‘We never picked the side on where we thought (the players) would end up, but purely as the best 12-year-olds.
‘‘I think it’s about six or seven that get drafted each year from the under 12s side on average, so this year was above that.
‘‘But they certainly weren’t the best group I had.’’
Nichol coached the under 12s for seven years and had many of today’s AFL stars under his tuition, but he said the idea at that level was to give them a taste of what being a professional footballer was all about.
‘‘You try and create an environment, a real snap shot of what being professional looks like,’’ he said.
‘‘We used to give them ice vests at half-time and things like that, but mainly we tried to teach them about themselves.’’
Nichol denied having a huge influence on any of the draftees he had coached, saying instead he just enjoyed crossing paths with the players.
‘‘I suppose through my journey and coaching paths I continue to cross some of the players,’’ he said.
‘‘To see them grow up as young men is rewarding and satisfying, especially to see what they do on the ground.
‘‘I guess there’s a sense of pride because they’re all good kids. You see them get a chance to live their dreams.’’
One of the players Nichol had already come by was Viney, whom he had fond memories of at the Darwin carnival.
‘‘From a Melbourne point of view I remember getting him to stand up on a table and tell the team what wearing the Victorian jumper meant,’’ Nichol said.
‘‘He was so single-minded and driven and pretty much said it was the first step to becoming an AFL footballer and it kind of grabbed everyone.’’
Of Echuca’s Ollie Wines, Nichol said nothing had changed since he was an 11-year-old.
‘‘It’s really funny. A lot of people talk about the variety of kids that come through the under 12s program and I say they play exactly the way they used to,’’ he said.
‘‘The way Ollie plays now is a bigger, stronger version of the way he played in the under 12s.
‘‘He was a strong kid who loved a contest, whose hands were good in traffic and kicked the ball reasonably well.’’
Of all the players from that 2006 side, Nichol said a player by the name of Anthony Bonaddio was the standout, but ultimately did not get drafted because he barely grew.
He also recalled one of the worst concussions he had seen when Whitfield was knocked unconscious after being on the wrong end of a sling tackle.
But as the years and drafts trickle by, Nichol said he would enjoy watching the players whose lives he had been part of, particularly if they produced a flag for the Demons.
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