Club: Geelong VFL/Colac
Previous Club: North Warrnambool Eagles
Position: Inside Midfielder
At this time of the year, it is easy to focus solely on the TAC Cup and National Championships to find talent for the draft, but it is important for clubs to investigate other pathways. Some players are late developers, or get missed completely in their junior years for various reasons, and have no choice but to hone their skills at local level. The Geelong VFL program is developing a reputation of firstly identifying these types from country clubs and then teaching them the standards required to be professional sportsmen. The Cats have a great track record in recent times with the likes of Scott Thompson, Shane Mumford and Tom Ruggles all currently succeeding at AFL Level. The club looks set to potentially produce another draftee in 2016 with inside midfielder Sam McLachlan generating external discussion with his VFL performances.
Sam McLachlan had a number of VFL clubs interested in his services at the end of 2015 after a breakout season with Hampden Football League club North Warrnambool. McLachlan was constantly producing prolific performances which ultimately saw him win the Eagles best and fairest award. McLachlan originated from Colac where he made his senior debut as a 16-year-old, before his family moved west and he found himself at North Warrnambool. He was a regular member of the senior side as a 17 and 18-year-old and by the end of his third season had established himself as one of the star midfielders of the competition. McLachlan also got selected to represent the Vic Country U19 side and was named second best in a 49 point win against the VAFA. Becoming a regular contributor in a hard and physical competition like the Hampden league as a teenager is impressive enough, but McLachlan had developed into one of the better footballers in the region and knew it was time to test himself at a higher level.
The polished on-baller decided to complete a preseason with the Geelong VFL squad, which meant he could stay closer to home and represent his junior club Colac in the Geelong Football League when not required at VFL level. McLachlan has exceeded all expectations, becoming a regular for the Cats and not even getting the opportunity to play for Colac as yet. He made an immediate impact for Geelong, gathering 23 disposals as the 23rd man in the Round 2 loss to the Northern Blues, and has not looked back since, playing 11 of 12 games and becoming a permanent member of the midfield rotation. He has averaged 18 disposals and kicked eight goals, despite playing limited minutes at times. The Cats have had some big names return to the side in recent matches, but it hasn’t affected McLachlan’s contribution and his impact remains strong.
Sam McLachlan is a nicely sized inside midfielder who is especially clean around the stoppages and in tight confines. He is a brilliant decision maker in a contested situation, whether it be extracting to his teammates or ensuring the ball is held in when the opposition threatens. He has a knack of getting his seemingly long arms free and releasing the ball when appearing restricted. He is capable of big clearance numbers, collecting tallies of eight and seven against the Northern Blues and Sandringham respectively. Defensively McLachlan is noticeably aggressive and physical toward his opponents, ensuring his presence is known at a contest with a strong tackling technique. On the outside, he is competent by foot and lowers his eyes when the option presents. He also possesses a natural goal sense and while he has never kicked multiple goals at VFL level, he has hit the scoreboard in eight of 12 matches. In his final year for North Warrnambool, he kicked multiple goals in 11 of 19 matches to prove his scoring worth.
While McLachlan has shown promising signs at VFL level in 2016, there is only a small sample size of quality performances for recruiters to judge him on. Having not played TAC Cup, McLachlan didn’t get an opportunity to prove his strengths against opposition his own age as a junior. At VFL level he is yet to produce an eye-opening big possession performance, with his biggest disposal tally being 24 against North Ballarat in Round 3. At 20 years of age, there is an expectation for his numbers to naturally increase as he adapts to the standard. He is, however, restricted with the amount of midfield minutes given, as Geelong has an understandable focus toward developing it’s AFL listed players. Mature aged prospects don’t usually get an opportunity without serious runs on the board at state league level, but Sam McLachlan is a slightly different case study and most likely an exception to the rule due to his obvious scope.
Sam McLachlan is making some noise in recruiting circles despite not possessing the same profile and hype of his underage counterparts. While still regarded as a relative unknown and draft smoky in the public eye, a good finish to the season in a strong Geelong VFL side will soon gain greater attention. He possesses AFL attributes that I believe are too good to ignore.