Every year, dozens of teenagers suffer the pain of being overlooked at the AFL National and Rookie drafts.
In 2016, Liam Baker from Western Australia was one of the players to not be selected despite dominant outings for the WA U18s Academy and West Perth.
Yet, a transfer to WAFL powerhouse club Subiaco has reinvigorated the budding star.
“It’s my first season at Subi which has been pretty exciting for me and obviously playing in a few finals and in the grand final for the League side was something I wasn’t expecting to do at the start of the year, so it’s been a very good year for me personally and for the team,” Baker said.
And Baker has flourished since his move to the Lions. In 13 League games, he averaged 16 possessions, four tackles, three inside 50s, and three marks, playing primarily as a small forward.
“I think I’ve added a bit of a string to my bow with my forward side of the game, because last year I was playing mainly as a midfielder and stints forward. But this year I’ve played predominantly forward, and my forward pressure and tackling has really improved, and so has my impact on the scoreboard,” he said.
His finals form was also outstanding, with excellent performances against Peel in the Semi-Final (15 possessions, 6 tackles, 4 inside 50s & 3 marks), South Fremantle in the Preliminary Final (17 possessions, 8 tackles, 3 inside 50s & 3 goals) and against the Thunder in the Grand Final (19 possessions, 6 inside 50s, & 5 tackles).
“Definitely as a junior I thought the big games were where I played my best footy. I suppose I did have a few good finals so that’s good, so if I’m bringing that into my senior career, the senior pathway will be very exciting and something a lot of players pride themselves on and something I pride myself on as well,” he said.
The culmination to his performances in 2017 saw him score an invitation to this year’s WA State Combine on October 19, which required at least two AFL clubs to have shown interest in him.
It follows his invitation to the AFL National Combine last year, when at least five AFL clubs had shown interest in him, and he believes some of the lessons he learnt helped him.
“From last year it was sort of just trying as hard as you can, sort of don’t give up with the 3km I did, that was the goals and the beep test. Just to keep pushing and pushing , it doesn’t matter if you’re that stuffed, it’s only 15-20 seconds and yeah as long as you know you’re putting in everything, it shows a lot of character as well.”
It certainly did help, with Baker registering an elite 21.5 in the yo-yo endurance test.
He credits the influence of Jarrad Schofield and Andrew Lockyer as critical to his development.
“Those two have been awesome, the faith they’ve had in me is just incredible, whether it was Locks last year in the 18s, he gave me a good run and Schoey this year. They must’ve seen something and given me the chance and I just wanted to repay them and hopefully, I did the best I can. They’re two guys who I respect very highly,” he said.
Still only 19-years-old, Baker’s best will be amazing to see. He is a proven goalkicker, provides elite defensive pressure and he has the ability to push into the midfield. The sky is the limit for the young star from Lake Grace.