By the second half of the season, the majority of the AFL draft pool has announced itself to the professionals and amateurs who go about ranking and assessing all the U18 prospects around the country. Even so, the NAB AFL Draft Combine invite list always manages to throw up a surprise or two, and this year, Gippsland’s Matt McGannon was the player that everyone wanted to know more about.
With Power drawn only a handful of games in metropolitan Melbourne, and with no exposure to the Championships or Vic Country trials, McGannon plied his trade with minimal fanfare yet continued to win admiration from the people that counted. Even with a solid season of footy, however, the call of a Draft Combine invite while holidaying in Thailand came even as a shock to him
“I’d only had talks with a few clubs, not too many, so I was a bit surprised when I got the nod for the national combine. I was just stoked with the outcome and excited. I was thinking maybe state and if that doesn’t happen, just keep playing good footy for the rest of the season,” he explained.
“I heard a big pop, so I was fairly worried about torn ligaments”
The smooth-moving wingman returned from his break refreshed and on top of the world, ready to justify his invitation with a strong showing at Frankston against the Stingrays. A couple of clean possessions early whet the appetite, before disaster struck.
“I heard a big pop, so I was fairly worried about torn ligaments,” McGannon stated.
His seemingly perfect week had taken a turn for the worse. In the action of a smother, the Waratah Bay local severely rolled his ankle and was stretchered off the ground. While he struggled to hide the disappointment on his face when wheeled past an applauding grandstand of Gippsland family and friends toward an ambulance, a mature and balanced mindset soon took over.
“I had a fair few people around me telling me that’s footy. You’ve played a good patch of footy and your name is out there. That’s the message I got and I didn’t stress too much about the injury, just take my time (to recover),” McGannon described.
Thankfully, a diagnosis of lateral and medial ligament strains was a better than expected outcome, giving hope that he could return to the field by the end of the season. The injury would need rigorous attention to build strength and flexibility, but a stint on the sidelines during his bottom age year provided valuable lessons to the commitment required in rehab.
“I had a big preseason on the hard grounds and got stress fractures in the lower back. It was a bit more than half the year out. It was probably my first real big injury, so it was a learning curve,” he noted.
“He blows our GPSs up each week, he has a really high work rate”
McGannon has impressed many internally with his work ethic and attitude during the recovery process, displaying character and personality traits that are common in successful AFL environments. Gippsland Power Talent Manager Peter Francis can’t fault his application.
“He loves to take on a real challenge. He’s done really, really well with his rehab since he’s hurt his ankle. He’s had two years where he has been injured and has had to do a lot of rehab to get back, but just ticks every box as they say and he is very professional in the way he prepares for games and everything he does,” Francis stated with pride.
That professionalism is just as prominent when on the field, as his natural running ability and agility coupled with hard work off the field has been a key factor to an ultra consistent season.
”Sometimes he looks like he’s not moving quick, but he actually is really quick. He blows our GPSs up each week, he has a really high work rate. Sometimes you’re a little bit surprised as he probably has that laconic sort of look, but he is actually working really hard,” Francis continued.
The long stride of his running action is well complimented by the class McGannon possesses with ball in hand, with skills on either side of the body an obvious strength. Much like Hunter Clark, there are times when you question whether he is right or left footed, and for the record, he is the former.
“I pride myself on using the ball, I like to be the person to go to with the ball. Ever since I was young I’ve liked to use both sides of my body,” McGannon explained.
The AFL traits are difficult to ignore, but there are still areas of his game that need work and development. Recruiters would like to see consistently higher disposal tallies and more efficient offensive positioning to fully utilise his assets. Excluding the game where he went down injured early in the first quarter, McGannon has averaged 17.58 possessions in the TAC Cup competition this year. Raising that number to a range of 20-25 would make him an even more attractive commodity.
“I’ve had a few people around me telling me to go in for the handball receives a lot more. It’s been one of my main drivers,” he said.
A breakout game at Bendigo in Round 3 proved that he is more than capable of high possession games though. Playing mostly wing and half forward, he gathered 27 disposals to be one of the best players on the ground and spark initial interest from clubs.
“That was definitely one of my better and higher possession games. I was involved all day and hit the scoreboard, so that was one of my better and favourite performances,” McGannon said.
A successful one on one match up against the highly rated Jaidyn Stephenson continued to provide belief and confidence, before expectations had to be reassessed to an extent due to continually consistent performances. While the injury has been a minor setback, it has created clear timelines and targets to reach for as the season comes to a close.
“Obviously I’d like to get up for next week and then build a bit of form to the finals, see how far we can go there. Then get in peak fitness for the combine, hopefully test really well and put my name up there for the draft night. That’s what I’m looking forward to,”
Draft bolter is a term that has been thrown around when describing the man affectionately known as Moose, but in reality, he has been on the radar all year. Possessing a 27th of December date of birth, he is still a baby in terms of draft eligible players and has enormous scope. His father Barry was a prominent player for Sandringham, so the football bloodlines are there, but “mum reckons I get all my athletic ability from her,” he chuckled. With a few Melbourne based clubs circling, you would imagine McGannon’s mix of skill, endurance and excellent character will be difficult to resist come November.