Trends in football change on a weekly basis, but the role of a hard tagger has gone out of vogue in 2017. Gone are the days of Mick Malthouse playing three in a midfield with the focus now moving toward team defence. A good run-with player in 2017 needs to be able to do some damage going the other way and can’t just be a passenger. Connor Blakely is the epitome of this concept.
Ross Lyon has always been criticised for not putting any trust in young players, but he’s backed Blakely in since early 2016. The 21-year-old picked up a lot of the slack when Nathan Fyfe went out injured and averaged 20 disposals for the season. Since moving to a more permanent tagging role in 2017, he’s had big jobs on the likes of Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Ziebell, quelling them while in the midfield, but struggling when they push forward.
The third-year Docker has been a consistent contributor since coming into the side in the middle of 2016, showing all the makings of a decent contested midfielder. His last fortnight in particular has put him on the map. While his opponents, Luke Shuey and Zac Merrett have gotten quite a bit of the ball, he’s done a good job at limiting their effectiveness while hurting them the other way. Against the Bombers, he gathered 29 disposals at 79 per cent efficiency, nine marks and four clearances. He picked up 15 of those disposals in the final quarter and was vital to Fremantle’s comeback. Meanwhile Merrett had 28 disposals, but faded out of the game with only nine in the second half.
Blakely was taken at pick 34 in the 2014 National Draft after putting together a strong highlights package for Swan Districts in the WAFL. Coming in as a bigger bodied midfielder who had experience playing senior footy, he’s been rated as the likely successor to David Mundy in the Fremantle midfield. At 188cm and 90kg, it’s not hard to see the similarities. Mundy had 20 disposals against the Bombers, but it would be interesting to see Blakely’s performance with the veteran out of the side. Modern day midfielders are getting bigger with every draft and Blakely fits the mold of how a young contested midfielder should be playing at 21.
From a Fantasy perspective, Blakely looms as someone to keep an eye on, but isn’t quite relevant just yet. He had a mare in round two, scoring 17 points, but if you remove that the midfielder is averaging a solid 86 points. You only have to look at his performances for Peel Thunder in the WAFL last year to see this guy is capable of getting plenty of the ball. Blakely had 38 disposals in the WAFL Grand Final and won the Simpson Medal for best on ground. At his best, Mundy was certainly a fantasy relevant player and 2018 could be the year Blakely puts his hand up as an under-priced premium midfielder.