AFL fi­nal dream in just his third game

Deniliquin Pastoral Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JAMIE LOWE

This time last year De­niliquin’s Todd Mar­shall was pre­par­ing for a fi­nals se­ries with the Mur­ray Bushrangers in the TAC Cup, the coun­try’s pre­mier AFL breed­ing ground.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive side for this re­gion’s finest foot­ballers is known as the ‘Bushies’ and stretches from Deni to Wan­garatta, tak­ing in the tal­ent-rich ar­eas of Al­bury and Shep­par­ton. They stormed into the grand fi­nal, only to fall at the fi­nal hur­dle.

But the heartache of that grand fi­nal loss is now but a dis­tant mem­ory for Mar­shall, the side’s star for­ward who went on to be­come the num­ber 16 pick in the AFL draft later that year.

Yes­ter­day the 18 year-old was se­lected in the Port Ade­laide side for its elim­i­na­tion fi­nal against West Coast Ea­gles at Ade­laide Oval to­mor­row night.

It will be just his third game at AFL level — in front of an ex­pected crowd of around 50,000 scream­ing Port fans. This match will su­per­sede any of his ju­nior footy ca­reer high­lights and makes Mar­shall the first De­niliquin foot­baller to play an AFL fi­nal since for­mer Syd­ney Swans star Leo Barry, whose fi­nal game in a glit­ter­ing 237-game ca­reer was a semi fi­nal against the Western Bull­dogs in 2008.

And while Barry’s rise into AFL ranks was al­ways likely, Mar­shall’s wasn’t as cer­tain de­spite his ob­vi­ous tal­ents as a ju­nior foot­baller.

It was the gen­tle­man’s game that could have col­lected Mar­shall’s ca­reer path af­ter the 198cm sports­man was se­lected as an off­spin­ner in the NSW school­boys cricket team in 2015, and he de­cided to con­cen­trate on his tal­ent with the Kook­aburra in readi­ness for a UK tour with the state team.

De­niliquin’s Wayne Pitts, who coached Mar­shall in both footy and cricket as a ju­nior, said he could see the po­ten­tial early in his play­ing days.

‘‘It was very nat­u­ral the way he played both cricket and footy,’’ Pitts re­called.

‘‘He was well ahead of the rest with his cricket and was quite de­vel­oped with his skills.

‘‘When he was young he was gan­gly but the way he cov­ered the ground and the level of his skills in footy, you could just tell he was some­thing spe­cial.

‘‘It’s just fan­tas­tic to see him thrive in footy.

‘‘I be­lieve he could’ve made it in ei­ther sport, but I think he just had more of a pas­sion for footy in the end.’’

Af­ter Mar­shall’s UK cricket tour, footy quickly called him back af­ter he was in­vited to join the Bushrangers.

But the de­ci­sion of which sport to pur­sue wasn’t an easy one, ac­cord­ing to Mar­shall’s father, Rob.

‘‘A lot of kids at that young age have to choose be­tween sports,’’ he said.

‘‘There would’ve been a bit of pres­sure on him. He came to Mary (mum) and I and said that he wanted to play footy.

‘‘He thought it might up­set us, but it didn’t. I said to him, ‘What­ever you want to do is your choice’.

‘‘I think he en­joys his footy more be­cause there is more mate­ship and it’s a more team ori­en­tated game com­pared to cricket.’’

But Mar­shall’s start at the Bushies didn’t quite go as planned, with a bro­ken bone in his hand hin­der­ing his time on the park dur­ing pre-sea­son.

He worked through the pain and com­fort­ably made the fi­nal 51-man squad with the Bushrangers’ hi­er­ar­chy lik­ing his agility and run­ning and jump­ing abil­ity.

He played in round one, kick­ing three goals in their win over the Bendigo Pioneers.

Mar­shall went on to play a one-off game for the GWS Giants re­serves side in the North East Aus­tralian Foot­ball League, a part of the GWS Academy Zone, in amongst a stel­lar sea­son as a key for­ward in the TAC Cup comp.

But it was the seem­ingly in­no­cent GWS match that cre­ated some con­tro­versy, with his name in the head­lines fol­low­ing a de­ci­sion reached by the AFL that GWS would not get pri­or­ity ac­cess to the tal­ented for­ward, de­spite him be­ing a part of the academy’s zon­ing.

This left the then 17 year-old avail­able to all AFL clubs in the draft later that year, block­ing out the drama and not hin­der­ing his on-field per­for­mances.

‘‘Todd made an im­pact early (at the Bushies),’’ Rob re­called.

‘‘By his third game we had dif­fer­ent agents tap­ping us on the shoul­der want­ing to rep­re­sent him.

‘‘He played for the NSW/ACT Rams side and then he was se­lected for the Al­lies in the Un­der 18 na­tional car­ni­vals, and then we had AFL re­cruiters vis­it­ing us. It was a bit of a whirl­wind.’’

It wasn’t long af­ter that Mar­shall was dubbed the best key for­ward in the AFL draft, and with good rea­son.

In his first year in Ade­laide he’s played 16 games for Port’s SANFL side kick­ing 23 goals, in­clud­ing hauls of three and five ma­jors in his last two games for the Mag­pies.

A five-goal last quar­ter in the lat­ter game was enough for Mar­shall to be se­lected for his AFL de­but, against the Western Bull­dogs in a his­toric match played in Bal­larat.

The rookie col­lected 10 touches, three marks and laid four tack­les for 50 AFL fan­tasy rank­ing points in an im­pres­sive first-up ef­fort.

Mar­shall’s pres­ence in the side has been her­alded with help­ing the de­fen­sive pres­sure while drag­ging a key de­fender away from Port spear­head Char­lie Dixon, who has slot­ted eight goals from two games with the young­ster by his side.

De­spite the fan­fare, the qui­etly spo­ken teenager is tak­ing it in his long stride (so much so he pre­ferred not to talk about the up­com­ing fi­nal with the PT). ‘‘That’s Todd,’’ Rob said. ‘‘He doesn’t re­ally like the at­ten­tion, he just loves play­ing footy, and he’s lov­ing his new life in Ade­laide, which we’re very thank­ful of.

‘‘We can’t thank the Port Ade­laide Foot­ball Club enough for their sup­port.

‘‘I can’t speak higher of (coach) Ken Hink­ley and the rest of the coach­ing staff with how good they’ve been to Todd and all of us as well,’’ he said.

‘‘The club can’t do any more for us and have been so help­ful with get­ting Todd set­tled into life in Ade­laide.

‘‘He has plenty of great team­mates too who have re­ally wel­comed him with open arms.’’

Rob and Mary and some other proud fam­ily mem­bers will travel to Ade­laide for to­mor­row’s game, and they couldn’t be more proud.

‘‘We’ll be in Ade­laide for the week­end to watch the AFL fi­nal on the Satur­day and the SANFL semi fi­nal on the Sun­day,’’ Rob said.

‘‘Just a few weeks ago I had the priv­i­lege of pre­sent­ing Todd with his jumper and that was the great­est feel­ing I’ve had in a long, long time.

‘‘But to see him line up for a fi­nals game at the top level will be an un­for­get­table mo­ment.’’

■ The elim­i­na­tion fi­nal be­tween the Power and the Crows will be­gin at 7.50pm (AEST) and can be seen on Prime 7 on free to air TV.

De­niliquin’s Todd Mar­shall con­tem­plat­ing to­mor­row’s fi­nal along­side some of his Port Ade­laide team­mates ear­lier this week.

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