‘Freaky’ teen is all primed to be a top pick, writes Jes­sica Hal­lo­ran

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT - NICK BLAKEY

Down near Coogee Beach at dusk, usu­ally on a Tues­day, you’ll find an AFL cham­pion and his son kick­ing for the love of the game. Here at Coogee Oval, John Blakey, a 359-game, two-time premier­ship player for North Mel­bourne, has a weekly kick with son Nick, one of the bright­est AFL hope­fuls in the coun­try.

Nick is touted as a near-cer­tain first-round AFL draft prospect.

There’s a big buzz about the tall, ag­ile, 18-year-old in AFL cir­cles.

But his dad, a long-time Swans as­sis­tant coach, has never placed a speck of pres­sure on him to fol­low in his foot­steps.

“Dad is just big on me mak­ing my own name,” Nick said. “I am not the same foot­baller as him.

“I am way taller. He was a half­back man and I am a cen­tre half-for­ward. We are dif­fer­ent play­ers but he’s been huge in my devel­op­ment.

“We speak af­ter every game and he tells what I need to im­prove on and what I have done well. He leaves the coach­ing purely up to my coaches — but I love it (his ad­vice).”

In re­cruit­ing cir­cles, Nick has been de­scribed as a “freaky player”. “A gun”. A player who has the abil­ity to pro­duce stun­ning foot­ball; that goal from the boundary line you wouldn’t think pos­si­ble. A foot­baller who can emerge from the bot­tom of a messy pack of bod­ies and sprint away with the ball.

“He’s the type of player that can leave you think­ing, ‘how did you just do that’?” an AFL club re­cruiter said.

State man­ager of talent for AFL NSW/ACT Dar­ren Den­ne­man said the 196cm for­ward was “well in tune” with the game.

“He’s a ver­sa­tile player, he’s got re­ally good size, he’s su­per ath­letic, he can re­ally play any­where,” Den­ne­man said. “He has an abil­ity to ac­tu­ally adapt re­ally well to the role he plays whether that be mid­field, up for­ward, I could see him play­ing down back cer­tainly.”

“He’ll go early (in the draft) you’d ex­pect … they are ob­vi­ously talk­ing about him a lot.

“From my per­spec­tive, we want play­ers from AFL NSW/ACT to get on to AFL lists and it doesn’t mat­ter if they go No. 1 or 101.”

As a kid, Nick would just “rock up and run” at state ath­let­ics cham­pi­onships and dom­i­nate mid­dledis­tance races.

When he was 12, he went to a na­tional ath­let­ics cham­pi­onships to run the 800m and, on the back of lit­tle train­ing and no coach, ran sec­ond.

Soon, he found run­ning bor­ing with­out a footy in his hand.

So he worked hard, in­spired by his dad, for an AFL ca­reer.

Nick spent count­less hours train­ing and play­ing. Hours prac­tis­ing drib­ble kicks. Hours nail­ing quick snaps at goal to long 50m goals on the run. He said his hard­train­ing dad was a “role model” when it came to his prepa­ra­tion.

“He got the best out of his body when he played and had a very long, suc­cess­ful ca­reer,” Nick said.

And while it is his dad who has shaped him as a foot­baller, Nick said it is his mum who de­serves credit for teach­ing him how to kick as a lit­tle kid. “Early on, Mum was the one that got me to the park to have some fun with the footy,” Nick said.

Be­cause of John’s stel­lar ca­reer at North (224 games) and time at Fitzroy (135), Nick was el­i­gi­ble to be taken as a fa­ther­son se­lec­tion by both the Kan­ga­roos and Bris­bane Lions but in­stead he has nomi- nated the Swans as his pre­ferred club for 2019. He was el­i­gi­ble to do so af­ter spend­ing his ju­nior years in the Swans Acad­emy.

Nick said his time at the Acad­emy and NSW Rams had been a “huge” in­flu­ence on his ca­reer.

He will rep­re­sent the Al­lies in this year’s un­der-18 cham­pi­onships with the first game to be played at Spot­less Sta­dium on Satur­day.

While Nick’s heart is in Syd­ney — and whether he plays for the Swans will de­pend on how the cards fall on draft day — his great­est am­bi­tion is to just play AFL.

“If I got the chance to play at the Swans, that would be my pref­er­ence but any­thing can hap­pen on draft night,’’ he said.

“If I was drafted to any club, I would be happy.

“It wasn’t that hard a de­ci­sion (nom­i­nat­ing the Swans), ob­vi­ously see­ing what Dad did and win­ning a few pre­mier­ships there at North Mel­bourne, but Syd­ney is home.

“I am mates with a lot of other boys here. If I could stay here that would be great but, if not, that’s foot­ball. I will play for who­ever.”

Main pic­ture: Do­minic O'Brien

Nick Blakey at Padding­ton’s Trumper Park; (insets) Syd­ney coach John Long­mire with Nick’s father, John; young Blakey as a ris­ing star and (be­low) play­ing.

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