From the day Ryan Maric kicked four goals for Gippsland in their season opener against the Murray Bushrangers, it was almost destiny that he would land on an AFL list.
On Wednesday night, the destiny was fulfilled when the West Coast Eagles snapped him up with the first pick of the mid-season draft.
It’s only a small sample size, but historically, those that land the first pick in the mid-season draft have typically not had much luck, and those drafted have not been heralded as highly as others.
Josh Deluca only spent six months on Carlton’s list after the inaugural draft in 2019. Jacob Edwards in 2021 was viewed as a long-term prospect, but he’s not even close to pulling an AFL debut. Jai Culley in 2022 was starting to show his talent this year before a season-ending knee injury pulled the plug on that.
The Eagles are in a dire spot, and this piece is not a hit job from a Victorian about how an interstate club has stepped in it; all parties here understand this side’s situation.
I fear for West Coast fans that they’re going to have to endure a similar process that Adelaide and North Melbourne before them have gone through beyond this year; They currently have 18 players on their list that are 22 or younger, but how many of them can really crack in for their next premiership contending side?
Reuben Ginbey is proving that he belongs this year. Elijah Hewett and Noah Long have shown glimpses of talent in the games they’ve played. Campbell Chesser has had an awful start to life as a footballer, combating numerous injuries since being drafted at the end of 2021.
Then there are guys like Harry Barnett, Coby Burgiel and Jack Williams, who have the potential, but still need to debut or have had minimum experience at the top level.
With guys like Rhett Bazzo, Luke Edwards, Xavier O’Neill and Brady Hough, there’s something to work with, but aside from Bazzo – who is highly rated internally – which player is really going to push themselves to get as close to the elite bracket as possible?
All up, that’s 12 players – counting Jai Culley – who have a future at the top level in this Eagles side. But given that the Eagles are in a period of making a hard transition, they need as many talented kids in the door as possible.
This is why the decision to draft Ryan Maric makes sense. There was a strong consensus that he was the best talent available from a shortlist of overage under-18 players and mature-aged, state-league players.
They land themselves an 18-year-old with good height, a great skill set and athleticism that can wow people the more he gets exposed to AFL level. Barring injury, this kid will be a best-22 player for the Eagles in the following years.
The tale of him losing nearly 25 kilos since the Covid-19 pandemic has been flaunted heavily this week, but it is a testament to his hard work and his endeavour to be as good a player as possible. And he’s reaped the rewards in many aspects this year.
His 2021 was interrupted by glandular fever; things began to take off last year when he played for Drouin in the Gippsland League. A bag of four goals against Sale in the Gippsland League was then backed up with six goals against Moe a few weeks later.
Overlooked in last year’s draft, Maric’s work ethic in an uninterrupted pre-season has been one of the big keys to his rise this year. With this, it enabled him to be a better runner and more equipped to push himself to influence contests beyond the 50-metre arc.
He was most recently seen for Box Hill in the VFL, and against senior bodies, he looked as comfortable as he did when he was playing against those more in his age group. He kicked two goals against Essendon, following up from his debut against Southport that saw him have four shots on goal in return for 2.2 – all the while combining 27 disposals, 11 score involvements and 12 marks in those two games.
Before that, Maric averaged 19 disposals, 6.7 marks (1.7 contested) and seven score involvements for Gippsland in the Coates Talent League, booting eight goals from just three matches.
It’s always hard to translate form like this from lower levels into AFL footy, but I can easily see Maric backing up his form for West Coast. Given their injury problems, it gives him an excellent opportunity to get a taste of senior footy sooner rather than later.
At 193 centimetres, he’s not quite at the height or size that we see behemoths like Tom Hawkins, Tom Lynch or the 200 centimetre-plus guys like the King twins, Harry McKay or Eric Hipwood. But he’s got the mobility and an aerobic capacity that can really push as the third string forward.
As an aside to Oscar Allen – who is producing a career-best season for the Eagles, and yes, he’s definitely got the points over Aaron Naughton this season for those who know – he’s a great fit in the forward half.
Allen has shown the past couple of years that he’s a great contested grab, and he looks set to take on the best defender every week – and the fact that he’s averaging over 2.5 goals per game in the worst side in the competition is bloody insane.
Regarding comparisons for Maric, I’ve heard one or two made to Bayley Fritsch from Melbourne; yeah, that’s an exciting call – probably closer to the right than wrong. Because Fritsch is one of the more proactive forwards on the ground.
As a mid-sized forward, Fritsch is a good lead towards the ball, but then once ignored, he finds himself drifting into a dangerous space while his direct opponent tries to anticipate where the ball will land. What makes him double as deadly is that he’s a highly reliable set shot for goal.
There’s no doubt Maric has the work rate and the skills to be a 30-40 goal-per-season player in the AFL, but the question remains whether he has the intelligence to be in the right spot as consistently as Fritsch.
With that said, there will be opportunities to learn how to be a consummate professional at the Eagles from guys like Luke Shuey and Shannon Hurn while they are still there. There’s no doubt that these younger players lean on guys like them, who have been through the ultimate success and hellish lows the club is experiencing.
While there remains debate about what the Eagles should do with their first-round draft pick this year, which currently stands at pick one. Whether they draft Harley Reid to build their midfield around or offload it for a handful of selections within the top 12 and a future for good measure, all of that remains to be seen.
What we do know now is that the Eagles are on the road to rebuilding, and while they got a good start last year, adding a tall forward of Ryan Maric’s calibre is indeed a step in the right direction.
You know who’s a great bloke? The Doc. You can buy him a coffee for the work he does by clicking the link below. I’m sure he’d greatly appreciate it.