By Nick Creely
AFTER toiling away at his South East Football League club Beaconsfield, Bailey Morrish was finally given the chance to prove his worth at Stingrays pre-season training in late 2015.
Fast forward 12 months, and the youngster is now preparing for life as a professional footballer.
The left-footed defender hasn’t gone through the conventional pathway of state representation, but a stunning rise late in 2016 has seen him become one of the most tantalizing bargains for any AFL club.
But despite being snubbed for state level selection with Vic Country, the Berwick youngster always remained confident he would thrive in an AFL environment if given the chance.
“It’s been a bit of a mixture of hard work and realizing my potential and what I can do – I was pretty unlucky to not get the Vic Country invite, but all you can do is go to TAC level and work as hard as you possibly can,” he said.
“Through pre-season, I always had the mindset to play AFL – I knew my potential but it was about finding my feet this season.
“It was obviously my first year of TAC for the Stingrays, but I always had the belief that I could make it.”
The 18-year old product is an enticing prospect for a club looking for a player with genuine leadership, athleticism and an ability to intercept the ball, and says a certain dashing Hawk is someone he has followed closely across the journey.
“I love to run and carry, take intercept marks and use my trusty left foot,” he said.
“Isaac Smith is certainly a player I’ve watched a lot – it’s just his run and carry, his skill and I’d like to take a few things from his game into mine. “
But it was the National Combine that Morrish proved his draft worth, starring in categories such as the 20-metre sprint, repeat sprint and standing vertical jump.
He believes that despite the surprise of others, his resilience and appetite to work hard have held him in good stead.
“I definitely did surprise myself and I’m sure others were too, but it was through a lot of hard work and years of training, it was just reward I guess,” he said.
Morrish had a consistent and exciting season for the Stingrays in 2016, showcasing his impressive distribution of the ball and ability to read the play, and says the TAC Cup was an experience he will always remember.
“It was my first full pre-season last year and this was my first year at TAC and I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said.
“It was a great experience, I’ve made new life-long friends and learnt new things and it’s just been awesome.
“It was my first year as a defender actually, and I just absolutely loved it.”
This impressive season culminated in another surprise call-up, this time in the Under 18s All-Stars game, in which he impressed with his elite foot skills.
But something Morrish loves even more and will treasure for the rest of his life is the prized memories of his junior days, something that reminds him of where he has come from.
“On my wall there are three premiership flags for Beaconsfield – Under 14s, 15s and 17s, that’s been some of my biggest highlights so far in the journey, “he said.
“Winning three in a row was just so special.
“They are days I will never get back and I’m really thankful for everyone for their ongoing support.”
With the National Draft ticking closer and closer, Morrish is going in with no expectations, knowing all too-well that anything can happen.
He is fully aware that he could either be taken by a club in his home-state, or he could be shipped off across the Nullarbor to begin a new phase of his life.
“All you can do really is just wait and hope for the best really,“ he said.
“It’s hard to never really know whether you will get drafted – you look at Tommy Glen last year and he spoke to a lot of AFL clubs and he had a great year – you just have to hope for the best.
“It was pretty daunting first up to be interviewed by a club – the more you have though the more you warm into it.
“I had one with a club and walking in to see the coach sitting there was pretty daunting, but you just be yourself and always be honest.”
But despite the unknown, Morrish insists he is determined to create his own destiny, no matter where the road leads.
“I think I’m 100% ready to go anywhere, I’m pretty independent and I’d love to go on my own path and if I go interstate I’m happy,” he said.
“Knowing my family and friends, they’d come up and visit heaps and I’m pretty sure the club would facilitate my circumstances if need be so that’s not an issue.
“I’m confident that if I am lucky enough to get an AFL game, I will know I have given it my all.”
But there are people in the young man’s life that he owes a lot to, in particular his parents and the Dandenong Stingrays for helping shape him into a person of character, honesty and integrity.
“Nick Cox, the defensive coach at the Stingrays, has done a hell of a lot for me this year in developing me as both a person and a player,” he said.
“I’d also like to thank Mark Wheeler for helping me and giving me a second chance at my dream.
“But mum and dad have been enormous for me and a great support base.
“I obviously wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents, taking me to training and what-not.
“They supported me and gave me the confidence to get the best out of myself.
“Also thanks very much to Hallam Senior College and Woodford Sports Science Consulting.”
Position: Half-back flank
Plays like: Isaac Smith/Elliot Yeo
2016 TAC Cup stats (averages)
Dandenong Stingrays – 18 matches
13 disposals, 3 marks, 2 tackles
Prediction: Morrish is a difficult prospect to place, and could fit a need for a club with a pick anywhere from the 20s to the 60s. Collingwood seems like a club that could really benefit from bringing an elite ball-user into its backline, and pick 51 could get Morrish down to the Pies. But Fremantle could also be a genuine option, and they possess pick 40. Other clubs in the mix are Adelaide (43), Carlton (63) and Essendon (68).