By Nick Creely
If the draft was purely based on resilience and determination, Dandenong Stingray utility Aiden Bonar would almost be the first player picked by an AFL club.
Despite hardly playing any football over the past couple of years, the 190cm power athlete has risen up dramatically into a likely first round draft selection, and has finished 2017 with barnstorming results at TAC level and in the Draft Combine.
After two consecutive knee reconstructions that have left him consigned to the rehab rooms, Bonar finally got back on the field to play six games for the Stingrays and a historic premiership with Haileybury College.
“I was stoked to not just win the premiership (with Haileybury), but just to be back playing with my mates, and just getting out on the field and playing football has made me really happy,” he said.
“In my last game and the Combine results, it’s given me a lot of confidence heading into the draft on the 24th – I’m just really happy.”
Despite only looking forward to what is set to be an exhilarating month in his life, he concedes there was times where he doubted coming back.
“The first knee I did (meant) I didn’t know what was going to happen, to be honest, and my parents didn’t either – but the second one I had my manager, and I thought it’d be a bit more of a smooth process,” he said.
“It was the AFL dream (that drove me to come back), I’ve always wanted to, and my family as well – mum would come to all my rehab session and my PT sessions – when I got my licence she still came.”
While Bonar is busy digging his heels into his VCE exams, he’s also been sitting in front of a range of AFL clubs, all considering drafting the enigmatic talent.
“It’s been a really good experience talking to a few different clubs, and I think being yourself during the interviews is important – meeting different people has been great but they don’t give you much,” he said.
“You don’t know probably until the night (where you’ll go), but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter as long as you’re drafted.”
While Bonar has been mixing his time between forward and defence, ultimately he sees himself playing as a powerful inside midfielder.
“I think as soon as I can build my tank I’d like to be a midfielder – I haven’t had a pre-season in two years so as soon as I can do that I’d want to move in there – I’ll add versatility whether it’s down back or forward and stints in the middle too,” he said.
“I’m fully fit and ready to go for the pre-season.”
His captain at the Stingrays in 2017, Oscar Clavarino, said that Bonar has all the attributes to be an elite AFL player.
“He’s starting to really get reward for effort now – I saw him back at Under 16 level and he’s an amazing player,” he said.
“It was unfortunate he went down with a knee, and then a second a year later, so seeing him come back through his rehab and stay resilient, it’s quite amazing to watch.
“I think he’s a mid – with a good pre-season under his belt, he’ll easily push his way into a midfield at AFL level and just bullock through.”
As the 2017 AFL Draft – which will be held at the Sydney Showgrounds on 24 November – creeps closer as each day passes, Bonar will keep things simple, and hope to enter his first day at an AFL club in pristine condition.
“At the moment, as soon as exams finish I’ll just be with my very closest mates – I want to be with my family as well, and I also have personal training and just get prepared for the pre-season,” he said.
And Bonar is certainly excited to see how the Stingrays go at the draft table in 2017, with as many as seven or eight players likely to be snapped in either the AFL draft or AFL Rookie Draft.
“The Stingrays are full of talent with Luke (Davies-Uniacke) and Hunter (Clark), but also with other boys like Tom De Koning and the others who went to the State Combine like Tom Murphy and Riley D’Arcy,” he said.
“It’s been a really good year for the Stingrays boys,” he said.
POSITION: General Forward/Inside Midfielder
Draft Range: 7-20
Possible Clubs: St Kilda (Picks 7 and 8), Western Bulldogs (9), West Coast (13), Sydney (14), Brisbane (15)