By Nick Creely
Through all the sacrifice and hard work that youngsters have put in all over the country, it all came down to Friday night’s AFL draft, where local TAC club Dandenong Stingrays had one if it’s finest in recent memory.
In total, the Stingrays had three players taken in the first round, and two players taken in the second, with just one player selected by an interstate club.
“It’s outstanding – we’re really happy for our program, and a lot of people do a lot of work, not just at the Stingrays, but all the junior and interleague coaches – it’s great for our area,” Stingrays coach Craig Black said.
“We’re rapt for these boys – to have two boys at the Saints as well is great.”
At pick 35, Berwick local Oscar Clavarino was snared by St Kilda, with the 195cm intercept king joining fellow teammate Hunter Clark as another Stingray to head to Linen House.
As co-captain of the Rays, and of premiership side Haileybury, Clavarino will be ear-marked as a future leader of the Saints, and one that could step straight into AFL level and have an impact.
“(I’m) really excited – I just can’t wait to be a part of it, and I guess it’s a boyhood dream come true,” Clavarino told Saints Media.
“To a degree it was relief (being drafted), but also excitement – I’m just really happy, and it’s been a dream of mine for so long now, and it’s finally come alive.
“It’s an opportunity to further myself as a person and on the field as well.”
The St Kilda media team was on hand to deliver Saints fans an insight into Oscar’s family and home, with cameras set up to capture the emotional reaction after having his name read out.
St Kilda List and Recruiting Manager Tony Elshaug described the young key defender as a “good leader”, with Saints fans excited to see how the defender’s career will unfold.
“We think he is made of the right stuff and as an 18-year-old key defender we think he fits perfectly onto our list. He also played at the Dandenong Stingrays with Hunter, so a couple more Stingers through the door. He’s a Berwick boy who went to school with Josh Battle out at Haileybury,” he said.
“We’re really pleased to have Oscar on board.”
After initially being touted as the Stingrays’ sixth number one draft selection, game breaking midfielder Luke Davies-Uniacke was selected with pick number four to the North Melbourne Football Club after surprisingly slipping down the order in what could be the biggest steal of the draft.
As a big bodied midfielder, Davies-Uniacke will add instant class, grunt and leadership to a young Kangaroos midfield, and showcased his immense talent by dragging the Rays back from 50-points down in an elimination final this season.
“I’m over the moon – it’s so surreal, you kind of pinch yourself to see if it’s true and it’s so surreal,” he told SEN radio moments after being drafted.
“I am pretty level about everything – there was a bit of talk (in the media), but I’ve stayed underneath my shoulders and taken everything in my stride.”
St Kilda was the next to pick up a Stingray, selecting midfielder Hunter Clark with pick seven, with the Saints maintaining their commitment to drafting local talent.
The Peninsula boy will add toughness, versatility and an ability to play off a half back or as an inside midfielder after a stellar best-and-fairest season with the Stingrays.
Clark’s selection to the Saints means they now have 10 former Dandenong Stingrays on their current list.
It only took another four picks for another Stingray name to be read out, with powerful utility Aiden Bonar selected with pick 11 to the GWS Giants.
After initially touted as a number one draft pick, Bonar endured a cruel luck with injury with two consecutives knee reconstructions, but bounced back superbly to storm into first round draft selections by playing a pivotal role in a Haileybury College premiership and during the Stingrays’ finals campaign.
But Bonar will add an element of x-factor to the Giants, where he will initially start as a third tall forward before transitioning into an inside midfielder similar to that of Sydney captain Josh Kennedy.
Tom De Koning was the next to realise his dream, with Carlton selecting the ruck/forward with selection 30 of the draft.
The 200cm big man is a terrific set shot at goal, can play as a ball winning ruckman, and was vital for the Dandenong Stingrays in stages of the TAC Cup before a lacerated kidney ended his season prematurely.