By Nick Creely
Chances are that Cody Weightman’s freakish debut mark and goal from deep in the pocket on Friday night will be replayed for many years to come.
The skill, the poise, the game sense and more importantly, the courage to take his chance – it was one memorable AFL debut from the Beaconsfield, Dandenong Stingrays and Haileybury product for the Western Bulldogs over the weekend.
The youngster – drafted with pick 15 in last year’s National Draft, and one of the first taken from the Stingrays last season – made an instant impact on the big stage at Metricon Stadium when he climbed high to take a contested mark in the pocket in the first quarter, before bending a 40-metre checkside straight through the middle of the big sticks.
It was as impressive as a first disposal at the highest level could possibly be.
In a debut where he continually chased the Essendon defenders, provided a presence whenever he was near it, and took his chances when they presented themselves in front of goal (slotting two majors for the evening), one thing stood out more than anything – it was impossible to wipe the smile off the face of a young player just honoured to be out there.
Adding to his incredible debut was the fact that experienced midfielder Mitch Wallis – a mentoring figure and a player the youngster lived with when he first came to the club – handed him his playing jumper when the debut was announced last Wednesday.
The rising star told the Gazette that after doing all the hard work to get out there, and biding his time, it was an incredibly satisfying experience on the night.
“I didn’t get in the team at the start of the season, and I was probably a bit frustrated, but I just needed to work on a few things, but once I was able to put my best foot forward I got my opportunity,” he said.
“I found the game at first so quick, and was taken by that a bit, but I did expect it to be honest.
“And as time went on and the game went on, I felt like I found my feet and I could really belong – the game was so fun to be a part of, the boys really got around me and made me feel like I belong at the level.
“That went a long way to me having an okay game, but the team having success on the night.
“I had an absolute blast.”
Weightman said that coach Luke Beveridge’s advice throughout the week was a major catalyst for his ability to not overthink the game and approach it with an open mind.
“Bev just wanted me to relax, enjoy the experience and play my natural game on instinct, really,” he said.
“The boys getting around me was also really comforting, and I felt like I just needed to do what I do, and see what went right and what went wrong.
“He had a really open approach with me, and it really helped on the night.”
But was what going through Weightman’s head when he took a soaring mark deep in the pocket and prepared for his first kick at AFL level?
“It was quite interesting – I spoke to some of the boys after the game, and I honestly wasn’t really thinking a lot, so it probably helped having a clear head,” he said.
“I took the mark, and having that first touch is a relief in itself, so I was already on a positive note – I looked inboard and felt there was nothing that was overwhelmingly a better option.
“The best thing was I didn’t think about the post-result, whether it be celebrating, or missing, nothing like that was going through my head, and fortunately it helped me a lot.
“I backed myself, and I’ve always done that growing up, so I did that and fortunately enough it worked – there’s probably other players that would prefer to pass that one off, but for me, luckily I backed myself in and it went my way on the night.”
Whether it be for the Dandenong Stingrays in the NAB League, captaining Haileybury in the school competition, or with his local club Beaconsfield, the small forward has always had this same beaming smile across his face, and an infectious attitude that has rubbed off on his teammates. He also has football traits that basically can’t be taught.
In an incredible football journey that actually saw Weightman win his first premiership for his local club Beaconsfield in the Under 19s less than two years ago, where he won best afield on a rain-soaked day, to dominating for Haileybury as its captain in a three-peat in 2019 and the Dandenong Stingrays where he lit up Shepley Oval, the youngster said he’s been blessed to be involved with some incredible football programs.
“I’ve been quite lucky with the journey I’ve been able to take with school footy, the Stingrays and the local area footy,” he said.
“I didn’t even realise its been under two years (since winning the best afield medal with Beaconsfield) – it was a horrible day with the weather and they had a bloke all over me that day so it presented its own challenges.
“It was my first premiership technically, they don’t do the same set-up with the school ones, so that was a special moment.
“It was a different lead-up for me having not being able to play a lot of footy with those boys with the other commitments, but fortunately enough I was able to have a game that helped get our team over the line.
“Likewise with my AFL debut, its one i’ll remember for a long time.”
On a proud night for the Stingrays, Essendon also debuted fellow small forward Ned Cahill, a close mate of Weightman’s, and while the Bomber forwards found it tough going, the energetic youngster held his own and looks a player for the future.
Cahill ended the night with seven disposals, but provided great forward pressure and very nearly got on the end of a goal in the dying seconds of the contest.
Weightman said it was a particular honour to be debuting together with his great mate, despite being on opposing sides.
“We’ve become really close over the last few years, and to share the same special moment with him was even more than the dream,” he said.
“That was amazing, and even just having the moment after the game with him – you’ve got so much adrenaline going through you and its quite a bizarre feeling to be honest, and to share that feeling with him was pretty special.
“I have a little journal I write in, and it’s something I put in there as one of the highlights of the night.”
With Weightman entrenched in hub life in what has certainly been a different debut season at AFL level, the youngster spoke of how his mindset and approach are helping him forge forward.
“It’s a completely different contrast to what we were expecting coming into the year, but for me, its about the mindset you approach it with,” he said.
“As much as there is glooming negativity about what’s happening, and there is some scary stuff going on, there are overwhelmingly positive things poking its head out and you can pay a lot of attention to that.
“We’re definitely some of the fortunate ones at the moment, and a lot of people are doing it tough, so its always important to remember that.”
Weightman’s Doggies will come up against the red-hot Gold Coast Suns on Thursday night at Metricon Stadium, in a clash the youngster expects to be hotly contested.
“They’re playing some great footy, for sure, and I think it’s their first blockbuster game,” he said.
“There’s absolutely no doubt they’ll come to play, and we expect our mob to do the same thing, so it sets the scene for a really good contest.”