Stingrays professional leader turning heads

Harry DeMattia's instructions on-field are impossible to miss for onlookers. 372685 Picture: JAZZ BENNETT

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Inexorably linked with any story about quick Dandenong first-round draft prospect Harry DeMattia is his multi-sport background.

He’s been exposed to high performance programs since the age of 12.

Firstly as skipper of a junior Australian indoor cricket team; mostly in outdoor cricket and footy.

For much of that time, he’s had a captaincy tag, for all of it he has carried the responsibility of leadership.

“From about under-12s, I’ve had those thoughts about how I can help people around me get to the same direction and same place I want to get to, and that usually buys into team success, which flowed into this year at Dandenong,” the Stingrays co-captain revealed.

“Those conversations I have with people, it’s important that I show people that (what I’m saying) is coming from a good place, constructive and trying to better them.

“I want to get them in a better direction in the long term, even if they may not see it short term, because if you keep letting those habits happen, it’s just going to stem into a bigger issue.

DeMattia could speak about leadership for hours.

He watches extra vision to familiarise himself with the structure of different lines so he can better communicate with players.

In preseason, when he was sidelined for six weeks, he was busy learning about structure and strengthening ties with teammates to understand how to support them, alongside his own modified training.

“When a player gets injured we give them a program to guide them, but the intrinsic motivation is up to the athlete to drive it and do it themselves: there is no-one better than him,” said Stingrays coach Nick Cox.

“No-one better.

“And that’s why he’s where he’s at.”

A common theme teammates discuss about DeMattia is his way with words: on-field he instructs like an army corporal, off it he sets spirits, supports, inspires and delivers clear messages.

The standard-setting which comes naturally from his sporting background also didn’t go unnoticed.

“People are falling in love with his leadership and it’s not fake: he doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, it’s what it is,” coach Nick Cox said.

“His leadership is second to none.

“He wouldn’t ask someone to do something he couldn’t do and he wouldn’t ask someone to do something he knew they couldn’t do.

“He made players accountable and made our club better.”

To streamline his focus on-field, ‘impact’ and ‘consistency’ were two words which anchored his mindset, materialising clearly in his own game but discussed with inherently selfless decorum.

“I wanted to be a ruthless player and ruthless person around the club but make it a really enjoyable environment to walk into every week,” DeMattia said.

“I wanted everyone to walk into the program and then leave and be better in every aspect and that’s not just players,.

“It’s people around the club, families and the girls program.

“I put the onus on myself to go and develop people when I’m out there as well and also being honest and critical when I need to be on myself or other people if their training standards aren’t up to scratch or they’re not willing to buy into the values and direction we want to go.”

The left-footer finished in the top five at the national combine for the 20-metre sprint which is something he continued to strengthen in 2023 with Rays high performance coach Ben Benson.

The teenager’s explosiveness, strength and versatility were all features of his footy this year, averaging 19 disposals and five tackles for the Stingrays, playing mostly on the ball.

For Vic Country, the Edi-Asp junior averaged 14 disposals and four tackles.

“The great thing about him, wherever he plays next year, he can shut someone down, he’s relentless in that area and forward he can play a role because of his running ability as well,” Cox said.

“He’s got some real top-end attributes to his game which will help him fit in anywhere.”