By Peter Blucher
AFL draft guru Callum Twomey is an unabashed Will Ashcroft fan. So much so that he says the boom Brisbane Lions’ newcomer has served the best AFL ‘apprenticeship’ in history.
Now back in Queensland after a short stint in Melbourne for family reasons, he won just about everything on offer in his draft year.
He captained the Vic Metro team to the division one title at the Australian Under 18 Championships, won the Larke Medal as the carnival’s best player and was named captain of the All-Australian Under 18 side plus captained the Sandringham Dragons to the NAB League Under 18 premiership, won the Dragons best-and-fairest, was best afield in the grand final and was named captain of the NAB League Team of the Year.
“Comparing players from different years isn’t easy, especially when you understand that a player like Nick Daicos didn’t even play at Under 18 level in his draft year because of Covid,” said one of the game’s most respected voices on the AFL talent pathway.
“But you can’t do any better than he (Ashcroft) did last year. And he would have won that by 20 votes if he’d played all year.”
Even though he missed much of the U18 season due to representative football – and one game with the Lions in the VFL in which he was judged best afield – Ashcroft finished 4th in the Morrish Medal.
So, if you think you’ve heard a bit about young Ashcroft and Queensland football history lately, get used to. It’s going to happen for the next 15 years – at least. Just as it did in the Lions’ outstanding win over Melbourne at the Gabba in the unforgettable ‘lights went out’ game last Friday night.
He made more Queensland football history when, in his second AFL game, he had 31 possessions, a goal and an equal game-high high 9 clearances and 15 contested possessions, to be judged the second-best player on the ground by the coaches.
Ashcroft polled eight votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award on the votes of Brisbane coach Chris Fagan and Melbourne counterpart Simon Goodwin, beaten only by ex-captain Dayne Zorko (10).
Ashcroft, the Round 2 nomination for the NAB AFL Rising Star Award and an early favourite for the overall award, was the quickest and youngest Queenslander in AFL history to post a 30-possession game.
At 18 years 322 days he was 237 days younger than Dayne Beams when he had his first 30-possession game at Collingwood in 2009 aged 19 years 194 days.
Equal third on this list, 102 days older at 18 years 296 days, were Scott McIvor at Fitzroy in 1986 and Michael Voss with the Brisbane Bears in 1992, while Marcus Ashcroft, father of Will, was fifth youngest at 19 years 312 days with the Bears in 1991.
Ashcroft Jnr was two games quick to 30+ than Adam Oxley, who had 30+ in just his fourth game at Collingwood in 2015. Zorko did likewise in his 8th game at the Lions, while Brisbane’s Cheynee Stiller was next quickest at 12 games in 2006, from Beams at 14 games.
Ashcroft was the 28th Queenslander to register a 30-possession game in the AFL 46 years after Wests junior Robert Shepherd was the first at Fitzroy in 1977.
In chronological order, others have been Dean McRae (1982), McIvor, Craig Potter (1988), Hawthorn’s Stephen Lawrence (1990), Ashcroft Snr, Steve McLuckie (1993), Voss, Clint Bizzell (1998), Jason Akermanis (1999), Stiller, Josh Drummond (2007), Joel Macdonald (2008), Sam Gilbert, Beams and Jarrod Harbrow (2009), Nick Riewoldt (2011), Zorko, David Armitage and Josh Thomas (2013), Lee Spurr (2014), Oxley and Tom Bell (2015), Josh Smith (2016), Lachie Weller (2017), Jack Bowes and Ben Keays (2021), and now Ashcroft Jnr.
Round 2 of the AFL saw a string of good performances by Queenslanders.
Zorko, who missed much of the pre-season and Round 1 with a hamstring complaint, had 22 possessions and kicked goals despite playing only 54% game time to be best afield against Melbourne.
New Lions co-captain Harris Andrews was another standout, with in his best game in some time. The only Brisbane player to play 100% game time, Andrews had 22 possessions for six coaches votes to rank behind only Zorko and Ashcroft.
Suns reject Jack Bowes played his first game for Geelong against Carlton at the MCG last Thursday night, and despite missing an important late goal would have pleased coach Chris Scott. He had 20 possessions, including 13 contested possessions – second only to Cats captain Patrick Dangerfield.
North Melbourne’s Bailey Scott enjoyed back-to-back wins for the first time in his 57-game career as the Kangaroos beat Fremantle by a point in Perth. He had 12 possessions.
Gold Coast’s Lachie Weller made a seamless return from a knee reconstruction following Round 12 last year despite not having any sort of official practice match. Only 295 days between games, he had 24 possessions, third on the Suns’ possession list, despite playing only 77% game time in their loss to North.
And Port Adelaide’s Charlie Dixon continued his good start to the season with 14 possessions and three goals in a bad loss to Collingwood at the MCG.