Dawson eyes AFL future

It was just before the Under-16 Championships, and Liam Dawson wasn’t sure of what he wanted.
Injuries had meant the 16 year-old was lacking in physical preparation and he was becoming disillusioned with the game he loved, almost considering giving it away altogether.
It took a conversation with state coach, John Rankin, to encourage him to even go to the championships, and that decision became the turning point of his fledgling career.
As a result of his performance in Queensland’s championship winning team, Dawson was selected in the AIS-AFL Level One Academy, and has since become one of Queensland’s highest-rated draft chances.
“We had a bit of a chat on the phone…and he said, ‘You’ve got the talent but you need to come to these state championships and be a part of this strong team and I think you can really contribute.’”
“It was really good that Johnny gave me the opportunity. I had no fitness really and a bit of a bad time before that and that really helped me out.”
Rankin recalls that conversation and said his aim was to relieve the pressure that Dawson put on himself at a young age.
“I generally think that if players are happy, they’ll play okay,” he says.
“The kid can kick, mark and jump and I just wanted to establish that trust between he and I and I think that enabled him to feel more comfortable.”
Rankin also decided against giving Dawson the U16s captaincy this year, allowing the teenager to play without the added expectation, a decision which has helped the utility flourish.
Dawson’s warm, friendly nature belies his indecision, and in just over a year since, he has his eyes firmly fixed on cracking the AFL.
As a bottom-ager in this year’s U18 championships, Dawson was an undeniable standout for Queensland.
Playing mainly at fullback, Dawson was among the state’s best in every game they played, earning him All-Australian selection, as well as inclusion in the AIS-AFL Level Two squad.
That squad was on the Gold Coast recently, for their first camp of the program, an experience Dawson says has been invaluable.
“They’re all great guys and I really enjoy hanging out with them again,” he said.
“This is a good opportunity to play with the best guys in Australia and it’s been a really good experience for myself, Lachie (Weller) and Matty ( Matthew Hammelmann).”
Dawson has been part of an elite match-day environment as well, having played for the Lions reserves in the first part of the NEAFL season.
A reasonably serious footy follower, Dawson found himself lost for words in the Harrup Park sheds on ANZAC Day, alongside one of the AFL’s greats, in Simon Black.
“Before the game, sitting in the same room as Blacky made me more excited,” he said.
“I was just blown away, with his Brownlow and all those accolades. To be in the room with him was an awesome experience,” he said.
Black has been somewhat of a mentor for Dawson this year and has encouraged him to work hard on every aspect of his game.
“He said to me you’re a really good kid, just don’t drop down keep working on the little things,” Dawson says.
“Really try to improve your strengths but also work on your weaknesses. Keep working hard and just don’t stop.”
In the back end of the season, Dawson injured his Posterior Cruciate Ligament in his senior debut for Aspley, which kept him out for the best part of four months.
Dawson has focused on keeping his knee right, and was back training in time for the AIS-AFL camp on the Gold Coast.
Likened to Hawthorn premiership player Josh Gibson, Dawson has many of the attributes of an athletic half-back player.
Outside of Rankin, Dawson says his family and Under18 coach, Ray Windsor, have been his biggest supports.
With his parents divorced, Dawson enjoys a close relationship with his mum, Beverley, one of his greatest supporters in every situation.
“My mum is my biggest supporter,” he says.
“All my family are really proud and supportive and if I didn’t make the top level they would still be proud.
“I just enjoy everything I do and I have that back ground support it’s really great as well.”
Dawson’s enthusiasm was well-noticed by Windsor this season, who says the youngster stood out with his work ethic as a bottom–ager.
“He imposed himself on the team more than some of the other bottom-agers,” he said.
“He just wants to be better and works hard to do the extras.”
Next year is set to be the biggest of Dawson’s career, and while it’s too early to be fielding calls from recruiters, he has an idea of where he stands.
Attending this year’s draft shed some light on what to expect next year, and Dawson has a friend in Jono Freeman who can give him firsthand insight into that process.
“(Jono’s) one of my good mates. He just got back from Arizona and said it was a good experience, but it’s really hard to get there and hard to keep up and stay there at the top level,” he says.
“Some Melbourne kids I know as well and it’s kind of good to have their feedback.”
After the AIS-AFL camp, Dawson goes into Lions Academy training ahead of the Queensland state selection and the Harrison Medallist hopes he can prove an even greater versatility in 2014.
“Hopefully, once I get my knee right, and get my fitness next year I can push through the midfield,” he said.
“I’ve shown I can play back and forward and that would be good to give me all the strings to the bow,” he said.

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