Gold Coaster James Mulligan on Saturday will become the 10th Queenslander to debut in the AFL this year.
Thursday, 2 June, 2011
James Mulligan, one of the forgotten members of the Queensland AFL family, will make a long-awaited senior debut for the Western Bulldogs against Geelong at Skilled Stadium on Saturday.
In his fourth season at Whitten Oval and his second on the senior list after two years as a rookie, the 199cm former Southport key position utility got a call-up 43 days short of his 22nd birthday.
Astonishingly, his debut selection came 61 days after he began the 2011 season with Bulldog affiliate club Williamstown in the VFL Reserves.
Mulligan, though, was rewarded for consistently good form in the VFL as the Dogs look to resurrect a season that has gone horribly wrong.
He’s played the last seven weeks in the VFL Seniors and has been named among his side’s best four times, including a best afield performance in a 40-point win over Casey last weekend.
Mulligan’s opponent was none other than ex-Carlton and Brisbane full forward Brendan Fevola, who was held to three goals by the close-checking of the player who will wear No.31 at AFL level (pictured).
Mulligan will be the 10th Queenslander to debut in the AFL this year behind Gold Coast’s Zac Smith, Charlie Dixon, Karmichael Hunt, Marc Lock, Rhys Magin and Joey Daye, and Brisbane’s Claye Beams, Broc McCauley and Bryce Retzlaff.
Born in Moree (NSW), Mulligan did his early schooling in Toowoomba before moving to the Gold Coast in 1999 to board at The Southport School.
Having excelled in rugby and athletics in his youth, he did not take u
p AFL football until 2005 but he played with the Australia Post Queensland Young Scorpions U16 side in his first season.
He missed much of the 2006 season with shin splints, but in ‘07 broke into the senior side with AFLQ premiers before playing with a Queensland Scorpions U18 side captained by Broadbeach’s Dayne Zorko which even before Mulligan’s selection had produced five AFL players.
Bulldogs teammate Sam Reid was among this group with Hawthorn utility Brendan Whitecross, Melbourne ruckman Jake Spencer, Gold Coast’s Daye and one-time Essendon rookie Rhys Magin.
It also included Adam Spackman, who had a stint on the rookie list with the Lions.
Mulligan, a superb athlete, admits he was “shattered” when overlooked in the 2007 AFL National Draft on 24 November despite a strong showing at the AFL Draft Camp and a string of encouraging interviews with AFL talent scouts.
But it was a short-lived emptiness. Seventeen days later, after Mulligan had enjoyed a holiday in Phuket, his dream became a reality when he was drafted by the Bulldogs.
He was snapped up with selection No.4 in the 2008 AFL Rookie Draft by then Dogs recruiting maestro Scott Clayton, now at the Gold Coast.
After spending 2008-09 on the rookie list at the Dogs he was promoted to the senior list in 2010 but, plagued by hamstring problems, he spent much of the year in the VFL Reserves and never seriously threatened senior selection.
When Mulligan joined the Dogs he was one of eight Queenslanders at the club, alongside Mitch Hahn, Jason Akermanis, Tom Williams, Ben Hudson, Jarrod Harbrow, Paul O’Shea and Reid.
But Williams, whose switch to centre half forward last week has indirectly opened up a key defensive role for Mulligan, will be the only fellow Queenslander in the side that will take on unbeaten competition leaders Geelong on Saturday.
Of the others, Akermanis has retired, Hahn was offered only a veteran rookie contract this year and is playing in the VFL alongside Hudson, who, after finishing sixth in the senior B&F last year, was dropped last week.
Harbrow defected to the Gold Coast Suns this year, O’Shea was delisted at the end of 2009, and Reid, who played his first senior game of 2011 last weekend, is on the injured list.