Submitted by Peter Blucher.
He’s been christened ‘the big Easy’ by the Adelaide media, but AFL football has been anything but easy for Crows forward Elliot Himmelberg. He’s had to be patient and work enormously hard. But finally it’s all starting to pay off.
Drafted from Redland with pick #51 in the 2016 AFL Draft, Himmelberg is now in his sixth season in the AFL and 32 games into his career. And at 23 he is looking very much like a fixture in the Crows forward line after a hot streak in Rounds 3-4-5 of the 2022 season.
But it’s been a tough ride. After spending his first season with the club playing in the SANFL, he debuted in the last game of 2018 and has put together year-by-year games tallies of 1-7-11-8-5.
In his first 29 games the 198cm blonde kicked 26 goals, and never more than two in a game. But in his last three he’s added 10 more, with consecutive hauls of 4-2-4.
First, after hauls of 1-0-1 in his first three Showdown appearances, he kicked four goals in the Crows’ Round 3 win over Port Adelaide. He had a game-high four contested marks – twice as many as any other player on the ground – and kicked impeccably for goal.
In the AFL Coach’s Association Player of the Year voting, in which each coach awards votes on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis, he was ranked the third-best player on the ground behind teammate Jacob Dawson, who kicked the after-the-siren winner, and Port’s Todd Marshall.
It was Dawson (10) from Marshall (8) and Himmelberg (6), so not only did Crows coach Matthew Nicks recognise the contribution of the big fella in jumper #34 but so too did Power counterpart Ken Hinkley.
In Round 4, when Taylor Walker returned to the Adelaide side with four goals in a loss to Essendon, Himmelberg did his share and again kicked accurately for two goals.
And then in Round 5 last Saturday, when the Crows beat Richmond by 19 points at Adelaide Oval, Himmelberg kicked four and provided an excellent foil for the in-form Walker, judged best afield with five goals.
Again Himmelberg was in the coaches votes. It went 10 to Walker and four each to Himmelberg and Crows defender Tom Doedee. So over the past three weeks only ex-captain Walker has polled more than the big Queenslander.
One Crows teammate who will not be surprised is 2018-21 club champion and 2017-18 All-Australian Rory Laird, who spoke glowingly of Himmelberg’s potential as far back as January last year.
Suggesting Himmelberg had only scratched the surface of his immense potential, Laird said: “The last six or seven games (of the 2020 season) he actually got a bit of continuity.
“It’s a bit different to the past couple of years with the age demographic of the group and the position that we were in last year versus 2017 and 2018 when it was right in the premiership window.
“Obviously that didn’t work out, but he was sort of in for a game, trying to find his feet, your head is spinning, then you’re out the next week, then you’re back for two games.
“They just made an emphasis of let’s keep playing him and see what he can do. His lateral quickness, the way he reads the ball, he’s got a mixed package of what he can do as a key forward.
“He’s a smooth mover as well. From what I’ve seen, he’s fit and has come back in good shape, and with a bit of renewed confidence in himself, the next step is right there. He could be absolutely anything.”
The lavish praise from such an admired teammate would no doubt have been sweet to the ears of Himmelberg, but perhaps not as sweet as a private moment back in Round 16 in the Covid #1 season of 2020.
It was his 17th game and his first against older brother Harry, who played his 80th game for GWS as the Crows hosted the Giants at Adelaide Oval.
Not only did the home side win by 12 points but Himmelberg Jnr figured in the coaches votes with 14 possessions (12 contested) and two goals in what at the time was the best performance of his short career. Himmelberg Snr went home empty-handed.
The pair, two years apart, are close. They had been teammates with Mangoplah Cookardinia United Eastlakes, based just outside Wagga, before both joined Eastlakes in Canberra.
But when the Himmelberg family moved to Brisbane at the end of 2014 the pair were separated. The older brother, a member of the Giants Academy but overlooked in the 2014 draft, chose to stay and play in Canberra.
It was a move that paid off for him. He was picked up by the Giants with pick #15 in the 2015 National Draft after Adelaide, ironically, had bid on him.
The younger brother was similarly welcomed into the Lions Academy when he moved to Brisbane and played for Queensland and the Allies in 2016 before a broken leg cut short his campaign.
Having missed the Draft Combine due to his injury, he was something of a wildcard in the draft. And having not met the equivalent residential qualification which had given GWS the right to match the bid on Harry, he was an open target.
Brisbane took Hugh McCluggage at pick #3, Jarrod Berry at #17, Alex Witherden at #23 and Cedric Cox at #24 in the second round. They were done long before Himmelberg went to the Crows at #51.
And while McCluggage has now played more games than any other member of the Draft Class of 2015, having slipped past Geelong’s Tom Stewart, Himmelberg is staking a slow-burn claim of his own – just like two other key forwards chosen late in the draft.
Himmelberg’s 10 goals in five games this season has been bettered only by two players from his draft year – Hawthorn’s Mitch Lewis, chosen at #73, has 15, and North Melbourne’s Nick Larkey, chosen with pick #76, has 14.
While Himmelberg continues to fly the Queensland flag strong and proud at the Crows, so too does Ben Keays. He picked up three coaches votes in Round 5 and is now fifth in the League for possessions behind only Essendon’s Darcy Parish, Brisbane’s Lachie Neale, Western Bulldogs’ Jack Macrae and Port’s Travis Boak.
Himmelberg and Keays were the only two Queenslanders to figure in Round 5 voting for the AFLCA Player of the Year Award, and they now head the Queensland count with 10 votes apiece, ahead of Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko (6).
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.