Morningside’s Tom Bell is the Round 15 nomination for the NAB NEAFL Rising Star Award (Northern Conference)

Thursday 14 July 2011

Morningside coach John Blair has had a role to play in the football journey of a lot of Queensland AFL players over recent years. Like Tom Williams, Courtenay Dempsey, David Armitage, Gavin Urquhart, Scott Clouston and John Williams.

Tom Hickey, a 2010 Panthers premiership team member and Gold Coast Suns draftee, is tipped to join those who have progressed from Esplen Oval into the AFL.

Now Blair, a father figure of Queensland football, wants another one. And he’s identified 2010 premiership team member Tom Bell as a more than worthy target for AFL talent scouts.

“I’d love to see him (Bell) get drafted because if there’s one player who deserves an opportunity it is him,” Blair said.

“He’s dedicated his entire life to the AFL dream for the last 18 months. Not only has he given up his full-time apprenticeship but he’s applied himself incredibly well.

“He doesn’t just train every day of the week – he really puts in. He trains hard. That’s been reflected in the improvement in his football this year – his kicking has improved immensely.

“He’s one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever had anything to do with. He’s a sponge. He takes in everything you say and he tries to use it to better himself. He loves footy that much.”

Blair, a former Fitzroy, St.Kilda and South Melbourne player and uncle to pocket-sized 2010 Collingwood AFL premiership player Jarryd Blair, insists Bell has what it takes.

“I really believe if he got a chance at an AFL club he’d take it with both hands and he wouldn’t let anyone down. He’s the perfect modern-day footballer,” he said.

Indeed he is. Bell, who turned 20 on 13 June, is a 191cm powerhouse with giant shoulders, a fierce competitiveness, a brutal fearlessness and absolutely elite running capabilities.

“He’s one hell of a physical specimen – as good an athlete as you’ll see playing our game,” said Blair, who has modified his young prodigy’s role in recent weeks to better utilize and showcase his athleticism.

The quietly-spoken but ever-diligent Bell was used as a stopping defender last year, when he enjoyed a meteoric rise after starting the season in the Reserves.

A former State Cross Country representative, he played 15 senior games with the Panthers in addition to two games as a Brisbane Lions top-up player. Also, he was a standout for the Queensland U21s against the VAFA U21s, and later, in something of twisted journey, was called in to the Australia Post Queensland U18 side to play in the NAB Australian U18 Championships.

Nominated for the 2010 NAB QAFL Rising Star Award, he finished equal fourth in final voting behind NT Thunder excitement machine and Western Bulldogs draftee Zephi Skinner, Labrador’s former Gold Coast trialist Todd Grayson and Hickey, and level with fellow Suns draftee Joel Wilkinson.

He was a solid contributor through the lead-up finals before what was by his own standards and admission was a quieter QAFL grand final against Labrador, when he and close mate Hickey were the youngsters in the Panther line-up.

“I’d never played that much football in one year and I don’t think I was as focused as I should have been at the end of the season. My focus slipped away a little unfortunately,” he said bluntly, despite being named Morningside Rookie of the Year.

Still, it was an extraordinary year for a young man who, after representing Queensland at Primary School level, had pretty much sat out of football until a 2009 comeback in which he played in the Panthers’ U18 premiership side under Brad Edwards.

“It (2010) was a great year – I made a lot of mates at the club who will be life-time friends and really enjoyed being part of a premiership side. That was pretty special,” he said.

But Bell’s 2010 campaign finished on a downer when, invited to the AFL State Screening session in Melbourne as a prospective draftee, he was struck by a virus on the day when he had hoped to showcase his athletic capabilities.

“That was disappointing I didn’t perform at my best but there was no way I was going to pull out because I knew it might be the last chance I got,” he said, admitting that the lure of a chance in the AFL was his burning motivation.

He was overlooked in the NAB AFL National Draft and again at the Rookie Draft despite a sizzling extra 3km time-trial that would have ranked him fourth at the camp.

So, he started all over again this year. Older and wiser, but still with the same burning drive.

After a slightly slow start and a three-week layoff with a bruised shoulder he’s elevated his performance to such a level in recent weeks that he is the Round 15 nomination for the NAB NEAFL Rising Star Award (Northern Conference).

His good form and his repeat Rising Star nomination has coincided with a new role in which he spends a time on the wing and through the midfield in addition to his customary role across half back.

“I’m really enjoying the new role and I think it complements the way I like to play – it suits my running,” he said.

“When I was injured I really tried to work on my kicking and my skills, and reading the player a little better, and the last six weeks I’d tried to bring that into my play more. I’m finally starting to find some form.”

Finding some form! He’s done more than that. And as the Panthers continue their late season rally in search for a 2011 NEAFL flag to add to their 2009-10 QAFL flags there will be plenty of recruiting scouts keen to follow the progress of the young man in jumper No.20.

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