Carlton’s list of rising stars increased in Round 12, with David Cuningham becoming their third nominee for 2017. Marc Murphy spent a lot of his time on the sidelines in 2016 mentoring the Blues’ youngster in his first season, and has written about his development in an exclusive Aflplayers.com.au column.
Being out last year with the ankle injury, it provided me with the opportunity to work closely with some of the young players, and David Cuningham was one of those.
I looked at parts of his game, his strengths and some of the areas to improve on.
David is a pretty similar player to the way in which I play. When he first arrived at Carlton I was pretty impressed with his clearance work and his running ability — he’s got some serious tricks and a great goal sense — which he proved over the weekend against GWS.
He kicked some clutch goals for us and in those tight games against good sides, it’s a great sign that he doesn’t get overawed by the situation. He can take great confidence that he played at that level against that competition.
He’ll get more opportunity to play through the midfield because his composure when he gets the ball in his hands is really impressive. The challenge of being a young, inexperienced player is the consistency factor and playing well each week, so it’s all about making sure the gap between the best and worst isn’t too large.
When you are playing week to week, you try and take a couple of blokes through your vision and get them to look at what you’re doing well and what you need to improve on so they can get a grasp of what’s expected at AFL level, and because I missed a lot of games last year, I was able to spend time looking at his vision.
We went through David’s running patterns and the way in which our system works. With Bolts coming in last year, it was all very new for everyone and for the first-year players, so the key was to help with explaining and assist with making everything a bit simpler for him.
I spoke to David a lot about his awareness of the opposition around him, we discussed the types of patterns he should run when we have the ball, and then when they have the ball the need to try and turn his head and run the other way, and what to be thinking when the ball comes into his area.
Stepping up into the AFL system against men is very different from playing junior football. It’s something that I even try and come to terms with and am constantly reviewing. It was a nice opportunity to work closely with someone in their first year.
Like most young players, Dave took a bit of time to develop his body and fitness, but he worked hard and got a debut late last year on the back of his body of work in the VFL — he wasn’t handed a game — which is good for him to know as well. When he got a chance at senior level, he knew that it was down to form.
When you spend time with young players and see them develop it definitely excites you because you begin to see the results from their development first-hand.
Ahead of his second pre-season, his fitness improved and his size increased but he didn’t get a crack at senior football straight away in his second season.
To his credit, he went back to the VFL and was deservedly recalled to the AFL team.
His speed and his ability to burst through packs and step players is a great asset, and I continually preach to him that he needs to play to his strengths.
He works closely with Tim Clarke and John Barker and they’re consistently reminding him to do the same, and to closely review the tape each week and improve on the relevant areas.
He’s a deep thinker and he has a lot of questions to ask which probably means he’s thinking a little too much about his footy, but it’s great that he’s keen to learn and improve.
All of our kids are confident and willing to learn. The system which Bolts is trying to preach leads to everyone buying in.
That’s ultimately how we’ll be successful in the long run. Whether you’re playing your first game or your 200th, it’s expected that everyone contributes. The younger players come into the system feeling confident that they can ask a senior player a question and it’s fantastic to see.
As a leader of the footy club, it’s so helpful because they’re on the front foot, rather than us having to chase them up.
We didn’t listen to any of the external commentary in the pre-season about where we were at, but it has been nice to get some big wins and for so many youngsters to impress.
I looked at the fact that we had some players who still hadn’t played a lot of football and knew that their improvement was going to be rapid, which may have taken those outside the club by surprise.
They have announced themselves as AFL players, and as captain of the club, I had full confidence that they would and even though we have had three Rising Star nominations this season, I feel there could be a few more around the corner. That’s where our improvement is going to come from.
As a senior player, we’re not going to get too much improvement from the older guys because their consistency and level of performance is expected, whereas the young guys who are coming onto the scene and getting continuity will propel us forward.
RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2017:
Round 1 — Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Round 2 — Ryan Burton (Hawthorn)
Round 3 — Brandan Parfitt (Geelong)
Round 4 — Andrew McGrath (Essendon)
Round 5 — Eric Hipwood (Brisbane)
Round 6 — Caleb Marchbank (Carlton)
Round 7 — Sam Petrevski-Seton (Carlton)
Round 8 — Tim Taranto (GWS)
Round 9 — Tom Phillips (Collingwood)
Round 10 — Wayne Milera (Adelaide)
Round 11 — Dan Butler (Richmond)
Round 12 — David Cuningham (Carlton)