The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has produced some influential Australian football figures over the years – from the likes of Alex Jesaulenko, James Hird and Craig Bolton, to current players Josh Bruce and Phil Davis.
For a state with a population of less than 500,000 people, it is no surprise that it’s an important moment for the community when one of their own is acknowledged, like this week’s Rising Star nomination and GWS Giants midfielder Tom Green.
Recruited from Canberra’s Marist College, Green was high on the Giants’ and former academy talent manager Cam Bernasconi’s radar early on.
“Canberra is a small little bubble and not many players get drafted. We realised that Tom was a good chance when he was 16 and that it wasn’t an unrealistic goal so we worked towards that,” Bernasconi told aflplayers.com.au following Green’s Round 4 Rising Star nomination.
Bernasconi spent five years as the Giants’ talent manager for the Canberra region before accepting the role as head coach earlier this year.
Having such an integral role in the development of the club’s next young stars, Bernasconi has seen Green’s rise through the ranks.
From early on, Green’s competitive nature was on show and what Bernasconi said was a driving factor in what club recruiters admired about his game.
“He’s a lovely young kid away from the footy field but once he crosses that white line he becomes a real competitor,” he said.
Bernasconi played a close role in supporting Green’s development in his top-age year of the under-18 competition, with the two completing additional weekly sessions and reviews to help Green get the most out of his time in the development system.
The two focussed their time on improving Green’s strength – a facet of his game that Bernasconi describes as Green’s “weapon”.
“He’s a really contested, clean player so one session a week we did about an extra hour working on these strengths to make sure that his ‘weapon’ became even stronger,” he said.
Away from the field, Green also spent time developing, working on his leadership skills and driving high standards around the group – from training, to diet and lifestyle.
His fast rise saw him appointed the captain of the Allies side in the National Championships, in addition to earning himself an All-Australian selection and being crowned the Allies’ MVP.
Despite the additional media hype and being touted as a possible first round draft pick, Bernasconi said Green never wavered from his character.
“Tommy brings players up to his level and is just a likeable kid… he has leadership written all over him,” he said.
“He’s the type of person who people can relate to and role models everything that an 18-year-old kid should be.”
It’s no surprise that Green set the standard for his fellow Academy graduates and Allies teammates, with Bernasconi describing his preparation as “textbook” from the way he trained to his lifestyle.
“He was self-aware and had a growth mindset in that he wanted to learn and get better,” Bernasconi explained.
“He rarely got ahead of himself and I think that’s why the Giants took him as a first round pick because, not only did he play extremely well in his 18th year, but off the field is where one of his biggest strengths comes into play.”
At 17 and playing for the Allies as an under-age player in the National Championships, then-coach Adrian Fletcher described Green as a “tractor” due to his ability to extract the ball from inside the contest.
It was in that moment that Bernasconi knew Green would be taken in the 2019 AFL Draft.
“His ability to win the contested footy against the best kids in the country when he was 12 months younger than them, that’s when I realised he was going to make it,” he said.
“At 16 he was a good player but probably wasn’t in the top couple within the state but then within 12 months he just outworked everyone and got to where he got to by sheer hard work.
“That’s what makes him such a good story… he just got better and better.”
The move from a small town like Canberra to Sydney is never easy as an 18-year-old but because of his link with the Academy and already having connections with the current coaching staff and playing group through the NEAFL, Green has settled in well to the Harbour City.
Walking into the club, Green knew that a Round 1 debut in a midfield consisting of the likes of Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly, Tim Taranto and Lachie Whitfield was never going to be easy, but his determination and elite training standards gave Giants coach Leon Cameron few options other than to select him in the 22 for their opening clash against Geelong.
By Green’s standards he was quiet – six touches, two tackles and one mark – but, it was the drive he needed to push himself into contention in subsequent rounds.
Bernasconi said it was no surprise to see Green dominate when recalled for the Giants’ clash against Collingwood on Friday night.
“When he got the call up to play on the weekend I knew that he was going to play well,” he said.
“He’s the type of kid that’s so determined to improve that he’ll never have two quiet games in a row.”
Gathering 18 touches, taking two marks and kicking an important goal, Green showed why he was so highly touted ahead of last year’s draft.
Likened to Sydney’s Josh Kennedy and Carlton’s Patrick Cripps, Green has big shoes to fill but Bernasconi is looking forward to watching his career develop.
“Not once has get gotten ahead of himself… it’s awesome to see a young kid from Canberra (playing at the elite level),” he said.
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2020
Round 1 — Sam Sturt (Fremantle)
Round 4 — Tom Green (GWS Giants)