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From ‘ratbag’ to rising star

Every time former North Melbourne champion Peter German hears the name Luke Ryan, a smile broadens across his face.

The Coburg senior coach, who mentored the Round 20 Rising Star nominee during Ryan’s sole season in the VFL, knew he had a serious player from the moment he first saw the calm defender in 2014.

At that point, Ryan played in a losing TAC Cup Grand Final but did enough to suggest he had the ability to take his footy further.

But with an indifferent reputation, Ryan fell off the radar to focus on his carpentry apprenticeship and playing footy with his mates, only to resurface during the 2015-2016 pre-season at Essendon’s VFL side.

“He was a ratbag, and he probably still is,” German laughed to

“But you can be a ratbag in a good way and he’s not a dickhead, so to speak. He’s just a bit of a lad.

“He’ll always be like that. But in the right environment, like I said to Brad Lloyd at Fremantle, you’ll get a really good guy, clubman and someone who you’ll get a lot out of.”

After failing to make the cut at Essendon, Ryan was invited to Coburg by German to participate in a reserves practice match.

Ryan impressed and German got the man he wanted since that TAC Cup Grand Final at Etihad Stadium.

“We always knew he was a serious talent. We wanted him at Coburg two years ago but we thought he’d get drafted,” German added.

“So when he played in our reserves practice match, there was no way I was going to let him go again.”

There are no walk-up starts at Coburg under German’s reign, so Ryan needed to force his way into the senior side through the soon-to-be defunct VFL Development League.

His two games resulted in Ryan featuring in all three parts of the ground, showing versatility in all areas, and that was enough to elevate the northern suburbs product for Coburg’s clash against VFL powerhouse Box Hill.

And it didn’t take long for German to realise Ryan was destined for greater things despite the Lions losing by eight points.

“I knew he was draftable when he played that first game in the senior side — he took 12 marks and five of them were contested.

“You could see how well he read the play and it confirmed all the things that we knew. He was composed and thinks through situations out on the field — all that stuff was on show from the beginning.

“We were playing against probably the best club in the competition and he continued to repel attack after attack all day.

“We didn’t lose by much and it was purely on the back of one player continually cutting off their attacks and helping us offensively. He played three or four more games similar to that one.”

Ryan was excelling before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season — and his VFL career.

Recruiters were coming for him, and they came in droves, with every club inquiring about the medium-sized defender.

Having seen how easily Ryan adapted to VFL level, German knew Ryan could make an immediate impact at an AFL club as he has done at the Dockers in 2017 — particularly in the last month.

German credits Ryan for realising his talent and finding that drive to take him from the Essendon District Football League to an AFL Rising Star nominee in less than 20 games played.

So much for the character German was warned about before taking him in at the Lions.

“I heard a lot of things about him and it sounded like he was going to be hard work,” German said.

“I was expecting to have the whip cracking to make sure he stayed in line but, to be honest, he was really enjoyable to coach.

“In many ways that perception of him led to him to being selected in the 60s on draft day, but once you get to know him and respect him, he’ll respect you.

“From what I was going to get to what I got over the eight months he spent with us was completely different. He really thrived in our environment which has led him to where he is now.

German fully endorsed Ryan to the AFL clubs that contacted him, which isn’t always the case when it comes to recommending a VFL player to recruiters.

And he did so with the smile that still grins from ear to ear.

“I loved every minute of coaching him.”