Daniel O’Keefe knew the day would come.
The Geelong Falcons coach knew it was only a matter of time before he’d reach out to James Worpel with words of encouragement following some solid form for the Hawks in 2018.
On Monday morning, O’Keefe, a former Swans draftee who has since joined the coaching fraternity after an injury-riddled footy journey, texted Worpel. But it’s the way the Round 21 Rising Star nominee responded that shows his genuine character.
“In typical, James Worpel fashion, and he always does this, he replied straight away,” O’Keefe told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“He appreciated and acknowledged what I said but was quick to ask how my family and my newborn son’s going. That’s James Worpel, he’s very caring like that and that’s why we love him so much.
The Hawks have seen glimpses of Worpel’s potential in 2018, with the 185cm midfielder collecting 23 disposals and eight tackles against rivals Geelong on Saturday.
That included a piece of play involving Joel Selwood where Worpel, running front on to the Cats skipper, swooped in, grabbed the ball and pirouetted out of trouble before dishing off a handball, which resulted in a Jack Gunston goal.
But it’s not the first time O’Keefe has seen Worpel put his head over the ball and emerge from traffic in such a fashion.
“There was a consistent theme of James bursting out of a pack, fending off players and linking up with his teammates,” O’Keefe added.
“There were a few times early in the year where the ball would be getting flicked around, in absolute chaos and James would just burst out with speed.
“He’s always had that speed in him. I’ve never seen anyone at TAC Cup level have that sort of burst or bullock-like abilities out of contest. He looked like a bit of a bully at times.”
O’Keefe knew Worpel was a serious draft prospect from the moment the pair crossed paths when the ball-getter was a 16-year-old in the Falcons program.
However, the Bannockburn product’s early development and mature body seemed to go against him come draft time, with the youngster slipping through to pick 45.
Despite his credentials — Worpel was a co-captain of the TAC Cup premiership-winning side, captained Vic Country and received All-Australian honours — the teenager had a knock on his foot-skills, which surprised the Falcons staff.
“Mick Tuner and myself said to a couple of clubs that it’d be their loss if they miss him,” O’Keefe said.
“There was a question on his kicking efficiency from recruiters but part of his role at TAC Cup level was as an inside midfielder, a bull, so a lot of situations required him to kick the ball under pressure.
“We knew he was a decent kick and not as bad as what some recruiters thought. We knew someone like James would clearly play in his first year.”
It didn’t take Worpel long to force his way in the strong Hawthorn midfield, with the 19-year-old debuting in Round 6 and now playing in the senior side for four consecutive weeks.
A popular teammate, Worpel has also proven to be a hit among fans, with his unique looks adding to his appeal along with the nickname ‘Worpedo’.
And O’Keefe says it’s all part of the James Worpel charm.
“He has a great balance and he is jovial. In between drills, after and before training he’ll be jovial but in a smart-alec way. He’s great fun to be around.
“He has that smile and those big golden locks, which create part of that persona as well. He loves fishing and walking his dog down by the river. He loves his own time as well. He has a good life balance, that’s for sure.
“He was just happy. He had that big cheesy grin and that’s remained right up until today. He’s a delightful young man, with great manners.”