James Kelly has spent the last 12 months alongside Andrew McGrath in Essendon’s backline and explains what separates his young teammate from other teenagers following McGrath being named the AFLPA’s Best First Year Player, presented by Tissot, in 2017.
At my age, when a new batch of 18-year-olds come into the footy club each year, you expect them to be green and raw.
They all have talent but they’re still only teenagers and take time to develop their football and their character.
While he still has a lot of developing to do, Andrew McGrath isn’t your typical teenager.
There were a couple of things that stood out when I first met Andy.
Firstly, he’s not as tall as I thought he would be. Secondly, having been a teenager when I entered the AFL system, I certainly wasn’t as mature as he is.
He’s a nice kid. I could tell he was nervous when he first walked through the doors but the way he handled his press conference afterwards was impressive.
For his age, Andy is mature and very measured — we’ve all seen how well he’s handled himself in the media. He’s a composed kid on and off the field and it’s easy to see why he was rated so highly by those in the industry.
With a lot of youngsters, they usually announce themselves on the big stage with a breakout game but I don’t think Andy really had one.
There was never a moment where I thought ‘we’ve got one here’ because he fit into the side and the level immediately.
Being alongside Andy in defence, he has an ability to adapt and cope with anything thrown his way and as he progressed, he never looked out of place.
What was notable was the gap between his best and worst. Even the games where he didn’t dominate, he still played well. That gap isn’t very big and he’s always contributing in some way to the side’s overall performance.
If he’s not getting the ball, he’s still defending really well. That’s an underrated part of his game and it sets him apart from other youngsters.
In U18’s they get used to being the big dog on campus and having other players follow them around and having to spend minimal time in defence. The defensive side of the AFL is always an adjustment for young players but Andy’s defensive work and decisions is as good as I’ve ever seen
Apparently he had a few big jobs on a lot of gun juniors while he was coming through the ranks, which would’ve held him in good stead.
As a person, Andy has a pretty good balance in working hard and knowing when to be serious at the right times. He’s easily become one of the boys and fits in well in the group.
He’s a mature, composed kid but he’s just himself who enjoys his footy and his teammates.
It’s a good thing to see. It often takes time for young guys to show a bit more of their personality but he’s confident enough to be himself.
As the official timekeeper of the AFL, Tissot has been a supporter of the players and MVP award winners, supplying watches as prizes for all award winners.