It was a dark day for the Gippsland Power as they went down by 93 points to the Oakleigh Chargers in last year’s preliminary final of the formerly known TAC Cup.
From the first bounce the Chargers comprehensively outplayed the Power, with Gippsland remaining goalless until the final quarter.
In a day the club would rather forget, their captain Xavier Duursma stood tall to be the Power’s best.
“All day they really targeted him knowing he was our best player but he just kept getting up off the ground,” Gippsland’s Talent Manager Peter Francis told AFLPlayers.com.au after Duursma’s Round 6 Rising Star nomination.
“I think the true worth of a player is someone who can play really well when the team is down and not going well. Xavier showed that on that day and I had so much admiration for him.”
Part of the Gippsland talent program since under-15s, the Power coaching staff knew Duursma was more than capable of transpiring to become a gem of the 2018 draft class but it was that game where he showed how invaluable he would become to an AFL team.
Coming through the talent pathway system in his bottom age, Duursma’s x-factor was on show.
It’s a facet of his game that Francis says has become his best attribute, likening him to his former Carlton teammate David Glascott.
“The gut-running, that is demanded up and down the ground, is his x-factor,” Francis said.
“Glascott was a bit of a rag doll type as well, like Xavier is, and sometimes they can look a little bit untidy but they gut-run, they’re brave, courageous and hard at it.”
When Francis reflects on memories that typify what Duursma is like, a moment during his bottom-age year stands out.
He’d been badly injured at the Morwell Oval and was helped from the ground after breaking a couple of ribs but his team-first attitude left him with an urge to want to return to the field to help secure the four points.
It was a moment that Francis says showed not only how tough he was but how much his teammates meant to him.
A popular character around the club, and after being voted captain in his earlier seasons, Duursma was again captain in his under-18 year – a role that he grew into over time.
“Sometimes you can worry about making boys the captain in their draft year because you want them to concentrate on getting themselves drafted but Xavier was very team-oriented and I think it helped him because he was that way,” Francis said.
His desire for the contest and his work rate both on and off the field meant he was trusted implicitly by those around him.
“You never die wondering with him,” Francis added.
“You know that every time he goes out to train or to play, Xavier gives it everything he’s got.”
Hailing from Foster, near Wilsons Promontory, Duursma was part of Foster’s local football team and coached by his father, Dean, who had a significant impact on his development.
“They had a great relationship,” Francis said.
But, as a member of the Power’s team for such a significant period in his development, Francis believes Duursma’s biggest growth came away from the field.
“Xavier had a real care factor for the other boys in the team and making sure the group was playing well. He focused on encouraging the other boys to come along with him” Francis said.
“At Gippsland, culture is built on respect and Xavier is a really respectful person.”
Despite the jump players often face as they transition from under-18 football to the AFL, it’s come as no surprise to Francis that Duursma has found himself in Port Adelaide’s best-22.
“He’s had a really good grounding here and I think that’s proven a lot of worth for him going into an AFL club,” Francis said.
“You knew he was going to be head-down, bum-up an work really hard. We always knew he was going to go in there and do everything possible.”