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Wingard kicking goals and taking names

NORTH Melbourne champion Wayne Carey used to take great delight in asking a nearby trainer — loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear — to fetch a footy record, so he could identify his opponent.

Port Adelaide’s Chad Wingard must feel like submitting a similar request at times, but for far more innocent reasons.

Despite being a junior footballing prodigy, Wingard — from Murray Bridge in South Australia — didn’t have a huge interest in the AFL.

He didn’t follow a club and if the boy, who is becoming somewhat of a Showdown specialist, watched the local derby he would just barrack for the team leading at half time.

So when the South Australia under-18 captain arrived on the AFL scene with pick No. 6 in the 2011 National Draft, he had plenty of names to learn.

“Yeah that’s right,” laughed Wingard.

“I still don’t really know half the players and I still don’t really watch footy that often.”

In the fantasy football age and for a player of such natural ability, Wingard’s lack of AFL knowledge is something his teammates take great delight in.

“They love stirring me up, but like I said, as long as I know what we are doing, that’s the main thing. I know the game plan and study us as a team …”

Wingard flies for a mark during the Showdown. Picture: Getty

Wingard flies for a mark during the Showdown. Picture: Getty Source: Getty Images

They can laugh all they like, but Wingard thinks this ignorance works in his favour — after all, it’s hard to be overawed by a player if you don’t know their SuperCoach average.

“I definitely have respect for them (opponent) — I don’t say, I don’t know who you are — it’s more that I worry more about what I’m doing and how to help the team.”

“The team” keeps coming out of Wingard’s mouth and it’s hard to get him to reflect on his outstanding 2013 season without heaping praise on his teammates.

“I still don’t really know half the players and I still don’t really watch footy that often” – Wingard

But in-reality, if Port Adelaide was the Cinderella of last year, Wingard took her to the ball — he was Prince Charming.

In just his second season, Wingard was the Port Adelaide best and fairest and at 20 years old, became the youngest player to earn all-Australian selection since Mark Ricciuto in 1994.

He became one of the elite half forwards in the competition, kicking 43 goals, averaging more than 21 disposals per game and 98.6 SuperCoach points — not that he’d care.

Who can forget Wingard’s five goals to drag Port over the line in Showdown XXXV — a game he believes is his greatest.

“I haven’t had time to think back, its really just trying to look forward and trying to improve,” he told the Herald Sun.

“Last year was a really good year, but after I retire ill look back and evaluate and appreciate what I had.”

But, it must feel good to hear yourself described as an all-Australian so young?

“It does, that’s all thanks to the team, if they didn’t put me in that position I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I have had,” he said.

“It’s a lot harder being in a forward line when the team is struggling. If your team is playing well, the ball goes down there and you get more opportunities.”

For a young man so comfortable taking marks in the air, his feet are planted firmly on the ground.

Power young gun Chad Wingard wraps up Rory Sloane. Picture; Simon Cross

Power young gun Chad Wingard wraps up Rory Sloane. Picture; Simon Cross Source: News Corp Australia

Last year, Wingard stepped up to promote Zaidee’s Rainbow Foundation by talking of his heartbreak following the sudden death of childhood friend Alex Aunger in 2012.

This year, Wingard joined Adam Goodes, Buddy Franklin and Shaun Burgoyne on the nine-member AFL Players’ indigenous Advisory Board, to build his leadership skills and provide a voice for his South Australia based brothers.

His ability to stay grounded will be of service to Port Adelaide as it tries to refocus and “get the Showdown out of our head”, following the finals-like high generated by the win.

But, the buzz around Port Adelaide is not confined to the teal half of South Australia — everyone wants to know the secret behind its power-packed midfield.

“It’s definitely the pre-season, we have guys we have drafted with great running abilities, but it’s really just hard work and hard effort we’ve put in during pre-season,” Wingard said.

“I think we work, where other teams wouldn’t. We do our running in the hottest time of the day, we do training on days when other teams wouldn’t … we are doing things that teams aren’t ready to do yet.”

Such is the confidence in their fitness, Wingard revealed the Power attempt to turn the first quarter of games into a sprint, knowing they will have the legs when the whips are cracking late in the game.

“…Because we can maintain that for four quarters, where other teams can probably maintain it for three and a half quarters,” he said.

“As long as we go out our hardest we know that teams aren’t going to keep up with us.”

Wingard refused to be drawn on Port’s top four aspirations, they are just taking it “week-by-week”, however if they want to return to the ball, there is no doubt this prince will be steering the cart — whoever his opponent.

This article was orginally published in the Herald Sun and can be accessed here.