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Melbourne Football Club

Son of Shaun set to debut

Debutant: Joel Smith Joel Smith to make his debut against St Kilda

ROOKIE Joel Smith has been promoted to the senior list and will make his AFL debut against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

The club elevated the 21-year-old defender on Thursday afternoon. He gained his opportunity after ruckman Mitch King was recently placed on the long-term injury list.

Smith said it was “surreal” to be told by coach Simon Goodwin in the office of welfare manager Shannon Byrnes after training on Thursday.  

“It’s a bit of a shock and I didn’t expect it,” he told Melbourne TV.

“A year ago, I was playing in the VFL Development [League] and here I am now playing round one against St Kilda and I’m rapt.

“All of the hard work has paid off and I just can’t wait to be out there.”

The announcement of his first AFL match is another fascinating part of Smith’s football story – and how he came to the club.

Although Melbourne’s recruiting team knew of Smith through his father Shaun – who played for North Melbourne and then Melbourne – it was club chief financial officer David Chippindall, who prompted national recruiting manager Jason Taylor and his scouting team to sound out Smith.

Chippindall knew Smith’s basketball coach Nat Gilbert, who spoke highly of Smith. From there, Melbourne pro scout Kelly O’Donnell met Gilbert and over the next 12 months, Smith was tracked by the Dees.

Smith undertook football and physical testing, with his speed regarded as elite. But his agility and vertical leap also stood out.

He was then recruited as a 19-year-old via the three-year non-registered rule and listed as a category B rookie after the 2015 season. (This is where a player has not been registered in an Australian football competition for three years immediately before being included on the rookie list.)

Although Smith came from a basketball background, he first played football with Taylors Lakes in under 10s, before he moved to Maribyrnong Park in under 16s.

But he switched sports and played basketball for Keilor and then Geelong Supercats in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL). He also represented Australia in the under 19s and played basketball in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, his father Shaun played 109 AFL matches, including 47 with the Kangaroos from 1987-92 and 62 with the red and blue from 1995-98.

A fine forward/defender, he kicked 51 goals for Melbourne in his first year at the club in 1995.

In round 22, 1995, Smith took what was later known as the ‘mark of the century’, when he flew over teammate Garry Lyon and in front of Brisbane’s Nathan Chapman. His grab is still regarded by many as the finest mark in VFL/AFL history.

Smith also kept the great Gary Ablett Snr goalless in an outstanding individual display at Kardinia Park in round 16, 1996. He earned two Brownlow Medal votes for his performance, despite Melbourne’s 58-point loss. Smith’s aerial display, spoiling ability and tenacity against Ablett in that match was something Melbourne fans won’t forget – on an otherwise bleak day.

Now, Joel will join Shaun as another father/son duo for Melbourne, with Jack and Todd Viney and Steven and Billy Stretch other recent examples. And if Corey Maynard makes his debut this year, he will also join the father/son club, with his dad Peter playing for Melbourne in 1980-81.

For Joel, he felt he had a “little glimpse” at the start of the pre-season that he might be able to play in the first home and away match of 2017.  

“As pre-season went on, I was training really well and I thought I could actually do this,” he said.

“I played a couple of JLT [Community Series] matches and the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about it and it’s been in the back of my mind.

“Now I’m playing, I’m ready to go and I can’t wait.”

Although he added he would be nervous on Saturday, Smith said he was OK with that.

“It’s always a good thing I reckon. Once I get out there and have a feel of the footy, I reckon I’ll settle in and be fine,” he said.

Joel Smith in action on Thursday morning at Gosch's Paddock (Photo: Matthew Goodrope)