PLENTY is spoken of Melbourne’s key defensive duo, Jake Lever and Steven May, and rightfully so.
They are two of the Demons’ highest profiled recruits in recent history, and they have repaid the faith in 2021, providing stability down back for the team that conceded less points than any other this season.
But behind the Lever-May combination is a third wheel, who hasn’t put a foot wrong since being called upon in Round 8.
That man is Harrison Petty.
“It’s always good when you fly under the radar, you don’t really get noticed,” Petty told Melbourne Media.
Petty certainly doesn’t expect to be compared to the pair who have earned spots in the All Australian squad, he’s just grateful to be out there.
“Obviously before Tommo went down, they were all playing excellent footy and I just couldn’t get a look in,” he said.
“But I felt like I was performing at a high standard at VFL level, so when Tommo did go down I felt like I was ready to come in and make an impact.”
The 21-year-old had played senior footy on just 10 occasions prior to this season, struggling to get any continuity in his game.
After debuting in 2018, he was used as a swingman in 2019, before missing the entire 2020 campaign with an on-going groin injury.
Now with 27 matches of experience to his name, the 197cm defender finally feels at home on the AFL stage.
“Games under your belt definitely helps that,” Petty said.
“You get used to the pace of the game very quickly.”
And it’s fair to say the boys by his side have made that transition a little smoother as well.
“Obviously we’ve got two of the best key defenders in the competition right now (Lever and May), so I’m just trying to beat my man and they’re really good at communicating if they’re coming over,” Petty said.
“If they are coming over, I’ll just back them in the air and hold my man down so they get a free run.
“But I feel like I can still have an impact intercepting the ball, beating my man in one-on-ones, then helping Mayzy and Rick out when they have a good forward on them.”
Petty is a natural intercept defender who enjoys peeling off and marking the footy, and while he has shown glimpses of this for the Demons, his role has been tailored to suit the team’s needs.
One of those needs is to man the opposition’s second key forward, and that turned out to be Cats star Jeremy Cameron last Saturday night.
“He’s an unbelievable footballer, he just does things very different to a key forward,” Petty said.
“He’s almost not a key forward – he gets a lot of ground balls, he’s very quick and gets a lot of ball out the back.
“So I had to be on my toes a little bit.”
And taking on these challenges is something the defender, who was selected with pick No.37 in the 2017 National Draft, craves.
“I love it,” Petty said.
“You’ve got Mayzy standing next to Tom Hawkins, and I take that second key role, and with Cameron, he’s a very good player, so I love taking the responsibility like that.”
Petty has been perfectly prepared to execute a big job on the big stage in what will be his maiden finals campaign.
And while that task would be daunting for some, it doesn’t faze the South Australian.
“This year I’ve, I don’t know if it’s luck, but I’ve sort of played alright in the bigger games,” he said.
“I’m just looking forward to playing at Adelaide Oval in front of fans again.”
While Petty’s role might not necessarily thrill the crowd on Saturday night, he will be causing one of the Lions’ big men plenty of headaches, and giving his side the best shot at on-field success.