THE future of the club.
It’s a phrase heard a lot within the football landscape and the uptake in usage tends to always come during pre-season.
Players are honing their craft; teams are working on their game plan and fans are looking to the young stars of their beloved clubs to drive the hope of the upcoming campaigns.
This year, Melbourne’s supporters have plenty to believe in, with Alan Richardson, the GM of AFL Football Performance, praising the work of the club’s junior players.
In a long list of best performers, Bailey Laurie tops the Demons who have been shining during the lead up to the 2024 season.
The midfielder returned from the break in his best shape yet, eager to improve upon his five senior games of last year.
Laurie has pushed the boundaries with his fitness during the off-season, finishing third in the team’s 2km time-trial in early December.
In a further drive to solidify his spot in the senior side, the 21-year-old has demonstrated his strength inside the contest and has proven his sharp skills during recent match-simulation.
“Certainly, some of the young players that are rolling through the midfield have been impressive,” Richardson told Melbourne Media.
“Bailey Laurie has upped his level of fitness and running capacity.
“That’s certainly transferring to training, he couldn’t be more impressive.”
Father-son draftee of 2021, Taj Woewodin, is also looking at a season with high potential for further senior footy.
The 20-year-old managed four AFL games in 2023, showing glimpses of his silky skills and explosive speed.
This pre-season, Woewodin has slotted into a number of areas across the ground, his versatility an important advantage to Melbourne’s list coming into the new year.
“Taj is another player who has been impressive in a couple of roles,” Richardson said.
“He’s played wing, he’s been inside and he’s spent a bit of time up forward.”
Down in defence, Richardson mentioned a notable young duo in Daniel Turner and Blake Howes.
Turner has played three senior games since joining the club at the halfway mark of 2021, and has seen an immense level of development learning from the likes of Steven May and Jake Lever.
The tall backman shares similarities with Lever and May, with reliable marking ability and strength in the one-on-one contest.
While Howes is still yet to make his AFL debut, the 20-year-old has showcased his adaptability and skills this pre-season, transitioning between a wingman and a defender.
“Daniel Turner, down back, has been really impressive,” Richardson said.
“Blake Howes is doing a little bit of both, he’s playing a little bit of wing, a bit down back.
“They’ve all been really good.”
In addition to its existing talented players, Melbourne bolstered its stocks during the 2023 National Draft, welcoming Caleb Windsor, Koltyn Tholstrup and Kynan Brown to the red and blue.
The trio were quick to hit the ground running during pre-season, their first taste of life as an AFL player, matching up against some of the best in the competition.
Although an intimidating feat, the three slotted in seamlessly to the make-up of the football program, with Richardson praising their immense development.
“Our first-year players, whilst they’re not in everything [at training], couldn’t have done much more in terms of impressing the coaches,” Richardson said.
“Goody’s message to the young players, it’s not how old you are, it’s about the way you perform and the understanding of what we’re doing.
“So, there’s a real potential for our fans to see some of those young players.”