IN RECENT years, the Casey Demons have created a platform for young footballers to conquer their AFL dreams.
Since 2017, the VFL side has transformed six of their players and provided them a pathway to an AFL debut.
Melbourne has benefited from its strong connection with Casey, seeing Tim Smith, Declan Keilty, Bayley Fritsch, Corey Wagner and Jay Lockhart all pull on the red and blue at senior level after being recruited from the VFL side.
Oscar McInerney has also made the jump from Casey to become a key cog for the Brisbane Lions.
Current Casey coach Jade Rawlings can’t claim all of these boys, but did play a major role in the growth of two youngsters last season.
“You get a lot of pride out of seeing the players develop for one, but then really excel and go to higher honours,” Rawlings told Melbourne Media.
“I’m very close to Corey and Jay, they’re almost like family for me.
“For them to come and perform at the level, first and second in the [best and fairest award] in a strong year for Casey, and then both be able to represent Melbourne … it’s been a really good start to their careers.
“Now the hard work really kicks in to how much they really want it and how badly they want to make it.”
Seeing young players work hard and realise their dream is one of the great rewards for Rawlings as a coach, and he aims to provide the best opportunities possible for everyone at Casey.
“We’re very passionate about our VFL list, and it’s proven in our pathway model at Casey and Melbourne, that if you put the work in and embrace the program, opportunities can be there if you have enough impact,” he said.
And the development opportunities for VFL players at Casey was around long before Rawlings took the reins at the club.
“The time that Justin Plapp put in here as coach, he was able to develop Tim Smith, Oscar McInerney, Declan Keilty and Bayley Fritsch. So there’s been a really good strike rate,” Rawlings said.
“We’re very genuine as a club, as in Melbourne and Casey, about trying to develop our players and our people.”
In the early stages of 2019, Rawlings has liked what he’s seen from a number of the VFL boys, with the likes of Aidan Quigley, Liam Buxton and Mitch Lewis all impressing.
But the senior coach says it’s too early to forecast the future of any of his boys.
“I like to really judge someone over the course of the whole year and sometimes two years to get a feel for if they’ve got enough AFL attributes and qualities,” Rawlings said.
“We think we’ve got a couple.”
Casey currently sits 10th on the VFL ladder with just two wins from its opening six games of the season, but will be looking to bounce back on Sunday when it travels to Williamstown.