South Warrnambool’s Hugh McCluggage won the TAC Cup’s Morrish Medal, earnt selection for Vic Country in the under-18 national championships and was named its MVP and won the North Ballarat Rebels best and fairest award – all off a limited preseason.
The common train of thought is that quality midfielders are a dime a dozen and the recent number one draft picks in Jacob Weitering, Paddy McCartin and Tom Boyd may reflect similar. But the traits that McCluggage, who missed a large chunk of preseason with a lower back concern, possesses makes him a much rarer breed.
He has the ability to not only find plenty of the football, averaging 28 disposals in 2016, but hit the scoreboard, 25 goals in 12 games, which makes him a dangerous prospect.
And while many supporters sift through the statistics and test results of players, there’s certain aspects of McCluggage’s game that cannot be measured by the numbers.
He has an uncanny ability to create the illusion of time slowing down around him when the sherrin is in his hands, such is his poise and football smarts. Also figuring in the unmeasurable category is his match-winning ability, having risen to the occasion in big games and big moments within games.
It’s not hard to see why McCluggage has been a consistent name when it’s come to discussing who will be the first name read out at Friday’s AFL national draft.
The speculation on these young footballers has never been more fierce and McCluggage admits he’s looking forward to putting an end to it and beginning his career at AFL level. But he has never let the scrutiny get the better of him and feels the best method to deal with it is to embrace it and be honest – with the occasional getaway to his beloved farm also a great means to escape the AFL media bubble.
“I’m pretty excited about it all, it’s been a long year, bit I have enjoyed every minute of it. I’m a bit sick of all the speculation and ready to have the draft over with and get stuck into it,” McCluggage said.
“It’s pretty full on, it’s something you’re not really used to. I just try and distance myself from it a little bit, but at the same time you’ve got to take it on.
“Throughout the year it was about trying to play well, it didn’t really impact on me. It’s (the home farm) where I like coming back, I’ll forever love coming back here.”
Despite the already impressive resume, McCluggage still has areas of his game he feels can greatly improve.
The 185cm midfielder weighs in at 75kg and he feels he’ll need to “put some meat on the frame” before he can truly impact games at AFL level the way he has in the TAC Cup. The flow-on affect of a few years in the gym will allow him to further develop his inside game and hold his own at the contest against hardened AFL footballers.
“Hopefully I can build on my scoring impact and be someone who can play inside and outside. I understand there’s a fair way to go with the lighter frame, but I’m looking forward to getting into it.”