PORTLAND footballer Rowan Marshall is preparing to represent Vic Country, just months after he was given a TAC Cup lifeline.
The North Ballarat Rebels teenager will play in the opening round of the AFL under 18 national championships on Sunday.
Marshall’s swift rise from TAC Cup fringe player to Vic Country number one ruckman follows the Rebels’ decision to throw the promising-yet-raw tall a second chance in March, selecting him as one of their 19-year-old players for the 2014 season.
Marshall, who cobbled together eight games in his top-age season, has grasped it.
His consistent performances at TAC Cup level drew Vic Country selectors’ attention.
Marshall said he was shocked to earn a round one berth at national championships — the breeding ground for AFL players.
“I got a phone call from the coach to say I was in for round one as a ruckman,” he said.
“It’s really exciting and will be a good experience.
“It means a lot. I wasn’t really expecting it.
“If someone said I’d be getting a Vic Country jumper 12 months ago I wouldn’t have believed them.”
Marshall was one of three Rebels selected in Vic Country’s round one team, joining Horsham Saints’ Darcy Tucker — a former state basketballer — and Lake Wendouree’s Daniel Butler in the final 22.
A national championships’ restructure means the competition’s division one sides — Vic Country, Vic Metro, Western Australia and South Australia — will play each other twice, avoiding match-ups against division two teams Tasmania, Northern Territory, NSW-ACT and Queensland.
Marshall said he expected to play the bulk of Sunday’s round one battle in the ruck.
The lean 198-centimetre prospect, who North Ballarat Rebels coach David Loader has described as “like a young colt”, said he’d worked on his running patterns and increased his disposal count this season.
Marshall rated his performance in the Rebels’ breakthrough win against previously-undefeated Oakleigh Chargers two weeks ago as his best to date.
“It was really wet and windy,” he said.
“Their ruckman was a few centimetres shorter so I seemed to win a few more hit-outs.
“My mobility around the ground (has improved).
“Over the last few weeks I have been getting into the right spots and taking a few more grabs.”
Marshall, who played in Portland’s under 18½ grand final loss last season, moved to Ballarat three weeks ago.
He said the decision was already paying dividends.
“It has definitely helped. I can train three times a week now — twice with the Rebels and once with the (VFL) Roosters — instead of travelling up Thursday nights,” he said.
The four south-west footballers who represented Vic Country in 2013 went on to be drafted.
Terang Mortlake’s Lewis Taylor has played the first eight games in his debut season at Brisbane and Cobden’s Zach Merrett has made an immediate impact at Essendon in his five games.
Kolora-Noorat’s Nick Bourke and South Warrnambool’s Louis Herbert — both rookie-listed players — are yet to debut for Geelong and Gold Coast respectively.
Marshall said he would love to join those players on an AFL list.
“It’s always been a dream but there is still heaps more improvement (in me) to get that far,” he said.
Vic Country plays Vic Metro at 11am on Sunday at Princes Park. The two sides play a secondary game in the afternoon.
Vic Country will finalise its 40-player list for the remainder of the under 18 carnival after that clash.
Portland’s Tom Templeton is in contention for a spot on Vic Country’s final roster.