ONE of the most respected names in AFL talent identification is bullish about an unassuming South Warrnambool teenager’s prospects.
AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan believes Hugh McCluggage has the attributes to make it at the elite level.
Sheehan has seen the smooth-moving midfielder’s abilities first-hand via the AFL Academy program.
McCluggage is being touted as a potential first-round pick in November’s draft after a string of eye-catching performances for TAC Cup club North Ballarat Rebels.
The Allansford-raised player is one of a handful of Hampden league exports making their mark in the statewide under-18 competition in 2016.
The Rebels have been fielding a team with up to 12 Hampden players each week, while McCluggage, fellow Rooster Shannon Beks and Koroit duo Jarrod Korewha and Willem Drew are in the Vic Country selection frame for the national championships in June.
Another Saint, overage talent James Gow, is also a chance to earn a call-up on the back of his sparkling TAC Cup form.
Sheehan said McCluggage was added to the AFL Academy late in 2015.
“And having a look at it now, I am pleased we did (pick him) because although he was frustrated with injury over summer, he’s come back and is having a marvelous year,” he said.
“He’s a really exciting player to watch and hasn’t played for Vic Country yet, so I am looking forward to that and how he handles the next step.
“His composure sets him apart. He’s unflappable in a game sense – when the pressure is on he can find space.
“He can be at a contest at half-back and all of a sudden he’s at half-forward and got a shot at goal.”
Sheehan said the right-footer had great reflexes, making him dangerous in close traffic.
“His hands are good on both sides, he doesn’t fumble and his weight of handball is brilliant,” he said.
Sheehan said McCluggage, who boards at Ballarat Clarendon College, was taking his rise in his stride.
“He learns very quickly, as good players do, and is developing into a fine prospect,” he said.
“He’s quietly looked around at the other kids in the nationals and realises he can compete.
“He’s unassuming, modest, hard-working, disciplined, low maintenance – a terrific young fella.”
Sheehan believes fellow AFL Academy member Korewha is growing into his role as a key position prospect.
“He’s a rangy key defender who has great dash off half-back but he’s still learning the caper and how to handle tall forwards,” he said.
“He’s a dedicated young man with a passion for and knowledge of the game. He’s a fanatic.”