ROWAN Marshall was a footballer caught between two worlds.
The Portland export was labelled a potential AFL pick but once overlooked then deemed too inexperienced to command a starting VFL ruck spot.
Marshall signed with North Ballarat Roosters for the 2015 season but found himself stuck at Ballarat league club Sebastopol for all bar five games.
The Burras pit stop was a detour the 20-year-old believes elevated his game and again thrust his name under AFL recruiters’ noses.
Marshall won the Burras’ best and fairest and arrived at Roosters’ pre-season training ready to slot into their best 22 this season.
He did just that, playing every game under first-year coach Marc Greig.
“Everyone wants to play VFL when they’re on the list and it was hard when I wasn’t getting a game, but looking back it was probably a good thing in a way,” Marshall said of his season at Sebastopol.
“I think it has taken me a couple of years to adapt to senior footy. Obviously I was never a strong junior and I only played a couple of games of seniors (at Portland) before I was 18, so I am not like the other kids.
“Some start playing seniors when they’re 15, 16.
“I wasn’t used to playing against big bodies but I think my development last year at Sebas really helped.
“Coach Shane Snibson out there was really beneficial and I think it’s put me in really good stead.”
Marshall, who stands at 201 centimetres and has stacked on 10 kilograms since graduating from TAC Cup ranks, felt at home at VFL level this season.
He shouldered the ruck load early in former AFL-listed Orren Stephenson’s absence and then spent time as a key defender or forward when The Recruit winner Matt Eagles arrived mid-season.
“You don’t want to be pigeon-holed into a position this early on, you want to get a taste for the different positions and it was really good going down back and forward as well to show recruiters that I am versatile,” he said.
“I really enjoyed the satisfaction of playing on AFL-listed forwards and if you shut them down you know you’ve done a good job.
“Liam McBean was a pretty tough opponent and Mark Jamar, as a ruckman he pushes down forward and you have to try and combat him from scoring goals.”
Marshall, who is now based in Ballarat, said his development was testament to the Roosters’ leadership.
His agility helped him cover the ground with relative ease and his kicking efficiency hovered around the highly respectable 75 per cent mark.
“I really like the way Marc coaches. He’s got really good player relationships,” he said.
“He is very approachable and if you have a problem you can just go up and ask him. He’ll take it on board.
“’Big O’ has been huge, just being that mentor who has been in that system, playing in the same position as you really helps.
“He’s teaching me the craft he’s learned at Geelong and Richmond in terms of ruck positioning and your running patterns on the ground.”
Greig believes Marshall is a work-in-progress with attributes that can translate to the elite level.
He said AFL interest in the emerging tall was promising but whether he was drafted could depend on if a club wanted to invest in him now or wait until he’d developed further.
“Physically he won’t be at his peak until 25, 26 or 27,” Greig said.
“But playing back and forward, clubs might look at playing him there for a couple of years.”
Greig said Marshall would command more ruck time in 2017 if he remained at the Eureka Stadium club.
The three-time VFL premiership player, who landed at the Roosters via Warracknabeal, wanted to ease Marshall through his first full season in the state’s top competition.
“We had to look after him and that’s why he played at centre half-back in the second half of the year because we didn’t want him to burn out,” Greig said.
“If he doesn’t go (in the draft), he’ll play more ruck-forward next year. He’ll cope with more responsibility.”
Marshall, who was invited to the state combine, is unsure if he has done enough to be drafted.
But, some two years after he was first touted as a pick, he feels ready should the opportunity arise.
“A couple of years ago I didn’t really know what to expect and was pretty nervous leading up to the draft, but this year I am pretty laid-back and whatever will be, will be,” he said.
“I’d love to get picked up but you can’t do much more now other than impress in interviews. I have had a few interviews, had a couple at the state screening. I think there is a little bit of interest but we’ll wait and see.
“Even if it doesn’t happen this year, there’s still other opportunities down the track when I get stronger.
“It’s an exciting time and I think being in that full-time environment would really help. I’d love to give it a crack.”
The disappointment of being overlooked – Marshall became a draft smoky after a stunning over-age season for the Rebels in 2014 – has helped the former Vic Country under 18 representative off the field too.
He’s halfway through a sports management and business degree at Federation University.
“You have to have that balance in life. Uni’s been perfect really. It just takes your mind off things,” he said. “And sometimes you get bogged down with uni and get to go to footy training and have a bit of fun.”
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