Big man rises through ranks

Tom De Koning is eagerly anticipating 24 November's AFL draft. 168489_06 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Nick Creely

Standing at 200cm, Dandenong Stingray draft prospect Tom De Koning is a towering figure capable of becoming an elite ruckman at AFL level.

As he steadily develops his game, putting on size and delivering more consistency throughout matches, the left footed big man could be anything at the elite level.

The AFL Academy member – who also represented the ‘Rays at TAC level and Vic Country in the National Championships – utilized his athleticism to get around the ground during 2017, in a season he described as a bit “up and down”, despite enjoying some strong form during the middle parts of the season.

“I probably came into the season with a few high expectations, and a lot of improvement through the pre-season with the AFL Academy and programs such as that,” he said.

“Unfortunately, I started the season average and I just looked at ways I could improve my overall game each week, and focus on that – I think I’ve improved on certain aspects each week and again, unfortunately, I got injured.”

With De Koning viewed as a ruckman with the ability to spend time down forward – similar to that of Sydney’s Kurt Tippett – he believes he has what it takes to adapt his style to AFL level.

“I played all my juniors as a ruckman and didn’t really spend as much time down forward this year, and it was new to me when I did play as a forward as a 17-year-old, but I learned really quickly,” he said.

“I played more in the ruck this year and it was really good for me.

“I already learnt as a younger player how to play that position and I enjoyed getting amongst it more and having an impact in that area.

“I’ve just hit the 200cm mark so I’m bringing my game to a new level.

“I think I can be a ruckman at AFL level but need to probably put a bit more weight on but it’s what the clubs see me as, I’ll happily play any role at that level.”

With so much speculation as to where the youngsters sit in the draft pool, De Koning has steered away from the “talk”, rather focusing on things within his control.

“I’ve been fortunate to have other things taking up my time, which is school, so I guess focusing on school has helped me this year.

“It’s helped me not dwell on how I’m going, or where I fit into the draft pool, which is unpredictable and subject to change every day,” he said.

“I think I’ll go to my brothers and take my mind off it (on draft night) – I don’t really want to watch it, and have to sit there and wait, I’d rather just be told if I’m going somewhere.”

With AFL clubs scrambling to interview potentially hundreds of kids over the last few months, De Koning has attracted plenty of interest, with clubs seeing him as a project type player.

“The interviews have been straightforward – being part of the AFL Academy has given me an extra step to media training and to answer questions,” he said.

“When they (clubs) come to my house, I’m open to their questions, and I’ve been able to answer anything they’ve thrown at me – it’s been enjoyable, and quite a humbling process to see the interest they have in me.

“I’ve spoken to multiple clubs on occasions, and some three or four times, and they just get to know you more and your interests – I’ve had about 12 clubs come to my house, and seen more at the Combine and the Academy.”

While De Koning went down with injury in the latter stages of the TAC Cup season – robbing him of the chance to push his case to clubs during the finals, he has discovered a new perspective.

“It was unfortunate to go down with injury and the pointy end of the season, and it was a bit hard on everyone at the club, my family and myself.

“I did everything I could to get it right and spending six weeks without physical activity was pretty hard on me and it messed up my school and footy routine a bit,” he said.

“I’ve spent a lot time studying to get my mind off the injury, and got back into surfing which is something I really love, and it helps me clear my head and remains a big part of me.

“The injury feels great, and I’ll be back into full training next week to get my fitness back, it’s all really exciting.”

POSITION: Ruck/Forward
DOB: 16/07/1999
HEIGHT: 200cm
WEIGHT: 90kg
DRAFT RANGE: 40-Rookie