By Hayley Wildes
In a season full of positives for the Dandenong Stingrays, the play of Matthew Gahan – in his first season of TAC Cup football – has certainly been a pleasant surprise.
The 18-year-old played his junior football at Balnarring and was planning on playing senior football for Red Hill in Division 2 of the Mornington Peninsula Football League this year, but after locking down a role in the Rays rock-solid defensive unit, Gahan’s plans quickly changed.
“At the start of the year I never would’ve thought I’d be in this situation, so I’m just stoked to be where I am and with the team going so well,” Gahan said.
“I feel like I have found my role. Each game I gain more clarity in my role and what I have to do for the team.”
Gahan has relished the opportunity to learn and develop in the Rays’ elite environment and credits the coaches for helping him make a smooth transition.
“I’ve never been involved with the TAC Cup through any of my football career, so coming in now has been great,” he said.
“After playing local footy my whole life it was a big shock to come into a place where the professionalism and intensity was all different – it was a bit to adjust to, but it’s been good.
“The coaches have been really supportive and when I wasn’t getting a game in the first two rounds, they were there for me, telling me what I needed to improve and what I needed to do to get a spot in the team.”
The Rays head into finals having claimed the minor premiership and that’s a credit to a team that is on the same page and a defence that thrives on intercepting opposition forward thrusts and hurting them on the other end.
Gahan has been a key cog of that defence and his ability to read the play, intercept and then attack has been impressive to watch.
“I’ve only been a backman for about two years and it’s been good this year at the Rays,” he said.
“We’ve been really strong down back and to think back to the start of the year to where we are now, there’s been a huge improvement.
“We’re just really strong as a back six and hopefully we can get stronger to help our team even more in the finals.”
His play has caught the eye of scouts, so much so that earlier this month he received an AFL State Combine invite.
“It was definitely a shock when I found out,” he said of the combine invite.
“I didn’t really expect it to be honest, but it’s really exciting knowing that I can show my abilities to clubs and that there are a few clubs interested.”
With the Rays incredible home and away season complete, their attention now turns to finals – which kick off on September 8 – and Gahan can’t wait for his first taste of TAC Cup finals football.
“Everyone is in good spirits at the moment coming into finals, so hopefully we can keep it going,” he said.
“It would be awesome to win it all. The group of boys we have at the moment are the best bunch of blokes, so winning it with them would be really special.”