U18 TAC Cup Squad

The Northern Knights had two players selected in the 2018 AFL Draft in a two-day event at Marvel Stadium this week.

Justin McInerney and Tom McKenzie were handed a wonderful opportunity to join the elite ranks of the AFL.

Justin McInerney was the first to be selected with pick 44 in the National Draft, whilst McKenzie had to wait a little bit longer, gaining selection with the 10th pick in the Rookie Draft.

Northern Knights Talent Manager, Rhy Gieschen says it’s great to see the hard work has paid off.

“We push them hard from a young age and they commit so heavily to the program. It is the goal of every kid coming through the program to end up on an AFL list, and I’m sure the rest of the 2018 TAC Cup squad and staff will be thrilled for Justin and Tom.” Gieschen said.

“The most inspiring thing about these two boys is that they didn’t dominate junior football. They didn’t win all the awards or weren’t earmarked from an early age. They are late developers who continued to work hard and improve. They are both extremely humble and quality young men.”

“Whether a player comes through the program and goes on to get drafted, or they go back and contribute strongly to VFL Football, Local Football, or become leaders in their community or successful in their working career, we are very proud of what they go onto achieve and are happy to play a significant role in their football and personal development.”

Justin McInerney Player Profile:

Justin McInerney is a 187cm wingman gifted with a strong blend of explosive pace and powerful two way running. McInerney only joined the Northern Knights program in mid-2017, where his performances at local level for YJFL club Banyule caught the eye of Talent ID staffer Russell Gardner and was subsequently invited to join the U17 Development Squad during the year. His form continued to improve in the back half of 2017 where he was a vital contributor to Marcellin College’s premiership in the AGSV.

After an excellent 2018 Pre-Season, McInerney quickly became one of the most exciting players on the Northern Knights list. A prototype wingman, he showed off his athletic attributes early in the season in Practice Matches exceeding targets that were set for him in terms of GPS running and started to cement himself as a TAC Cup player.

It’s these attributes that Gieschen believes separates McInerney apart from other players.

“He has enormous X factor with his ability to run, carry and break lines with his dash and penetrating kicking. His two way running and his gameday GPS is off the charts in terms of high speed repeat efforts, making him the perfect wingman with the ability to push back and help the defence, but also propel the team into attack with his attributes.”

After spending the middle portion of the year with AGSV School Football commitments at Marcellin College, McInerney hit his straps in the second half of the season returning to TAC Cup football with a stunning 25 disposal match against the Western Jets in Round 10 where he shone on a windy and wet day at Burbank Oval. For the rest of 2018, McInerney flicked between wing and half back to expose him to various roles and use his pace and aggressive nature not only in attack but also in defence. To round out the season, McInerney finished with 24 disposals and a goal on the road to Murray where he showed off his top drawer kicking over distance.

He was rewarded with an invitation to the State Draft Combine, along with receiving the 2018 Most Improved Award at the Brent Harvey Best & Fairest.

Gieschen commented on McInerney’s desire to continue to get better each session to give himself every chance of being selected by an AFL club.

“His ability to learn and develop over the 2018 pre-season was extremely impressive”

“He is a great person to have at any club, highly popular with the players and staff and doesn’t take life too seriously. He’ll fit right in at the Sydney Swans and excitingly he still has a lot of upside with some added strength work.”

“Justin being drafted is not only a testament to all of the staff at the Knights, from the talent ID department, the Development Squad Coaches, and all of the TAC Staff, but also Marcellin Coach Ryan Edwards who worked closely with Justin this year.”

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Justin and his family along the journey. They have remained so grounded and humble throughout the year, it’s great to see him land at an AFL Club.”

Tom McKenzie Player Profile:

Tom McKenzie is a 184cm skilful midfielder, capable playing both inside as well as on the outside as a wingman or on a half back flank. Joining the Northern Knights during the middle of the Under 16 program, his 2017 campaign was derailed by a finger injury that caused him not join up with main training group until midway through the Pre-Season.

He didn’t let the setback affect his commitment and drive and began to show his skills leading up to Round 1 and was subsequently selected to play.

McKenzie quickly developed into a shining prospect in his bottom-age year in 2017, playing every TAC Cup game when not representing Ivanhoe Grammar in AGSV School Football. He spent most of his year as a bottom ager playing primarily on the wing, but also experimented with roles in defence. After a standout year, he was awarded with the Michael Mascoulis Rising Star Award at the 2017 Brent Harvey Best & Fairest, for the most promising Bottom Age Player.

Gieschen commented that despite the plaudits from his bottom age year, Tom’s attitude to his top age year was the difference with him reaching his goals.

“Over the 2018 pre-season we set some lofty goals for Tom around getting stronger, faster and fitter. His commitment over this phase was as good as any player I’ve seen in the Knights. He put on 7kg which allowed him to play as a midfielder in the early part of this season and evolve his game.”

Due to his training habits and determination, McKenzie was named to the Northern Knights Leadership Group. His 2018 season picked up from where he left off, displaying his elite kicking, decision making and composure with ball in hand in his new role, including a superb 26 disposal, 10 clearance display against the Runner Up Oakleigh Chargers in Round 3.

This early season form earned McKenzie a spot in the 2018 U18 Vic Metro Squad for the duration of the U18 National Championships, where he played in every game. His standout performance came in the Round 3 clash at the MCG against Vic Country, where rebounded off the half back flank collecting 26 disposals on the hallowed turf.

After his return from Vic Metro duties, McKenzie flicked through multiple positions where he was instrumental in providing distribution all over the ground using his elite speed and precision kicking.

McKenzie finished off his 2018 season in sensational fashion where he tested at Number 1 for the 20-metre sprint at the National Draft Combine, recording a time of 2.904 seconds.

All in all, Gieschen couldn’t be happier for McKenzie and his family.

“We are really proud of Tom’s journey at the Knights and how much he has improved and developed. It’s a great message for all of our players coming through our squads about how hard work, commitment and passion to improve can get you to achieve your goals.”

“Everyone at the Knights has no doubt that Tom will be a great contributor to North Melbourne and he will leave no stone unturned to become a quality AFL player in years to come. We congratulate Tom and his family and wish him all the best for his career.”