Local Footy: Two Dans and a draft

Dan Noonan and Dan Nicholson are contrasting footballers. Noonan is big and solid, able to patrol a backline with his presence as much as his sure hands and timely fist. Nicholson is small and nippy, able to baulk and shimmy before kicking long in to the forward line.

On Sunday the two Dans represented the Victorian Amateur Football Association in the under-19 representative game against the Victorian Country Football League at Sportscover Arena in Elsternwick.

Noonan, who generally plays as a key defender with Old Xaverians in Premier Section, was the general in the backline, steadying the ship early and directing the charge late. Nicholson, from University Blues, enjoyed many dashes from half-back in which he ran around two or three opponents before haring downfield.

The Amateurs team kicked the last four goals to win by 24 points. Noonan (194 centimetres) and Nicholson (178 centimetres) heightened their chances of being drafted when they were named the two best players on the ground.

There are a few precedents of players being drafted out of the Amateurs, including a golden period in the mid-’90s. In the 1996 A-section first semi-final between Old Melburnians and University Blues, OMs midfielder Andrew Thompson spent most of the match sharking the hit-outs of Blues ruckman Gil McLachlan.

Thompson was drafted to St Kilda at the end of that season, at 24 years of age, and went on to play 200 games. McLachlan narrowly missed out on a place on the Carlton supp list before the next season and, of course, is now the second banana at the AFL.

In 1995 Richard Vandenberg began his engineering degree at Melbourne University and began playing footy with Uni Blues. Vandenberg played the first half-dozen games of the season with the Blues in the under-19s and the rest of the year off the bench in the seniors.

In 1996 he won the Blues’ senior best-and-fairest. On and off the field, he was a feisty customer. Midway through the 1997 season, he broke his hand during a trip home to Wentworth, over the Murray from Mildura. He knuckled down after the setback and Hawthorn took him with a late punt at the end of the year.

In 1995, Vandenberg was one of three players to play in the A-section grand final between Uni Blues and Old Xavs who would later be drafted. The Xavs midfield that season included Matt Hannebery (ex-Footscray, father of Sydney’s Dan) and Paul Tuddenham (ex-Collingwood), but it was youngsters Anthony McDonald and Andrew Leoncelli who set the club alight.

Xavs, coached by former Richmond star Barry Richardson, won the grand final by 15 goals. Richardson then left to become Neil Balme’s chairman of selectors at Melbourne. It was his influence that persuaded Melbourne to take the two young midfielders. Both McDonald and Leoncelli played 100 games and were members of the Demons’ 2000 Grand Final team.

James McDonald, Anthony’s younger brother, joined Xavs before 1996. In the first round, he ran water for the under-19s because he was unable to get a game. Then he had a few games in the Xavs’ under-19s and half a dozen in the reserves.

He was elevated into the seniors only when key forward Nick Bourke was appointed playing-coach halfway through the season. McDonald went on to play in Xavs’ 1996 premiership team and was taken by Melbourne in the draft. He’s now played 200 games and is in his second season as Melbourne captain.

Scouts from at least two AFL clubs were at Elsternwick for the under-19 match on Sunday. Amateurs coach Murray Browne, the former Fitzroy and Collingwood player, said they were interested not only in Noonan and Nicholson but a few others as well.

Perhaps a second golden period is imminent.

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