YOUNG GUN PODHAJSKI READY TO EMERGE
BY TIM MILLER
He got a taste of top-line football in 2016 and as the clock ticks down to this year’s season opener against Eastern Ranges, Mitch Podhajski is eager to embrace his new role as a senior member of the Calder Cannons’ TAC Cup team.
The 17-year old, who has embraced an unfamiliar role in defence with open arms since making his Cannons’ debut in Round 5 last year, insists that the new responsibility won’t faze him in the least.
“It (leadership) doesn’t change too much in terms of the way you play footy,” Podhajski said.
“You go out on the track and play the best footy you can and train as hard as you can. The leadership role is required more because I have played and had the experience.
“I know what ‘Johno’ (head coach Andrew Johnston) and Russ (new assistant coach Russell Humphrey) are trying to enforce into us so I can help the young kids better, and the 17-year olds.”
As an under-age player in 2016, Podhajski was given a chance at TAC Cup level early in the season, impressing with his run and carry from half-back over eight promising games.
Like many future stars of the game, Podhajski spent most of his junior football career in the midfield and up forward, making his success in unfamiliar territory last year even more meritorious.
“Last year, coming into the backline for the first time ever, it was a big learning experience,” Podhajski recalled.
“It took me quite a while to get used to the speed that was required as a backman.”
But far from being overawed by having to try and keep some of the brightest young talents in the state under wraps on a weekly basis, Podhajski has taken it all in his stride, even allowing the experience to add further weight to his burgeoning leadership credentials.
“This year, playing predominantly in the backline, I can help others that might be in the same position as me get used to the standard and the style of play quicker,” he said.
Adding to his excitement is the arrival of midfield coach Brett Gourley, whose familiarity with Podhajski stems back to their days at the Aberfeldie Football Club, as well as his part-time work at the Cannons last year.
“It’s really good to see him [Brett] as the midfield coach now,” Podhajski said.
“I had him last year for ‘Abers’ [Aberfeldie]. It was my first year and we won a flag with him. That was nice.”
The Cannons have a number of other potential top candidates for this year’s AFL Draft, including highly touted key forward Noah Balta and 19-year old duo Jean-Luc Vellisaris and Aidan Tilley, and Podhajski is eager to pump up his teammates’ abilities ahead of a Round 1 clash with the impressive Eastern Ranges.
“I’m pretty sure you all know about ‘Balts’ [Balta],” Podhajski said.
“He’s one of the blokes you are glad are on your team and you’re not playing against him.
“As a backman, I wouldn’t want to be playing on him. He’s been training hard and still improving.
Boys like ‘Knackers’ [midfielder Brad Bernacki], Jean-Luc, ‘Tills’ [Tilley]. We’ve got a good bunch of 18-year olds that have been improving heaps from last year.”
His career may be in its infancy, but if anything is to be learned from his progress so far, you should take care to remember the name Podhajski.