Insight into a First Round Draft Pick

Sam Edmund  |

Tom Scully has been running rings around the other kids since his junior days. And while he may have worn a Tiger guernsey to Auskick, it's the team of red and blue that's about to gain a running machine.

DARREN Flanigan saw it, but he didn't believe it.The Dandenong Stingrays region manager was in Berwick earlier this year watching a school football game when it caught his eye. Satisfied at the final siren that a hidden gem had not slipped through the local scouting net, the former Geelong and St Kilda ruckman saw a small group of youngsters on the far side of the ground.

"One of them, all he did was cut on to his right and kick with his right foot. He probably did it for 40 minutes," Flanigan recalled. "I picked up after a couple of minutes who it was. It was Tom training on an off-night.

"As I was driving out the gate I said, 'What are you doing here? I thought you were having a rest day' and he said, 'I just wanted to work on my non-preferred'. I said, 'What did you do that for?' and he replied, 'I missed two kicks at training last night'.

"He was so disappointed with his training effort and missing two kicks on his right foot that the next night he goes out for 40 minutes and has close to 200 kicks. We can't get our worst player to do that and here is our best player doing it."

Meet Tom Scully, natural-born footballer.

The 18-year-old son of Phil and Nardja Scully has been destined for the AFL since he showed up for Auskick aged eight and stunned onlookers with precise skills on both sides of the body. Now the Berwick teenager is on the verge of being taken with the No. 1 pick in the national draft, capping a rise to stardom that has wowed a procession of coaches, teammates and opponents.

Seemingly anyone who has come into contact with Scully has a story to tell, whether it be how sublime he is on the field or how mature and driven he is off it. The Haileybury College scholarship holder, Vic Metro captain and AIS-AFL Academy graduate adds a whole new meaning to the term "ready-made player".

Demons recruiting manager Barry Prendergast has the first two draft picks on November 26. It is all but certain Melbourne will take Scully and SA under-18 captain Jack Trengove.

Scully is a pure midfielder blessed with speed, vision, decision-making ability and a pair of hands almost robotic in their sharpness. But it is his dedication that has already become the stuff of legend.

When most kids were rapt to get the canteen award and snare a free meat pie after the game, Scully was at home eating the right foods. When most kids went out and partied on Saturday night, Scully was already starting his recovery. And when most kids binged on beer and bourbon in their teenage years, Scully didn't drink. In fact, he never has.

"He's an exceptional talent and an exceptional worker, and when you put those two together you get an exceptional athlete, and that's what he is," Flanigan said. "His attention to detail and meticulous preparation guarantees that he will be as good a player as he can be, and you put that with the desire and natural talent he's got ... he could be anything."

Scully's domination of the junior game stems from remarkable endurance powers.

Put simply, he's a freak runner. Melbourne midfielder Nathan Jones was the Stingrays' 3km time-trial record-holder with a time of 10min 10sec. That changed last Christmas when Scully, who was once stopped in an AIS beep test at a staggering 15.8, took 9min 26sec over the same distance.

"He lapped every player but two," Flanigan said. "And he wasn't running against crabs, either."

At a young age, one game was rarely enough for him. Scully would often return home and head straight to the back yard where he would play his own game, even commentating and umpiring as he wheeled around the clothesline to kick goals on his now lethal left foot.

Former Berwick junior coach Darren Hayes remembers the little kid who grew up around the corner from the ground and fronted for a kick in under-11s. "He just took games apart," Hayes said.

"He was 40 possessions-plus and most of the time he'd be spending a quarter on the pine as well. As a junior coach you've got 24 kids and you've got to give them all a go. "But Tom was always happy to have a seat on the bench. He was always at the ground kicking the footy by himself. He is just one of those kids who was so dedicated and always practising."

And while many kids who dominate junior football are keen to show it at every opportunity, Scully was never seduced by glory hunting.

"There was absolutely never any 'I am' about him," Hayes said. "He just brought other kids into the game. Kids who would struggle to get a handful of kicks, Tom would give it off and they would get two handfuls of kicks.

"He was a very humble boy that you didn't pour the accolades on or you'd be pouring them on all the time."

Phil Scully and Peter Bastinac were once teammates at Dandenong in the old VFA. Years later they are the proud fathers of two of the draft's hottest talents, with Bastinac's son Ryan also bound for an AFL club. When Scully moved to Narre Warren Junior Football Club and teamed up with Ryan, Peter Bastinac, the under-14 and 15 coach, was blown away by Scully's talents.

"He was always in front of every run we ever did.  It didn't matter what we were doing, he would always train hard and was always a standout," Bastinac said. "Ryan could never get him. It was always Tom first, Ryan second, but they pushed each other pretty hard. Tom was very disciplined. I think he's just one of those kids who are born with a talent and he's making the most of it."

Flanigan has seen thousands of hopefuls walk through the doors at the Stingrays' Shepley Oval base, but doesn't hesitate when asked to remember a weekend in 2005 - the first time he saw Scully.

"We do a skills intro program, 400 kids over three days every year, where they come down and he was just the package," Flanigan said. "He was left foot, right foot, he never fumbled, was always at the front looking up with 100 per cent concentration and attention."

But the fierce training regime would come at a cost. By his mid-teens, Scully was training three nights a week, and when he was not at the club, he was punishing himself with 10km runs.

"It was a fair bit of work for that age, but I thought I felt pretty good and on off-nights I would go on a 10k run. It was pretty stupid and then I started to get a bit sore," Scully said.

Just as Scully's under-15 season came to a close, he was diagnosed with osteitis pubis. And it was severe. He was ordered to take a four-month break or risk long-term damage.

He sat out the first few months of the 2007 season, but by May was running again without discomfort. He then dominated the national under-16 carnival for Vic Metro and, despite the limited preparation, earnt All-Australian honours.

Scully averaged 26.1 disposals in nine games for Stingrays this year and 25.2 in five for Vic Metro, while also appearing in every game for Haileybury College. It ended on a sour note when he sustained small cracks to the side of his kneecap in a collision in the TAC preliminary final.

Scully had surgery to remove floating pieces of bone, and in between studying for Year 12 exams, was restricted to swimming, cycling and physio appointments. He will resume running in a week and is on track to start pre-season with his new club following the draft.


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