The dream has become a reality for Harley Balic, drafted to Fremantle with pick 38 in last night’s NAB AFL Draft.
Touted pre-draft as a likely top-20 pick, the talented SMJFL product managed to slip down the draft order before the Dockers pounced on him at the end of the second round.
Some experts are calling Balic’s selection as perhaps the biggest draft steal of 2015, but it did cause some anxious moments for the 18-year-old.
“I was very nervous but was pretty relieved when my name was read out,” he told fremantlefc.com.au.
“There was a lot of emotion going through my head, everyone was excited for me.”
Moving to the other side of the country is a daunting move for anybody, let alone a teenager, but Balic said he was looking forward to heading over to Perth to commence his AFL career.
“I hear it’s great weather, I’m tipping it’ll be better than Melbourne,” he said.
“I’m excited to start a new journey.”
After a stellar junior career with Mordi-Brae that included 72 games, five club Best & Fairests, an Interleague jumper and a premiership medallion, Balic made a name for himself with the Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup.
However, it wasn’t until his breakout performances in the Under 18 National Championships with Vic Metro that his AFL potential was truly recognised.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Balic, who has endured several injury setbacks over the last 12 months, as well as made the decision to give up his other great sporting love – basketball.
AFL Media journalist Callum Twomey chronicled Balic’s transition from junior basketball prodigy to AFL hopeful in an article for the AFL website last week.
Read Twomey’s story below.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 15, 2015
HARLEY Balic isn’t meant to be tackling. He is wearing an orange vest over his NAB AFL Academy training shirt, indicating he is not taking part in contact drills. His left wrist is taped, and he is in the middle of a handball exercise, offering incidental pressure to teammates.
Then his instincts kick in. Balic throws himself at a teammate and drags him to the ground. He does it again, and then a third time.
Academy assistant coach Brad Johnson likes Balic’s competitiveness, but pulls him aside and directs him to the recovery group on an adjacent field. It might be the 18-year-old’s last taste of full training for months.
Balic, a dynamic half-forward eligible for this year’s NAB AFL Draft, is in Florida in the United States with 33 teammates for the Academy’s 10-day training camp.
An early setback
Yesterday, he received some bad news. The wrist injury he has been carrying has resurfaced, and he might need surgery to fix it when he returns to Melbourne later this month.
It means he will sit out training for the rest of this camp. And, worryingly, the concern could result in more than three months on the sidelines. That would eat into the start of the season, and dent his hopes of ending the year on an AFL list.
The injury happened two years ago, when Balic dunked a basketball on his school court. The Parkdale College student slipped on the way down and had to extend his arm to break the fall. As a result, his wrist took full weight of the drop.
At the time his mum, Nancy, was travelling in America, and Balic texted his dad, Eddie, to say he was in some pain. “This isn’t good,” Balic wrote. But he wasn’t in agony, and the soreness grew into a dull pain, so he didn’t have a doctor check the injury.
When Balic finally booked scans at the end of 2013 – months after the fall – his doctor took one look at the X-ray and told him he had been playing basketball and footy for months with a fractured scaphoid. He had surgery to correct the problem, and spent most of that pre-season recovering from the injury.
It didn’t hurt his season too much. In 2014, Balic played 14 games for the Sandringham Dragons not knowing he was carrying a major injury, establishing himself as one of the exciting prospects to watch in 2015.
Before games his mum would tell Harley to be careful. He’d think, ‘How can I be careful? It’s footy’.
At the end of the season he assumed the worst of it was behind him. But after feeling a sharp pain in his wrist at training yesterday, Academy squad physiotherapist Nick Ames informed Balic surgery might be his only option. A pin would need to be inserted to help repair the break.
“I was pretty shattered when he said that. I was angry with myself more than anything,” Balic says.
“I’m hoping I wouldn’t need surgery. I’ve put in such a big pre-season and last year I really didn’t have a pre-season at all because I’d had the first operation.
“This is the first pre-season I’ve really knuckled down and been able to do everything. It’d suck for that to amount to nothing.”
Balic grew up in Mordialloc, a bayside suburb in Melbourne’s south. His siblings like sport and are good at it too: his younger brother Cooper will probably play as a bottom-ager for the Dragons next year and also likes to strum the guitar; older brother Jesse is into science.
Harley set his mind solely on sports. He started playing with Mordialloc-Braeside’s under-9s football team as a seven-year-old, and at the same time was playing basketball for the Sandringham Sabres.
In between, he began Milo cricket, but his parents were so busy ferrying him from one sport to another that Nancy would tell Harley the letters inviting him to train with better cricket teams because he had ‘potential’ were just photocopied. “They’ve sent them to everyone,” she’d say.
One afternoon Eddie got home and was told they were heading to Bendigo that weekend for the national athletics meeting. “For what?” he asked. Balic had qualified for the high jump after an enormous leap at a local event.
CLICK HERE to read Twomey’s full article on the AFL website.