Despite facing multiple losses throughout the year due to undermanned staff, captain Hamish Brayshaw says he’s seen positive growth from both the AFL and WAFL-listed players as they further developed their craft throughout the season.
After a difficult beginning – with zero wins to eight losses – the WAFL side managed to find some continuity in the middle of the year, with listed players such as Xavier O’Neill, Bailey Williams and Brayden Ainsworth all recording season-best matches.
Injured AFL players also volunteered their weekends to coach forward and midfield lines, while furthering the experience of some of the younger players in the side.
“We’ve had Jack Redden, we’ve had Luke Shuey, we’ve had Brendon Ah Chee, we’ve had a lot of those senior guys come back and help out,” Brayshaw said.
“And it’s really good because they’re volunteering to do it, so, I think it shows the love that the AFL-listed guys have for our WAFL side, and the willingness for them to come back and help out when they don’t have to give up their time on a Saturday to come help.
“It just shows how much they care about it, and I think imparting their wisdom and knowledge of the game on us has really helped us go forward this year.”
Brayshaw also holds his own AFL experience, moving to WAFL level this season after three years on the list.
“I think knowing the AFL boys and knowing the WAFL boys, sort of being that bridge between the two of them has really helped me this season,” he said.
“It has had its challenges. Managing expectations of AFL guys coming back down and playing, managing expectations of our WAFL-listed boys who are getting games, and then not getting games, because of the natural squeeze of the AFL guys coming back.
“It’s been a challenge, but I’ve really enjoyed it, and I think I’ve always had leadership qualities, and I’ve tried to be a leader on and off the ground as my career’s unfolded.”
The 23-year-old also said he’s impressed with the next generation of Eagles rising through the ranks with youngsters such as Harry Edwards and mid-season draftee Connor West becoming possible mainstays in the senior squad.
The onball brigade of Brayden Ainsworth and Xavier O’Neill have also caught the eye of the captain, particularly after rounding out the top three disposal winners of the season, behind Brayshaw himself.
Twenty-one year old ruckman Bailey Williams was also influential in the midfield this season, after recording the top hitouts of any match – with 58 – as well as 16 disposals, seven marks, two tackles and two goals in round 20 against Peel.
“In terms of the AFL-listed guys, I think Bailey Williams has really come a long way, he’s starting to dominate when he comes back to WAFL level and I think Harry Edwards is the same,” Brayshaw said.
“I think Xavier O’Neill has also taken a really big step in his development, he’s played quite a few AFL games this year and when he comes back to the WAFL he really dominates as a listed player.”
In terms of the WAFL-listed players, Kieran Hug has had a strong season in the forward-line, with Brayshaw explaining he’s is the ‘unsung hero’ of the group due to his spectacular work rate.
Joey Deegan has also put together a solid campaign, averaging 14.6 disposals a game, alongside 2.9 marks.
“I think Kieran Hug is probably our unsung hero, he works as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone work at WAFL level,” he said.
“He runs like Jamie Cripps does at AFL level, just up and back and up and back.
“He does that every week, regardless of how we’re going, he’s probably a barometer for us up forward, puts a lot of pressure on and just runs all day, so he’s probably the unsung hero for the season.
“And in terms of our WAFL-listed guys I think Joey Deegan’s taken a lot of really good steps forward, he’s dominated ‘ammo’s’ (amateurs) the past couple of years, but he’s really come in and proved himself as a standout WAFL player for us.
“I think a majority of our listed WAFL guys have taken that step from being good amateur players to really handy WAFL players.
“That’s probably where I think the biggest improvement has come for us this year, the development of those WAFL-listed guys.”