Barnett “buzzing” from big top-age year

THERE were not too many achievements that West Adelaide ruck Harry Barnett did not tick off in 2022. The 202cm, 97kg prospect stepped up throughout this year to be the standout pure ruck prospect in the AFL Draft crop, winning All-Australian honours and an invite to the AFL National Draft Combine. In a year where there were no shortages of talls coming out of West Adelaide – let alone South Australia – Barnett was able to play at League level and represent his state, earning plenty of plaudits along the way.

The majority of AFL clubs spoke to Barnett at the Combine, a testament to his season, and perhaps something that defies the trend for 200-plus players who are outside the Top 10 range. Having watched highlights of past Draft Combines on YouTube, the ruck said he was “hoping” all season to earn an invite.

“I’ve been loving it,” Barnett said. It’s just something that you see in the media, the draft combine, so I’m just pinching myself to be here. It’s pretty special. I’ve spoken to a few clubs, and they don’t give you much, but it’s been very enjoyable.

“You see it on YouTube and you’re like ‘I’d love to be there one day’ and I knew I’d had a pretty solid championships and I was hoping to get the call up to the National Combine. I have a couple of mates here as well and we were buzzing when we got the call.”

Though he missed a game due to Covid protocols, Barnett certainly made the most of his appearances at the AFL Under 18 Championships, earning the starting ruck spot in the 2022 All-Australian team from the carnival. When scrolling back through the past first-choice rucks, Barnett realised the esteemed company he had just joined.

“It was wild. I still don’t really feel like I’m at that level yet. I just feel like I’m playing school footy at Mercedes which is an amazing footy school,” Barnett said. I went on Wikipedia the other day and saw the other All-Australian Under 18 ruckmen like Luke Jackson, Tim English and Brodie Grundy and thought it’s pretty crazy to think I’m at the end of that list. It’s another one of those moments where you’ve just got to think ‘wow’.”

Looking back at the SANFL, Barnett’s club at West Adelaide had no shortage of AFL Draft prospects coming into the year. The highly touted talls of Harry Lemmey and Tom Scully, as well as ball magnet Kobe Ryan were all among the most talked about talents, but with the draft now just over a month away, Barnett has seemingly skipped the queue and looks certain to be the first name of the quartet to have his named called.

Despite the star-studded lineup, West Adelaide Under 18s was unable to make finals, missing out by just two points to finish fifth with 10 wins from 18 games. Barnett said the competition was all about the depth of sides, with the lean form patch mid-year – where they lost four out of five games – proved to be the Bloods’ undoing.

“The thing with SANFL 18s is you can have all the best talent in the world but if you have all of them lost to SANFL League level or champs level, it’s all sort of a depth competition really,” Barnett said. Clubs like Glenelg and North (Adelaide) who have that really strong depth, that good top-end but also really, really strong lower-end, they’re the ones that always go far every year. We had a little middle patch in the year where we started losing games, so it was a bit disappointing, but I love all those boys and it was an unreal year.”

Barnett was one of the few from the Under 18s program to earn a League spot alongside Lemmey – who debuted in 2021 – and Ryan, with the achievement surpassing his father’s efforts. When the teenager received the phone call from Westies coach Brad Gotch that he would be playing League, Barnett admitted he was “buzzing”.

“My dad played a bit of Reserves level out at Sturt and Glenelg, mostly Glenelg. But he never got the League gig so tensions were pretty high when I told him about that, but he said he was proud of me,” Barnett said. “To have Kobe Ryan and Harry Lemmey before me, and to have Kobe Ryan run out there with me, one of my best mates, it was an unreal experience, and I loved every second.”

Now the focus turns to the AFL Draft, with Barnett having no shortage of suitors, but just the question of which club pulls the trigger on the ruck first.

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