Wardlaw “proud” of journey, ready to get stuck in

OAKLEIGH Chargers young gun George Wardlaw is “quite proud” of what he has been able to achieve over his junior football career, with the star midfielder set to join North Melbourne in tonight’s AFL Draft. While the majority of players are unaware of their destination over the next two nights, Wardlaw has known for some time that he would be among the top draft selections, and in recent times, would be donning blue and white.

If there was any room for doubt as to his destination tonight, then that was quickly erased after a slip up at a press conference last week. When talking about the standard looking forward to preseason question, rather than keep it generic, he mentioned North Melbourne, then had to correct himself. Though the cat may have been let out of the bag, no one would have been surprised. Set to be the first midfielder from the open pool taken, Wardlaw said during the National Draft Combine testing that he was proud of what he was able to build leading up to today.

“It’s pretty hard to fathom and it was hard to think that this would probably come to fruition three or four years ago or even more recently,” Wardlaw said. “To be where I am right now has caught me by surprise sometimes. It’s a great feeling, I’m quite proud of what I’ve done and the people who have done things for me.”

The Essendon supporter will fall just short of reaching his childhood club, but that will not worry Wardlaw one iota, with the level-headed talent not afraid to test himself in any colours, and at any level.

“I try to stay relatively separate from the media but I do understand there is an element of attention obviously,” Wardlaw said. “Next year really excited just to play football whether that be at AFL level that’s goal and that’s the hope, but just playing football because I’ve had such a disrupted year, so just getting out there is the main goal at this point.”

Repeat hamstring injuries hampered Wardlaw’s year after 2022 started to brightly, winning best on ground for the AFL Academy against Collingwood VFL, but then failing to play an AFL Under 18 Championships match for Vic Metro due to the injuries.

“It has been frustrating and I reckon when I first kind of figured out that I was going to be missing as much as I have, I was initially angry and disappointed,” Wardlaw said. “I’ve talked to multiple people who have given me great advice and after to speaking to those people and getting an understanding of the right protocols and the right procedures to undertake, I understood my position in the draft, and the risk and reward factors as well.”

Wardlaw understood some clubs might view repeat soft tissue injuries as a risk, but the Chargers talent said it was not just the injuries, but the lack of exposed form too. However in saying that, every time Wardlaw stepped out on the park, it was hard to deny he was in the top couple of players on the field. In the nAB League, Wardlaw played three matches, and in two of them, collected 24 disposals, and averaged six marks and six tackles.

The strong inside midfielder said he had spoken to a lot of clubs at the Draft Combine but was transparent when implying a lot of the interviews were about touching base and less serious given the limited amount of clubs he would be available to in the 2022 AFL Draft.

“I think the club’s that I did have more of a chance to go into, the feel and the questions were a bit more serious than the clubs that I don’t really have too much chance going to just yet,” Wardlaw said. They (clubs) didn’t directly express interest.”

Wardlaw describes his contested work and competitiveness as his best traits, while he was looking to improve his endurance and kicking going forward, two areas he had focused hard on this season.

“I think from an early age I did adopt a see-ball, get-ball attitude,” Wardlaw said. “I’d say that’s probably stuck with me throughout my career so far. I think I initially had a little bit of it, but I think it has developed over the last couple of years.

“I think going into this year especially in my two goals were to improve my endurance and also improve my kicking as well. I think looking back at what I was able to do this year I think my kicking obviously to me and to the coaches spoken to got a lot better. But also my endurance as well. Going into next year just to keep improving on those two things.”

While hearing Wardlaw’s name read out at tonight’s AFL Draft will be a mere formality, it will be an exciting one for North Melbourne fans who add another talented and mature inside midfielder to the list.

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