Externally, the media have labelled Harry Sheezel as a likely top prospect for the 2022 national draft. Harry has seen the talk but does not want to get carried away. Like most others, he approaches the season with a desire to leave it all out there and Jonty Ralphsmith from Dragons Media will track his season of no regrets.
Omission that stung
Harry Sheezel was really stiff.
None of his teammates could believe Harry’s omission from division one of interleague in under 15s, intensifying a feeling of injustice for a player long viewed as a standout of his cohort.
He always found the ball - junior coaches at his club, AJAX would position him where it would go knowing his disposal would be efficient and composed.
Harry remembers coming home on this night emotional and sending off an email asking why. Why had the coaching staff left him out despite being the captain and most valuable player at the top level in the year previous.
He had wanted to do the mature thing, ask the head coach Cam Feild, now a line coach at Sandy, about the decision in person to get verbal feedback on his shortcomings.
But the coach was occupied with other matters and Harry had not wanted to disturb.
An explanation was needed though. Harry was in his room crying and that disappointment was compounded by not knowing why.
The absence was even harder to take given how big a part of his life footy was.
Harry would come home after school and go straight to the park near their Malvern house with Dad, Dean, until it was dark about three to five times per week, refining his technique, mastering the fundamentals.
When they were at home, Harry would have Dean, a 150-game veteran forward at AJAX, drill balls at him in their city-sized backyard.
Harry also had a rebound net to perfect his touch – he would never get bored if a footy was involved.
“It was a massive effort on Dean’s part,” Mum, Lana, highlights.
Dean also coached Harry’s teams in the early years until he decided that it would be more beneficial to get fresh voices coaching – and probably also got the nudge out from his son.
Admittedly looking through a gold-tinted lens, Dean saw Harry as an excellent goalkicking midfielder.
“He had this knack of seeing the ball before everyone else and knowing where to run, so he could read the play really well,” Dean said.
“He was always in the right position, ready to play from U9s.
He was ahead of everyone in terms of reading his play and refining his skills; he worked hard on his skills on both feet from a young age.”
Backing up Dean’s sentiment was Harry’s trophy cabinet: best and fairest each year throughout juniors, club champion across all age groups for three consecutive years, multiple goalkicking awards.
In between all that footy, Harry also juggled representative basketball for Hawthorn Magic.
For many years his parents recommended that Harry should only juggle both sports for ‘one more year’ as the demands grew with age but he played each for as long as plausible.
There was an unsaid assumption Harry would choose footy so his basketball coach emphasised how much the two sports would complement each other to keep him in the team.
His one-touch ability stems in some part, at least, from the time on the basketball court – he’s good with his hands and got an air of composure.
Then there were the triathlons – another means to vary up his training.
Dad competed in two iron-mans when Harry was young, giving an insight into the unflinching dedication and lifestyle required to be elite.
Dean would wake up at 5am and go for a three-hour bike ride in the morning before a run or swim in the afternoon.
Dean estimates he would have run 100 kilometres per week, cycled 400 kilometres and swum five kilometres.
Harry remembers going around to different stations to cheer Dad as he went past during the event in 2012.
“It was pretty inspiring,” Harry said.
“I was pretty young for the first one and I remember he was dead when he crossed the finish line but I didn’t really care – I just got his medal and took it to wear!”
Dean still remains in shape now. When Sandy Media spoke to Harry’s parents, Dean had just returned from a run and Harry knows that Dad has been a positive influence.
By the time Harry competed himself, he had a grasp of the hard work required and he was willing to put in.
Between 2013 and 2020, Harry estimates he competed in 10 triathlons.
But they were always a vehicle to improve his physical capacity, with the end goal of a footy career front of mind when he competed.
Harry tempered his disappointment somewhat in the email to Feild about his interleague omission, seeing no need to escalate the situation but his reaction that night reinforced to his parents, Lana and Dean, how much footy meant to him.
“It was a blessing because it taught Harry that things don’t just come easily and you’ve got to really work hard,” said Dean.
No-one doubted Harry’s talent – everyone on the coaching panel saw his potential, as Feild remembered it – but, coming off an injury-interrupted preseason, he needed to be nurtured, rather than rushed back to the top level.
Proving his worth, Harry kicked seven goals in one of the division two games sending the message that he was above that level.
On the improve
Feild gave Harry four sources of feedback: endurance; speed off the mark; cleanliness; body positioning.
2021 Sandy Senior Coach Jackson Kornberg sees his cleanliness, in particular, as a clear asset now.
“He’s one player I have full trust in inside 50 that if he was getting to the fall of the ball, he wouldn’t fumble,” Kornberg said.
When Harry was given the chance at a higher level, he always showed off handsomely.
Mum, Lana, highlights that Harry has never particularly stressed before major events and milestones – it is simply not in his nature.
Even the seemingly omnipresent pre-test jitters at school never really hit Harry, despite the Mount Scopus College student being a “natural scholar”.
“Generally the games where there’s a bit more pressure I perform better – I guess it’s natural, I think I deal pretty well with it,” Harry said.”
His calm demeanour came in handy for his footy in 2021 as he packed a lot into a Covid-shortened season: NAB League debut, Vic Metro representation, seniors debut.
Feild was there before Harry’s NAB League debut, watching the game for a separate reason.
Independently of each other, both remember the exchanged eye contact, smile and acknowledgement.
“He was coachable and respectful,” Feild recalled of Harry.
“He’s a quality individual and I have tremendous respect for him because he was courageous enough to ask for feedback as a 14–15-year-old which is sometimes not easy.”
He kicked 5.4 in his three games for Sandy - headlined by a three goal game against Calder - moving well and finding the footy inside 50 reliably.
Kornberg, also Harry's U16s coach, was most buoyed by the growth in Harry’s defensive pressure.
“Stemming back to 16s he was very offensive – if the ball was in his area he would be a strong tackler but if it left his area he wouldn’t be as quick to transition or have the intent of some of the other boys,” Kornberg said.
“In the first couple of games he played in the 17s champs [in 2021] he didn’t show as much defensive stuff and I told ‘Sheez’ flat out he wouldn’t play if he didn’t get his (defensive) efforts.
"To his credit I don’t think he missed them each week after he heard that so that’s something he spoke to me about.
“He knew he had to focus on his defensive stuff so we went through vision of his Metro and 17s games and I showed opportunities where he could’ve done it but didn’t and he flipped his game to be a well-rounded player which you have to be at that size, he has to be a holistic half forward.
“I look at that from the first day I saw him at the end of 2019 to where it is now - it has far and away improved.”
Harry’s pressure satisfied Kornberg and his ability to still put himself in scoring positions and convert was cognisant with a kid who had spent hours per week at the park mastering their touch and goal sense.
Harry showed the goal-sense on debut for AJAX on ANZAC day at a wet and traditional Brunswick St Oval.
He had seven scoring shots on a day where his team kicked eight goals and won by less than a kick.
He was very good one-on-one,” coach Adam Andrews recalled.
“He was very clean when others were fumbling. When you can play well and use the ball well in wet weather, that’s a real testament to someone who’s got skill.
“He kicked a terrific over-the-shoulder goal over his head from 25-30 out at an important time - it was one grab and he got ball on boot. He took his opportunities.
“He played to his strengths and he was really lively. It got to the point where you went ‘oh, something’s going to happen’ when he was near the ball.”
Harry played three games for the season and his transition to senior footy was seamless.
“He just worked really hard and in terms of intensity,” Andrews added.
“Once the warm-up was done he was right into it. He was 16 at the time but he was winning the running that was done at training but also his efforts in our competitive and game sense drills where second, third fourth effort came into it were elite.
“It was great because we were matching him up on our senior players so he was training with good athletes but bigger bodies so he got a good workout and physically matched it with our senior players and once he played at senior level he matched it in the games he played.”
Current Sandringham coach Wayne Cripps has been impressed with Harry having been involved with him for Vic Metro in 2021.
“He’s just a natural footballer and he gets the game,” Cripps said.
“I think what’s most underrated about him is his off-ball movements, what people don’t see behind the play is how he manipulates a defender to create space and create separation and he meets the ball at perfect timing.
On the day that NAB League teammate Will Ashcroft captured headlines with a 33 touch, two goal game for Vic Metro, Harry put in another excellent showing.
Dean, says he can sense when Harry is on early in a game. At GMHBA Stadium on this day, he had that aura.
Harry kicked three goals and played above his size while remaining evasive at ground level to affirm his status among the best.
The one game that comes to the family’s mind where he didn’t perform was his Vic Metro game at Avalon AP Oval.
Harry works best when he has structure and routine.
He has pasta the night before a game. Wakes up early and does his stretches. Has an oat smoothie. Kicks in the backyard with Dad for a few minutes. Listens to music. Visualises what’s ahead.
Being on a camp in the days leading up to the game threw much of that out and perhaps hindered his performance – he did not excel the way he often does.
Make the most of every game
Harry – along with many others - said that a learning out of Covid was to make the most of each game; you never know when footy will be taken away.
Now entering, Harry hopes, a full season of footy for the first time since under 15s, he enlisted the assistance of Vic Metro strength and conditioning coach Matthew Glossop to build on the base he gave himself last year.
So as to not pigeon-hole him as a forward, the Dragons will use his smooth-moving through the midfield and expose the contested side of his game to show his versatility alongside his time in attack.
He enters the season highly touted, and with supreme talent and work ethic to boot.
A four-goal, eight-shot, performance in Sandy’s final tune-up ahead of round one reinforced his dynamism and difficulty to match up on as he imposed in the air, worked up the ground and was clean on the floor.
He was also standout at the Dragons’ preseason sessions and was part of a Connors Sports two-day Camp in December and Vic Metro camp at The Hangar early in preseason.
The latter provided Harry with access to elite facilities complementing his preparation and recovery and both camps gave Harry an insight into the meticulous nature the top-level demands.
As part of the camp, he sat down with Vic Metro’s Glossop to discuss his strengths and areas for improvement.
Harry told Glossop he believed power was something that could round off his game – an answer Glossop wanted to hear.
“He immediately jumped out as one of the more talented kids and from a movement perspective, he drew your eye,” Allsopp said.
“I sat down with each player for about 15 minutes and Harry was the most in tune with himself and aware of what he needed to get better at – it’s an easy sell when they’re driving the conversation, you just give them the tools and get out of the way.”
Harry wanted to have a better ability to explode from stoppages, create separation on a lead, make something from nothing to change a game so Glossop gave him a plyometrics program that he has stuck to throughout preseason.
“His lateral movement is exceptional and aerobic ability is pretty good as well so if you were to pick a gap, his real explosion which is a real feature of games [would be it]."
“He's pretty dynamic inside 50 in under 17s but being a powerful mid-sized forward adds another string to his bow.”
Harry knows people have had kind things to say but says he is unfussed by any apparent external expectation; he points out that this year’s cohort are the least seen by scouts given the pandemic.
Instead, he is happy to stick to his spag bol and smoothie, push ups before bed and light kick in the morning, knowing that routine provides him with his best results.
“I’m always trying to put myself in the best position to get drafted so I’m always thinking about my actions,” Harry said.
“My focus is always footy – I always consider how my decisions would affect my football.”