IT was the meeting that changed the trajectory of Ollie Murphy’s season.
Having played as a tall forward/ruck under former Sandringham Dragons coach Wayne Cripps last season, current coach Rob Harding had other things in mind for the 200cm athletic prospect.
“He came up to me and told me I’d be training as a key back,” said Murphy.
“I always thought my attributes would be used in the ruck and forward line, but when I went down back it gave me a new perspective, I thought hang on, this is actually pretty good.
“I learned a lot from our backs coach at Dragons, Cam Field, and got to know the backline group a bit better which really helped fast track my development in the back half.
“A lot of credit goes to Rob too; he’s been an amazing coach. The way he taught me and the others, he has respect for every player on the list, I really hope he goes a long way with his coaching.”
Murphy says he never had any reservations about the positional switch but admitted there were times where he became frustrated.
“There were times where I got frustrated but I really embraced it.”
The key defender said things started to click in the first month of Coates Talent League footy, before he went back to the APS competition with Caulfield Grammar.
“My confidence kept building as I played some good footy and I began to think this is the position for me.
“I was so fortunate to be a part of that group, it’s such a good group of boys and I’ve made so many new friends.
“I’ll be mates with those boys for a long time, the connections I’ve made, it was certainly a year I won’t forget.”
Harding saw tremendous potential in Murphy who he believed had the physical attributes to really catch the eye of AFL scouts.
“There were a number of attributes that interest you straight away when you put your recruiting hat on,” said Harding.
“One thing that stood out with Ollie was his clean hands at ground level, he’s a really nice ball user and had run a 6:15min 2km time trial as a 200cm player.
“At the AFL level at the moment there’s clearly a need for 200cm key defenders and we felt that Ollie had those attributes that meant we could train him up as a key defender.
“He really embraced that challenge; he learned the defensive craft.
“I remember in round one at RSEA Park against Eastern he was playing really well and took a great intercept mark going back into a pack, I think it gave him a lot of confidence to get up and go again.
“The thing that impressed me the most when we were doing match play at training was his competitiveness in one-on-one contests.”
Harding believes Murphy had exceeded expectations and said Murphy actually had to reassess his own expectations given his development had been so meteoric.
“We never really set a ceiling on what he could do when we decided to train him as a defender.
“He and I had a good laugh about it after he was named Metro MVP at the Nationals and played really well in all four games.
“He’s got a really calm head on him and is really grounded, which will hold him in good stead at the next level.”
One of the highlights of Murphy’s year was his performances for Vic Metro in the National Championships, which saw him earn MVP honours in the region, edging out the likes of top ten draft picks Nick Watson, Caleb Windsor and Nate Caddy.
“I thought I played pretty well in the Metro trials and that I was going to be a chance in the squad,” said Murphy.
“I got the email saying that I was in the squad, from there on it was just about training as hard as I could and putting my best foot forward.”
Murphy spent time playing on the best key forwards of the 2023 draft and says the experience of playing on the likes of Jed Walter helped to accelerate his development.
“Walter’s got a lot of strengths and not many weaknesses, he really worked me that day.
“I just love competing against some of the best key forwards, trying to stop them kicking goals or taking marks.
“I’ve learned a lot about playing on those guys and I’m always involved in the game which is good.
“I was pretty surprised to win the MVP, we had some pretty talented players in the Metro setup.
“I was really privileged to get it, to see that my effort has reaped some rewards was nice.”
Murphy, a Saints fan growing up, remembers falling in love with the game when he began AusKick as a youngster.
“I remember watching the Saints on TV, as soon as I started AusKick I fell in love with the game.”
He was coached by former Hawthorn champion Scott Maginness in his junior years at East Brighton and said “playing with all [his] best mates” was what he loved most.
However, Murphy “isn’t always thinking about footy” like some of his teammates might.
“I started footy because I love it and playing with my mates is awesome, but I like to have time away from it and have a balanced life.”
The Caulfield Grammar student is a big tennis fan and enjoys watching Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev go about their business. He also enjoys hanging out with friends whilst relaxing by the beach.
Murphy believes that his dad has played a major role in his football career so far.
“We used to always go on runs together, I’d go with him, and his mates and I’d always try and beat him at the end in the last 100 metres.
“He’s supported me so much this year, so I give a lot of credit to him.”
As is the norm at this time of year for potential draft prospects, Murphy has had to get used to recruiter interviews and player agent meetings.
“It’s a whole new experience, clubs coming to your house, it was pretty daunting at first, but I’ve gotten used to it as the season wore on.
“You get to meet a lot of new people; they clearly identify your weaknesses which is good to know.”
One recruiter asked Murphy what he thinks his own Wikipedia page might look like in ten years.
“I said all I’d need is one goal in the AFL and hopefully as many games as I can conjure up,” he laughed.
Murphy said it would be a “surreal” feeling to hear his name called out on draft night.
“I’ve always looked up to the AFL and found it fascinating how it all works. If my name gets called out it would be such a surreal feeling, I wouldn’t really know what to do.”