The sun was shining and the atmosphere was electric at RSEA park for the Dragons’ opening fixture of 2021 against the Oakleigh Chargers on Easter Monday, and at three-quarter-time, Sandringham needed a miracle.
Inaccuracy plagued the Dragons all day, allowing Oakleigh to open-up a fifteen-point lead early in the final quarter.
As a senior member of the Dragons squad in 2021, Eren Soylemez knew that his team needed a spark, and decided that he would be the one to deliver.
Kicking to the South Road end, Soylemez got on the end of some slick ball movement as the Dragons took the ball end-to-end, and kicked his second for the day from distance, cutting the lead to nine points.
Skipper Josh Sinn kicked another to reduce the lead to three, and now it was Sandringham that was charging.
Following another Dragons behind, Soylemez brought the house down with a chase-down tackle on the defender kicking-out, and converted with the resulting freekick, to put the Dragons ahead, and ultimately break Oakleigh’s back.
When Tom Blamires goaled after the siren to seal a 16-point win, the resurrection was complete.
The following week against Northern, in slippery conditions at Preston City Oval, the Dragons, once again, found themselves down, and struggling to convert early in the last quarter.
But thanks to two goals in the space of three minutes from Soylemez, they were able to break the shackles of the Knights’ defence, winning by five points.
So how does he maintain a level head in the face of adversity on field?
“I sort of just talk to myself and say, ‘everything I’ve done in the past three quarters up until now really means nothing; Now’s the time that matters, when we’re down’,” Soylemez said. “So I think about being a bit clutch, and thinking about watching NBA, when it comes down to LeBron James, I just have that with me.
“It gives me confidence to forget about everything that’s happened in the game, and that what’s happening right now is what’s most important and doing what’s best for the team.”
It’s the moments under pressure where Soylemez has thrived in 2021, but that wouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who knows the 19-year-old outside of football.
Rather than work part-time or study or pick-up an apprenticeship, Soylemez and his older brother, Ozman, own and run Turk to me, a kebab shop on Bay street in Port Melbourne serving delicious grilled meats, wraps, dips and salads.
On-top of preparing and serving the cuisine, he is responsible for handling day-to-day business tasks, such as balancing the books and managing orders and stock.
The brothers are also in the process of expanding the business, with plans to open a second restaurant in Keysborough later in the year.
It’s a big responsibility to shoulder as someone fresh out of high school at Albert Park College, and competing in an elite underage program such as the Dragons, with mid-week training commitments forcing him to leave his post mid-shift. But it’s something the crafty forward has embraced.
“I picked it up quickly, at the start I found it a bit hard because I didn’t have that business mindset as I do now.
“I’m learning, and it’s good to learn at a young age as well as play footy at a high level and work.
“When it comes down to customers coming in and asking for the owner and they don’t really realise that I’m the owner, and when I say that I’m the owner, it takes them by shock, and I’ve got to realise that there’s no one else that I can ask; I’m the person that needs to know the answer.
“It works hand-in-hand for me: footy gives me a break from work and work gives me a break from footy.”
12 goals from five games this year has him second on the league leading goalkicker table at time of writing.
His height (178cm) can see him type-cast to the role of small forward, feeding off marking contests and ground balls, but he’s not afraid to mix it with the bigger forwards and showcase his aerial abilities.
But his bright start to the year hasn’t been completely smooth-sailing, having been told in no uncertain terms by head coach Jackson Kornberg that he was at risk being removed from the program during the preseason.
It served as a wake-up call that kicked his approach into gear.
“I came into the program this year having been part of the leadership group in the COVID year, so thinking that I’m just going to run around and get picked, week-in week-out, it sort of took me by shock, which was good.
“That’s when the penny dropped for me, a bit of a reality check that I needed to get my shit together and really put my head down and work my arse off.
“What changed was my attention to detail; I’m training harder, I’m working harder, doing the extras and not just going through the motions like I was.”
Now in his third year with the program, Soylemez is looking to add strings to his bow by spending stints of the game as a member of the midfield rotation.
He likens his game to GWS star Toby Greene, a dangerous forward with the ability to pinch-hit in the middle and break the game open.
He is hoping that familiarity with his fellow forwards can work to his advantage, having built continuity from previous seasons.
“Overtime you build that chemistry with your 200cm forwards, Joe Nowell, Jacob Edwards, Dante Visentini, so you’ve got different relationships with different forwards.
“You know who’s going to bring the ball down, who’s going to fall behind, so you get to know that stuff.”