'Fire Starters' is a series of in-depth feature articles on some of our top prospects in 2022, exploring their journey so far, performances in 2022, and their aspirations for the future, written by Nathan Sepe, Dylan Bolch, and Jonty Ralphsmith.
The theme of 2022 has been capitalising on opportunity for Toby McMullin.
And he’s taken every single one that has come his way.
First, he grabbed at the opportunity to join the Dragons, then he took his game to a new level with Vic Country.
He’s gone from strength to strength this season and his performances have drawn the eye of club recruiters, resulting in McMullin receiving a National Combine invite, one of just 68 players across the country.
“It was strange playing against my Dragons teammates in that Vic Country v Vic Metro National Championships decider, that’s for sure,” said McMullin.
“It was an awesome experience to have that opportunity to go and play for Vic Country and to get some more exposure.
“That Metro game was pretty surreal. It was a bit of a nightmare lining up against the likes of Sheezel, Ashcroft, Mackenzie, Hotton, it was weird, I much preferred being on their team for most of the year, but it was really good fun.”
Football fans might already be familiar with the name McMullin.
Toby’s dad, Ian, played a total of 49 games in stints at both Collingwood and Essendon but was also a key figure on Collingwood’s board for the best part of 20 years.
“I got into footy through Dad, who played footy at the highest level and was the Director at Collingwood for 20 years, so footy has just been in my family, especially given I’ve got two older brothers who are footy mad as well.
“We kind of had no other choice but to go into footy, but there’s honestly nothing better.
“He’s never forced it upon myself or my brothers, but if we ask for help, he’s always there to offer suggestions.
“He’s never too over-the-top, especially this year, he’s kind of felt at times that he shouldn’t be the one giving advice given all of the coaches I’ve had, but I really appreciate all the feedback that he gives me.
“He’s been huge for my game and the way I go about it – but he’s more of a support network for me which is even better.”
McMullin has plied his trade at a range of football clubs including Prahran, St Kilda City and Port Fairy.
“I played for Prahran from 2012-2018 and I then played a year at St Kilda City.
“Because of COVID-19 lockdowns I then moved to Port Fairy which is where I’ve played my footy more recently.
“After that I joined the Dragons at the start of this year and have had APS footy for Melbourne Grammar since Year 7.”
McMullin was a key cog in the Melbourne Grammar setup this season and despite the team struggling,
“It was a bit of a tough year for Melbourne Grammar, we were 1-9 but I think the group was super close and it was a fun year.
“We didn’t quite get the results we wanted to, but I guess that happens.
“The APS competition is much more contested, there’s not that smooth, fast brand of footy that you see at NAB League or National Champs level, it’s a bit more scrappier, I think that’s the main difference.”
Playing his footy in Port Fairy, a town near Warrnambool, meant McMullin was eligible for Vic Country selection.
“Most of my family are from Port Fairy so it was just about being close to them during COVID so we could care for one another.”
McMullin thrived in the Vic Country setup, booting key goals in critical moments and showcasing his talents all across the ground given his unique versatility.
Aside from his dad, the keen golfer and surfer says that Rhy Gieschen has also played a significant role in his football journey so far.
“Dad’s been fantastic but my footy coach last year, Rhy Gieschen, who was the Footy Director this year at Melbourne Grammar, he has been huge for me.
“He’s the main reason I got into the program, and he really helped me ‘flick the switch’ and commit to my footy over the last 16 months.
“He’s been the biggest influence on me, he’s dedicated a lot of time to trying to help better my game and I’ll be forever thankful for him and the impact he’s had on me.”
In a year decorated with plenty of highlights, McMullin says achieving the ultimate success with his Sandringham teammates was the highlight of his season.
“I can’t go past the Drags flag.
“That was such a cool moment, especially as the team became so close throughout the finals series and being able to share that success with everyone, considering how hard we all worked, was a really nice moment, really satisfying.
“I’ll cherish that for the rest of my life.”
The Draft Combine is an important event in the draft calendar for any draft prospect and McMullin used his opportunities there once more to put his name up in lights yet again.
He ran a 2.88 second 20 metre sprint, placing him second across the entire nation.
He also placed in the top 10 for both the agility test and the running vertical jump test, emphasising his power attributes that will no doubt have club recruiters keen to learn more.
“It was a very fun weekend, it was intense at times, it was initially pretty confronting standing around a board room table with clubs asking you questions, but it was an unreal experience.
“The first two days it was strange, you don’t usually walk-through Marvel Stadium as a workplace for two days straight.
“Everyone was pretty nervous for the testing, but everyone was in the same shoes, trying to do the best we could.
“The 20m sprint was something that I wanted to try and thrive in, but I didn’t really know how I’d go.
“I was just trying to get sub 3 seconds to be honest, it was really nice to get the result I did.
“Now it’s about trying to translate it more during a game and building the confidence to know that I can do it.”
With the AFL draft next week, McMullin would love to get a chance on an AFL list.
“It’s been a life-long dream, it would be an extremely satisfying feeling because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
“If it doesn’t happen, there’s always other options for me to try and go again next year and that’s something that I’m prepared to do, too, but getting picked up by an AFL club would be an unreal feeling.”