While the result didn’t go the Sandringham’s way, Saturday’s game against Western was a significant day for the club, with seven players representing the Dragons’ Under 19s side for the first time.
Ben Mansfield, Felix Flockart, Jack Forer, Lewis Castle and Nicholas Salmon made their debut from the Under 19s squad, while Ben Hempel and Harry Sheezel made the jump from under 17s.
Hempel was named in the best players by the coaching staff after the game, displaying great composure across the halfback line.
Castle and Salmon held-down key position roles, Forer used his running background to work the wings, Flockart rotated between the ruck and the forward line, Sheezel played as a pressure forward and Mansfield was thrown into the midfield rotation.
Mansfield’s selection came on the back of developing new elements to his game whilst playing for St Kevin’s Old Boys in the VAFA, following feedback from the coaching staff.
“I went to local the weekend after we spoke and played a bit of a better game on the back of what he (head coach Jackson Kornberg) told me to work on,” Mansfield said. “When he (Kornberg) spoke to me he told me a few things that you fixed on the weekend and you’re going to play because of it and congratulations.”
“We discussed that my strengths are at the contest, tackling, winning that first handball, but he wanted to see more my ability to get to the outside and get that extra possession and extra kick from working hard to the outside, defending on the outside and what-not, taking defensive marks and all that stuff.
“That’s what I’m trying to focus on at local level but obviously it’s a bit harder to bring into your game at this level today.”
When comparing the standard of footy on Saturday to what they had played previously, both players were quick to reference the speed of the game, aided by pristine conditions at Trevor Barker Oval.
Mansfield said that the higher standard of game forced a mindset adjustment, requiring higher levels of concentration and focus.
“In terms of the ball movement and the skills, the skills at this level are obviously a step above, which makes the game go a lot quicker, it’s a lot more reliant on anticipating where the ball should be, rather than at local, you’ve got to go and find your own footy every now and then.
“This level you’ve got to get to the right spots and you’ve got to trust that the ball will come to you.”
Sheezel’s performances at his local club thrust his name into calculations, having kicked six goals in three appearances for AJAX in the VAFA Premier B competition, including four in his first senior game.
He said that those experiences meant that he wasn’t overawed by the occasion of his first NAB League game.
“(Compared to) The 17s, it was definitely a bit faster,” Sheezel said. “I had less time when I had the ball.”
“I’ve actually been AJAX Seniors, so the physicality and bodies weren’t too different from that, which helped me prepare for bigger bodies so it and I didn’t feel too out-of-place from that aspect.”
Mansfield was presented his jumper by stand-in captain and close mate, Charlie McKay.
Both players made sure to acknowledge the leadership group for helping them settle into the side and being role models on the field.
“My relationship with Charlie McKay and being mates with him off the field, and being similar players, we did talk a bit,” Mansfield said. “We try and work through what we can do and what not.”
“He did take me under his wing and he was very good.
“Liam Hayes as well, when you do something good he lets you know about it, which is a massive thing, especially in your first game and the confidence isn’t massive.
“Just those little things make you keep going and give you a bit more confidence.”
Both players will be hoping to hold their spots for the trip to Brisbane on Sunday to face the Gold Coast Suns Academy.