Seven Sandringham Dragons players made their way onto an AFL list at the end of 2022, taking the total to nine players drafted from the premiership winning Boys program after Max Ramsden and Hugo Hall-Kahan were taken in the mid-season draft.
Will Ashcroft was taken as a father-son selection by the Brisbane Lions at pick two and is set to follow in his father, Marcus’ footsteps.
“It’s just exciting being up here,” said Ashcroft.
“I certainly don’t take it for granted how welcoming everyone has been.”
Ashcroft was joined by younger brother Levi at Brisbane Lions training this week, who was also a member of the 2022 premiership winning side at Sandringham.
Harry Sheezel was selected by North Melbourne at pick three, joining new coach Alastair Clarkson at North Melbourne, the man who masterminded Hawthorn’s three-peat.
“The full-time environment has been the best part so far. Getting to the club at 7am, doing prep and doing meetings, then you train, do recovery, gym, more recovery. You eat well, do line reviews, I love that stuff and to be able to do it 24/7 nearly is pretty cool,” said Sheezel.
“It’s pretty surreal, it’s kind of sunk in now but for the first few days I was still in awe, I couldn’t believe it. [Clarkson’s] so good at being close with his players and developing relationships with them, I already feel a part of it now. We’ve got a good bond and I already feel like I can learn as much as I can off him, he’s such a genius.”
Sheezel has made his mark on the playing group immediately, finishing seventh in the Kangaroos’ time trial last week.
It seems as though the hard yards he has put in are already paying off.
“We were doing a running session and a few of us went down to Arden Street.
“It was really hard, it was almost like a ‘Welcome to the League’ thing. A few of us first year boys were almost vomiting.”
Cam Mackenzie was Sandringham’s third top-10 selection, making his way to Hawthorn with pick seven, the club he supported growing up.
“It’s been a good first month, great to meet all of the new boys,” said Mackenzie.
“I think the best part has been just becoming an AFL player. Training every day, seeing what it is like to be a professional athlete. All of the fellas have been really welcoming.
“I’ve been working with the mids… everyone’s so young in there and everyone chips in.
“I expected a massive step up and it’s definitely been that. [The new draftees] were held back a bit early because of loading, but we still clock 12 or 13km pretty consistently. We had a massive session the other week, we clocked like 16km and some of the others clocked like 18.5km so it was a massive session.
Mackenzie says the week he spent at St Kilda in 2022 as a part of the Next Generation Academy meant his transition into AFL life at Hawthorn was much smoother.
“Being in the Saints Academy helped to give me an understanding of what it was going to be like from the week I did there in 2022. The day-to-day is pretty similar.
With the trio of Ashcroft, Sheezel and Mackenzie all coming from the Dragons, no other club had as many top-10 draftees in 2022.
Livewire small forward Charlie Clarke was taken by the Western Bulldogs early on night two with pick 24, whilst Toby McMullin was drafted by the GWS Giants shortly after with pick 34.
“Absolutely loving it, it’s been unreal,” said McMullin.
“Meeting all the Giants boys and coaches as well has been really good. It’s a really tight group, everyone has been so welcoming.
“A lot of the older guys have been fantastic to me. Guys like Adam Kennedy, Isaac Cumming they’ve been really good. A lot of the younger boys as well, Finn Callaghan who was a Sandy boy as well has been great. Conor Stone as well. They’ve made me feel really welcome.
“The intensity of training has been challenging at times. The long days, getting up early to train, doing a long session, getting into the pool and then going to the gym. It’s been tough at times but I’ve absolutely loved every second of it.”
McMullin has been joined up in New South Wales by former Sandringham Dragons coach Wayne Cripps, who is set to lead the VFL program and work as a development coach in the AFL.
“Crippa’s been great for me. Both being new to the club, we’ve looked out for each other. He’s come over a few times and cooked me dinner. It’s been great having a friendly face around the club, he’s been fantastic. I love working with him.
“He dished up like a burrito bowl the other night, it was really good.”
McMullin said he can’t wait to work hard and get better as the year progresses.
“Trying to continue to improve my game as much as I can. The ultimate goal would be to crack an AFL game, but I know I’ve definitely got a lot of work to do and I’m going to continue to do that.”
Hampton product Olli Hotton was drafted by St Kilda with pick 35 and will be joined by swingman Angus McLennan, who joined the Saints as a Category B rookie under Academy rules, following a superb finals series for the Dragons.
But what advice do these boys have for the players in the 2023 program?
“Make the most of the season, don’t take the time you have at the Dragons for granted. It happened so quick, I remember the last couple of preseasons and how quickly it flew by,” said Ashcroft.
“We’ve now all gone on our separate journeys and it’s over. We were lucky enough to play right through until the last game, it can happen even more quickly.”
Sheezel urged the next crop of talent to “keep persisting” even when times get tough.
“Show your talent, be confident, don’t worry too much if you have a bad game,” he said.
“One play or one game can really help you and set you up. Keep persisting and giving it your all because it sometimes can just happen. You might not be getting looked at earlier in the year and then all of a sudden you play a couple of good games and you’re getting picked up.”
Mackenzie used the first month of the 2022 season as a launchpad for his success and believes his consistency and work ethic are key parts to his game.
“I just wanted to be consistent, I wanted my performances each week to be consistent. In order to do that I tried to keep everything I did in a week the same. I did gym Tuesday and Thursday, the earlier session would be a bit heavier and then on the Thursday would be more explosive movements. If things weren’t necessarily the way I wanted, I would always follow up with my S&C coaches and line coaches,” said the new Hawk.
“I loved this year, and it was super enjoyable, I was playing footy with my best mates. I found I was playing my best footy when I was enjoying it, playing with everyone.”
For McMullin, his advice was to “stay in the moment” and focus on the team, rather than the individual.
“Be the closest thing to a team, be selfless. Be a team man. The reason a lot of us boys got drafted in the end was because we were able to show that we could play in a team, it was really good to see a successful team. Enjoy it, don’t get too caught up in it all because it is a busy year.”