DEFENSIVE GENERAL: Wentworth’s Andy Wall has been in outstanding form in the Roos’ backline this SFNL season. Despite turning 23 just this week, the young gun has already played more than 100 senior matches in the red, white and blue. Photo: PAUL MENSCH
By MITCH RODD
IT has been said that Wentworth defender Andy Wall has spent more time in the air than with turf touching his boots this Sunraysia Football and Netball League (SFNL) season.
Rumour also has it the young gun has become a recognisable blip on the air traffic control radar, and that he may be forced to apply for his pilot’s licence considering how much time he has spent flying on the footy field.
Jokes aside, the 23-year-old has been a monster in the Roos’ backline in 2018, a tough gig considering they have just two wins from 11 games. His surname suits perfectly as he has been a defensive wall and a tough opponent for SFNL forwards to combat.
From the outside it seems likely Wall would be leading Wentworth’s best and fairest by a fair margin, as he has been a standout every time he takes the field.
Since making his debut as a 16-year-old in 2011, Wall has been touted as a star of the competition in the making. Fast forward to now and after 103 games he has well and truly hit that mark.
Another standout game from Wall helped Wentworth to their second win of 2018 last weekend to the tune of 51 points over Mildura. Wearing their Indigenous Round guernseys in celebration of NAIDOC Week, the Roos put in their best team performance of the season, and were well led by Wall, Joel Cullen (six goals) and the enigmatic Colin Andrews.
The key back said the side’s win against Merbein four weeks ago, which also happened to be his 100th senior SFNL match, gave the relatively young squad a shot of confidence.
“Our footy was a hell of a lot better against Mildura than it had been,” he said.
“We had been making small improvements each week and we could see the potential was there.
“The win over the weekend was a massive confidence booster. The first half of the season was really tough, especially not getting a win until our eighth game. But spirits have been high considering, and it’s a credit to the boys for hanging tough.
“The coaches put the Mildura game down as a potential win. We had been slowly improving and I think we were bound to click at some stage.”
Scoring has been the Achilles’ heel for Wentworth in 2018. Across 11 games the Ross have only booted a total of 68 majors. To be put into perspective, current ladder leaders Ouyen United have kicked 163 in 10 games. While sides can’t be directly compared, it gives a clear indication of Wentworth’s scoring struggles.
The Roos have also kicked 10 or more goals in a game just twice, the second being the weekend’s win against Mildura. In Round One against Robinvale Euston they managed a solitary goal, while they were held to a grand total of just four behinds against Imperials in early June.
Wall believes an over-reliance on Cullen early in the season had contributed to the side’s lack of scoring.
“At the start of the year we were relying on ‘Bull’ (Cullen) solely as our forward target,” he said.
“Other teams worked this out and were just zoning off and forcing him into two-on-one or three-on-one contests. Now we’ve got ourselves a few more options.
“Having Aaron Duck back, plus Josh Dean and Jeremy Pullman when they play there, means defenders have to man them up and gives us more opportunities.”
Following the retirement of club stalwart and premiership star Austin Rigby at the end of 2017, the acid was put onto Wall to try and fill his substantial shoes.
He has taken the reins with aplomb and while 23 might seem young to be considered a veteran, the fact that Wall has already ticked up more than a century of games makes him one of the more experienced heads in the team.
The man himself, however, believes his fellow defenders deserve a lot more credit than they have been given.
“This year is the fittest I’ve been and the biggest pre-season I’ve ever had,” he said.
“I think that’s made a massive difference as it’s allowed me to get to more contests than before. I only played the four games last year so I think that helped freshen me up a bit.
“I get a bit of praise for taking the marks and effecting the contests, but the other guys in the backline don’t get enough credit for what they do. The communication is really good and they can direct me to when I can make contests, or if I’m free to take marks.
“My brother Chris has been playing at full back, and he’s had the job on big forwards every week. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. From the outside people might look at his size and wonder how he can play on those big forwards but he’s done a great job and he’s also freed me up a bit more.
“Experienced guys like ‘Dewey’ and Zaccy down there has been great and I think we’ve worked really well as a defensive unit.
“Obviously Austin left a massive hole to fill. I knew I was going to have to take a step up, and (coach) Sammy (Curran) has had a big expectation on me to do so. He was the general down back and opposition clubs knew what he would produce every game. We’ve all had to step up and I think we’ve generally done a good job.”