IN SUPPORT: Richmond VFL coach Craig McRae celebrates a win with Derek Eggmolesse-Smith. The 21-year-old from Wentworth will make his AFL debut this weekend against the Gold Coast Suns. Photo: Richmond Tigers
NOTE** After the Mildura Weekly went to print, Derek Eggmolesse-Smith was named to make his AFL debut this weekend against the Gold Coast Suns
By MITCH RODD
IF those in the know at Richmond believe Derek Eggmolesse-Smith is nearing an AFL debut, we should be keeping an eye out for the Wentworth graduate in the back half of 2019.
The 21-year-old drafted out of the Tigers’ Next Generation Academy in 2017 has taken giant strides with Richmond’s VFL side this season, impressing many at Punt Road Oval.
After an injury hit 2018 and a less than impressive return to pre-season, the creative half back has come within inches of joining the growing list of young Tigers to play for the AFL side.
Richmond VFL and development coach, Craig McRae, and general manager of football, Neil Balme, both believe Derek has the trademarks to become an AFL-quality rebounding defender.
At a Business of Sport Breakfast held by the Richmond Football Club in Mildura on Wednesday, McRae said the growth of the joint 2016 Sunraysia Football and Netball League (SFNL) McLeod Medal winner has been exceptional.
“I think he’s had an outstanding season,” McRae said.
“His pre-season was average, he would probably say a little bit worse than that, just in terms of the way he set himself up to come into pre-season. I know he’s learned some good lessons around that.
“Once he got to the club he hit the ground running, and he’s a determined kid that trains hard.
“We have GPS markers of every training session and he’s been in the top three or four for a big chunk of that last part of the season, and that’s transferring into some great footy for him.
“He’s still the Derek that he is, and we want players to be themselves, but he’s finding his way and he’s determined to gain respect within our footy department amongst the players, he’s starting to grow into the man that he is.
“No doubt he’s got AFL traits, his kicking and his ability to cover the ground really stand out and he’s making all those things shine.
“I think his biggest improvement this year has been his contested stuff. You come and watch him play and he’s rarely losing a one-on-one or he’s winning those critical contests.”
In recent weeks Derek was named as an emergency for Richmond’s clash with Adelaide, and McRae believes the speedster could break into the AFL team this year.
“We just talk about controlling what you can and for him to keep putting his name up there,” he said.
“We want to coach our players through their strengths and his ability to cover the ground and play to our game plan… watching it from the stands you might not see that, but from how coaches see it, his work rate is really enormous.
“He’s been putting his name up close to selection for a couple of weeks now – hopefully he gets a chance this year.”
Balme said Derek is “a natural player” and would be surprised if he doesn’t play at AFL level this year.
“You can see that he knows where the ball is and where it is coming, and a natural competitor as well,” he said.
“You can see he enjoys doing it, such a natural instinctive player.
“We think he can really play, he’s come on very well.
“I think we underestimate how hard it is to fit into a whole AFL program, particularly our way because we encourage them to be themselves in the first place, but then make sure you’re adapting and doing all things you need to be doing as well.”