McCluggage, McGrath or Taranto? Lion happy to be part of the debate
Hugh McCluggage, Andrew McGrath and Tim Taranto at the 2016 darft
IT IS a NAB AFL Draft debate that looks likely to last a decade: Andrew McGrath, Tim Taranto or Hugh McCluggage?
The top three picks from the 2016 intake are into their third AFL seasons and all have strong claims on being the best player from their pool.
McGrath, Essendon’s first No.1 selection, won the Rising Star award in his debut season, Taranto (pick two) is dominating for Greater Western Sydney’s midfield, and McCluggage is emerging into a star for the Lions.
McCluggage, the third selection, admits it’s a storyline hard to ignore.
“You look at them. Not because you want to compare yourself to them, but I roomed with Andy at the draft and Tim I’ve met a few times and know quite well,” he told AFL.com.au .
“I’m not looking at them thinking ‘They’re going better than me’, I really hope they go well. It’s something that creates a bit of talk and people like talking about it. I don’t look too much into it but it is cool to be a part of.”
McCluggage has done his bit this year to keep the discussion going. The midfielder is averaging nearly 22 disposals, but has also kicked 10 goals, going goalless only once so far.
It is an area the 21-year-old wanted to sharpen up in his third season at AFL level, having felt wasteful at stages in his first two years.
“You always want to add strings to your bow,” he said. “It was definitely something I knew I’d done poorly in the first two years in terms of my accuracy.”
More than that, McCluggage is now a part of one of the most exciting midfield units in the competition.
He is attending more centre bounces than in the past, having put on 10 kilograms since he got to the club, and is having more impact on games with his deft foot skills, evasive nature and ability to extract the ball and then get it going.
McCluggage has been a key part of the Lions’ rise – they have won five games, already as many as last season’s total – and said his third season had brought new responsibilities and expectations.
“Whether I was ready or not to play AFL footy I don’t really know, I was a pretty light body and my first year wasn’t great. I had moments where I played all right but it was quite inconsistent,” he said.
"I definitely went through moments where I thought ‘Am I up to this?’
"I was struggling to get near it and having no impact on the game and internally you do doubt yourself, it’s just a human thing.
“I went to the coaches after a quiet game and they said I’d put yourself in good positions and I was working hard. They constantly say ‘You could’ve done this better’ but they instill confidence that you’ll get there.”
It’s a belief that is spreading throughout the Lions. In McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Harris Andrews, Alex Witherden and Cam Rayner, Brisbane has elite young talent on its list.
It has complemented that with the addition of star ex-Docker Lachie Neale, after adding Charlie Cameron last year, and can see a first finals appearance since 2009 on the horizon.
“We’ve had some tough times but I can see where we’re going and that’s pretty rewarding,” he said.