Ben Long has travelled a unique path to the AFL. He’s already packed up his world and moved interstate and unlike the vast majority of Victorian based draftees, he has already played senior football. And it was there, at Footscray in the VFL, where Long enhanced his status in this year’s draft pool, prompting the Saints to strike at pick No. 25.
The Northern Territorian moved from Darwin to the prestigious Melbourne Grammar three years ago where he gradually acclimatised to big city life. He split his time between school football commitments and the under-18 national championships this year, where he captained the Thunder in division two before playing for the Allies in division one.
But with no TAC Cup alignment nor local club tie, Long was invited down to Footscray at the conclusion of the APS season. It was there where the lightly built utility quickly found his feet in the VFL, kicking three goals in his second game before a brilliant six goal performance in the preliminary final captivated fans. Then, Long put the icing on the cake by playing a crucial role in the Bulldogs grand final win over Casey.
Ahead of his maiden pre-season at Linen House Centre, Long believes his exposure to AFL-listed players and experienced VFL players has prepared him for the next step up. With that in mind, he is licking his lips at the prospect of potentially playing AFL in 2017.
“Obviously when I was at Footscray I played seven league games in the VFL and I was very comfortable playing against AFL-listed players and non-AFL listed players. In my mind now, obviously being drafted by St Kilda, I feel comfortable and ready to take on the big league,” Long told Melbourne radio station SEN on Tuesday afternoon.
“Personally I think I’m ready (to play AFL football in my first season). During the pre-season, I’ll be trying to get in the rhythm of things and get stuck into a good pre-season which may help me during the season and help me make an impact.”
Before his late season burst at Footscray, Long had predominantly played in the midfield and behind the ball, where his ability to read and react early, then use his polished feet with precision were best utilised. But his goal nous and poise inside 50 during his time at Whitten Oval suggest his best spot could be as livewire forward.
“Mainly in my junior footy, I played midfield and down back. But when I started playing in the VFL, I played a role in the forward line and played most of my footy there for the season,” Long said.
“One of the line coaches, Stewart Edge, who got me down to the club, I think had an impact on me playing in the forward line and just providing a lot of tackle pressure in the forward line.”