FIVE former Warrandyte Junior Football Club players were selected in the Vic Metro side for the 2014 AFL Under 18s national championships recently.

Zac Ballard, Christian Petracca, Reece McKenzie, Jason Castagna and Ryan Tester have all made their way through a gruelling series of cuts to gain a spot in the squad of 40. The Warrandyte boys are representing their state alongside future AFL stars in the highest level of Under 18s football in the country.

Former junior president and Zac’s father, Steve Ballard, credits the junior club’s emphasis on player development as a contributing factor in the boys success.

“There’s a strong focus on player development in the Warrandyte Junior Football Club that seems to have paid off with this age group,” Steve said.

“We have a partnership with a company called Dynamic Football Skills (DFS) and they were involved in coming in the pre-season and the off-season and training quite a few of the kids.”

But despite the focus on developing young players into quality footballers, Steve says the sense of community around the club is the backbone of the Bloods.

“We’re a small club and we’re always conscious that we can’t compete in terms of resources with some of the bigger football clubs,” he told the Diary.

“So what we really had to do was have a focus on player development and on really supporting local families. Stressing the local nature of the footy club but also helping kids to achieve to the highest of their capacity.”

However, even with strong programs and a tight-knit community, Steve was still amazed to see five boys who had all played for the same club make it this far.

“It’s extraordinary… I don’t think it has ever happened.” Ryan, Jason and Zac all played their entire junior football careers with Warrandyte while Reece and Christian moved to other clubs after spending their early years with the Bloods.

The 2014 NAB Under 18s national carnival started on Sunday, May 18, with a clash between Vic Metro and Vic Country in which Metro lost by 15 points.

Jason played in the first round match against Country and after an outstanding game was listed as one of the best on ground.

Christian, too, is already shaping up as a future star of the game.

He was appointed a member of the Vic Metro leadership group and has trained at the Australian Institute of Sport. He was rested for the Round 1 clash but was expected to make a big impact in the forward line throughout series.

Zac and Reece were unable to play due to injury but have made the squad and were set to make their debuts when they recover.

Ryan played in the second match, a final trial game to determine the final squad of 40. He made the final cut and will line up with the other boys in the coming weeks.

The national carnival is comprised of a representative team from each state and territory, Victoria being the exception with two: Vic Metro and Vic Country.

Each year the carnival is keenly watched by AFL club scouts on the prowl for draft prospects. Come next year Warrandyte may be able to lay claim to a new AFL recruit, or perhaps a few.

Warrandyte Diary – Issue 2014_6