Clutch Cauchi soaking up senior experience

Clutch. It’s predominantly a basketball term, but rarely used when discussing football.

But, when describing Josh Cauchi’s 2015 season so far, it’s very appropriate. The small forward has a habit of kicking important goals at crucial moments. He popped up late against Casey on Saturday to keep Coburg in touch and but it was his pivotal goal to put the Lions in front and set up the win over the Northern Blues the weekend before that stands out the most.

“I saw Nathan Thomas coming out of the back pocket and I saw the whole wing was open so I lead out,” Cauchi remembers.

“My opponent was about 20 centimetres taller than me so I wasn’t going to try and outmark him. I tried to put him under the ball and get over the back and it managed to actually pop up for me perfectly. I did look to pass it off to Dion Hill, who was going inside 50, but there was no one in the goalsquare so I went for home.”

While Cauchi is pleased to be having an impact in the deciding moments, he admits that he has struggled to influence games from the opening bounce. Because of his, Peter German has opted to start the 19–year-old on the bench.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to work on as soon as I get on to the track at training, Cauchi says, “I make sure I work hard from the start so when it comes to games I do have an impact early on.”

“As the game wears on, I find that I get better and my form improves. So I guess that’s why I’ve kicked a few goals late in games.”

After playing junior football at EDFL club Pascoe Vale, Cauchi joined the Calder Cannons in 2013 and notched 34 TAC Cup games over two seasons. He got his first taste of VFL football in 2014 when he played a one-off game for Coburg’s development side. This started a whirlwind 12 months for Cauchi, who has now all but consolidated his spot as a small forward in the senior side.

“Last year playing that development game I could see the step up from TAC Cup but coming into Coburg I was not expecting at all to play seniors round one,” he says.

“I had hope in the back of my mind to get a few games here and there – halfway through the season maybe get my first game – but I had a few good practice games and showed what I could do.”

Cauchi’s pace, composure and skill are his biggest weapons but, at 170 centimetres and 65 kilograms, he is often brushed aside in contests. He is protected well by the bigger bodies of Nick Carnell and Ozzie Uysal but regular weights sessions and more emphasis on his calorie intake are now part of his weekly routine.

“At Calder gym work wasn’t a main focus but since I’ve come to Coburg you do spend a lot more time in the gym,” Cauchi explains. “So I guess that will be benefit me in putting on some more weight and getting a bit bigger.”

“There have been a few big hits that have put me off the ball and that’s definitely an aspect of my game – as well as my marking – that I try and improve. Going forward, if I can get stronger, I’ll be a much better player.”

Cauchi has booted thirteen goals in eight games in season 2015. Along with applying defensive pressure and setting up teammates inside 50, he aims to kick at least two majors every week.

He’s helped by a strong relationship with fellow small forward Danny Younan, and, while both have a good goal sense, Cauchi says it is their differences that make Coburg’s forward line more dangerous.

“Danny can take a mark and is a lead-up, mid-range forward but I’m more of a crumbing forward who gets to the front and centre of contests … I think we’ve been working really well together.”

Cauchi is also reaping the rewards of working closely with Carnell, whose leadership he describes as “the best I’ve seen throughout my career”. The skipper reviews game footage with Cauchi during the week and gives him both positive feedback and constructive criticism to help improve the youngster’s game.

He lists Coburg’s round one win over former partner Richmond as the highlight of 2015 so far but says it was one of the lowlights that had the biggest impact of his football life. With his confidence damaged and AFL dream fading after a lack of interest from AFL clubs during his time at Calder, Cauchi ignored the lure of local football and instead committed to the Lions. Now, with senior experience under his belt and in a strong run of form, Cauchi’s AFL dreams have been reignited.

“Coming up against bigger bodies in the VFL and the performances that I’ve put in lately really build my confidence,” Cauchi says.

“It gives me inspiration to reach the next level but there’s a lot of improvement needed. I’ve got to work a lot harder and I’ve still got a long way to go.”