Rory Lehmann wasn’t always a key defender.
As an underperforming on-baller, Lehmann’s junior coach sent him to full back – a decision he respected but wasn’t thrilled with initially.
“I started really enjoying it when I was in the under-19s and I could push up more as a centre half back,” Lehmann explains. “I could cut off opposition kicks more. But wherever your coach tells you to play, you play.”
His reinvention as a defender fast-tracked his progress towards senior football at Vermont in the Eastern Football League. In 2013, when his under-19s side had a bye, Lehmann received a phone call from the reserves coach asking him to play with them. He did – and impressed the watching senior coach – who not only invited Lehmann to train with the senior group, but also picked him to play the following week.
He went on to play nine senior games, including finals, as a 17-year-old. In 2014 he consolidated his spot and played all but one game in the seniors – but also learnt some lessons along the way.
“I actually got dropped in round 4 last year because I wasn’t in good form,” Lehmann says. “It made me realise that my spot wasn’t cemented yet and that I still needed to work hard.”
“I started pushing harder and got back in the side – that’s when I really started playing some good footy.”
Lehmann decided to join the Lions this year after being impressed by “an extremely well-structured club that knew they were on the right path”. He set himself the goal of playing senior football in round one and was delighted when he was named to face Richmond in his VFL debut.
“It was a bit overwhelming when you see them out there and you think – I’ve grown up watching you guys,” Lehmann says of playing against the Tigers’ AFL-listed players.
“They had some big forwards and everyone just played their role. Nothing too special was happening – stop your opponent and make sure they don’t kick goals.”
“If I can prove that I can be with these blokes out on the field I’m proving to others that I can take that next step.”
Lehmann admits that he’s still trying to add lean muscle to his 194-centimetre, 88-kilogram frame so that he is better suited to compete with opposition key forwards in one-on-one contests but backs himself when it comes to reading the ball in the air. He is constantly learning and developing his game by spending valuable time playing and training alongside Coburg’s talented defenders, such as Michael Hartley.
“He’s been fantastic – as has Clifo [Ben Clifton]. Having those two experienced heads has been unbelievable for me. Anything they say I soak it up and try and put it into my game.
Clifton was assigned Lehmann’s mentor when he arrived at the club and, with his guidance, Lehmann aims to hold his spot in the senior side, become a consistent VFL footballer and help the Lions play finals football.
“After the start we’ve had, if we can beat Essendon it puts us in good stead,” he says.