THERE were seven of them, and they sat in seats on the terracing on the outer wing at the Coburg City Oval.
It was obvious which player the AFL recruiters had come to watch.
“Guess. But if you say the Coburg No 62 you don’t get a prize!’’ one of them said with a chortle.
Luke Ryan didn’t disappoint the scouts in the Round 14 match against Sandringham.
Playing off a back flank, he had 29 possessions, took 10 marks and was named in the best.
Two weeks ago he was also named in the list of invited players to the national combine at Etihad Stadium in October.
There is a boom about the 20-year-old Lion; such is the interest in him, recruiters are saying he is a certainty to go in the main draft. One or two are even suggesting he might be a first-rounder, mentioning Sydney’s regard for the right-footer.
“I’ve spoken to a few clubs, and a few of them have spoken to my manager (Scott Lucas),’’ Ryan told Inside Football.
“Exciting time, to be honest. Can’t wait for the combine. Pretty stoked, because I wasn’t expecting it. Will get out there and give it a crack, same as I’m doing at Coburg.’’
Ryan’s rise from obscurity to combine scrutiny is staggering. Six months ago few VFL followers had heard of him.
He arrived at Coburg in March but only after missing the cut for Essendon’s VFL squad.
Some people have had a laugh about that, wondering how the Bombers could have missed him.
The club and the player have somewhat divergent stories about how it came about.
An Essendon official suggested injury problems hindered Ryan’s pre-season and the Dons had committed to youngsters who could fill the 23rd player slot.
The club recognised his talent but in the end believed he would receive greater opportunities elsewhere.
Ryan told Inside Football he completed all of the training and was surprised and disappointed to be let go four weeks before the season.
He said he had used his Essendon experience as a spur.
“I got told they’d have too many AFL players coming down to the VFL and they’d take my role,’’ he told Inside Football.
“Was pretty disappointed about that. Essendon’s a pretty big club. I didn’t have any injuries, did the pre-season, won a time-trial, put on a bit of muscle. I was going pretty well, I thought. But it made me more determined to have more of a crack and prove Essendon wrong.’’
The other fact that has emerged about Ryan is that he left the Calder Cannons abruptly last year.
He was with the TAC Cup as a top-ager, playing five games later in the season, and was invited back as a 19-year-old. But he didn’t last, clearing out his locker in March.
His departure from the Cannons raised questions about his commitment to football.
Ryan admitted it was lacking at the time but insisted he’d matured, had adopted good training habits and wanted to reach the AFL.
“I didn’t get on with certain people,’’ he said of his stint at the Cannons. “I wasn’t enjoying it there. I just wanted to be an 18, 19-year-old kid having a kick with his mates. Different now. I’m putting in the hard yards. I’m doing everything I can to get that chance to play AFL footy.
“I’ve told the recruiters about Calder. They know I’ve matured. I know I’ve matured.’’
Those observations find agreement from Coburg GM Craig Lees, who said Ryan had given the Lions not a hint of a problem since joining them.
He was quick to make an impression at Coburg: on debut he received the medal as best-afield in the Anzac Day match against Box Hill Hawks.
That didn’t surprise former Werribee captain Robbie Castello, who coached Ryan at Essendon District league club Maribyrnong Park.
Ryan grew up in Werribee and with his family moved to Ascot Vale when he was starting high school.
He played juniors at Aberfeldie, crossed to Moonee Valley (where Gold Coast Sun Peter Wright was a teammate) and transferred to Maribyrnong Park in 2014, coming runner-up to Castello in the best and fairest.
“He’s a jet,’’ Castello said.
“He can play in any position on the ground, reads the play amazingly well, great skills, wants the ball in his hands.’’
Castello said he encouraged Ryan to play at the Cannons, but he was working long hours as an apprentice carpenter and was content to play with his mates.
“Calder were after him pretty heavily. But he wasn’t sure if he wanted to commit to their system. He was a little bit immature at the time,’’ he said.
“We were struggling with relegation - we thought we might be going down - so his priority was to play with us. But after a bit of convincing we told him, ‘Mate, for your benefit you’ve got to go to the Cannons’.
“He did go there and play a few games. He went back the following year but just wasn’t enjoying it. Again, he came back to us. I said, ‘We’ll take you, but don’t give up on your footy career, think about the VFL’.’’
Castello pushed him to Essendon. He said he understood Ryan trained well and “did a lot of things right but maybe they (the Bombers) didn’t know how committed he was’’.
Falling into Coburg’s lap, he also fell under the coaching of Peter German.
“He’s hard, he’s fair, he tells you what’s right, what’s wrong, what I need to work on,’’ Ryan said.
“He’s helped me a lot. If I didn’t have someone like him I might have taken the easy way and relaxed. He’s kept me focused.’’
Article Courtesy of Paul Amy - Inside Football