Essendon midfielder Dylan Clarke’s nomination for the AFL Rising Star award in Round 13 is well-earned, but few would have been more surprised to read about it pre-season than Bombers fans.
The 20-year-old tagger played just one game last season after being drafted with Pick 63 in the 2016 National Draft, and battled to only nine disposals with five tackles in the Country Game but following a raft of key injuries in the first two months of 2019, received another senior berth for the Round 11 clash with Carlton.
To say the least, he took his opportunity with both hands.
Clarke’s sensational restrictive effort on Blues skipper Patrick Cripps stole headlines in the game that resulted in Brendon Bolton’s demise, a second-gamer blanketing the Brownlow contender to near perfection, picking up 23 disposals, a game-high 10 tackles and six clearances whilst holding Cripps to a career-worst 11 touches.
A podium finisher in Essendon’s VFL best and fairest last season, Clarke was then entrusted last Friday night with the sizeable task of containing Jaeger O’Meara.
He would capably go toe-to-toe with the Hawks star too, registering only one less disposal than O’Meara and matching his tally of five clearances in a 19-point victory, resulting in his nomination.
He told afl.com.au, “I look after my opponent first but then I want to get involved and find the footy myself – that’s just how I play.”
“Now that I have that chance I don’t want to let it go. I’m just stoked to be back in the ones and be able to contribute.”
While his immediate future in the senior side is still unknown despite his top performances with several important members in line for returns soon, John Worsfold may well go to Clarke again for the West Coast game this weekend, featuring a wealth of midfield options for the younger brother of current Swan Ryan Clarke to tag.
“You’ve got to have a certain level of self-confidence in your ability to make it. It was frustrating to wait that long but that’s a credit to the depth of our midfield,” Clarke said.
“At the moment I just want to establish myself as an AFL player and play my role for the team, whether that be a tagging role or not.”