Exciting forward Bayley Fritsch became the third Casey Demons player in two years to join affiliate club Melbourne’s AFL list when he was taken in the NAB AFL Draft recently.
Selected with pick no.31, this year’s Fothergill-Round Medal winner for the VFL’s most promising young player followed former Casey teammates and 2016 Rookie Draft selections Tim Smith and Declan Keilty to Melbourne.
Like Smith and Keilty last year, 20-year-old Fritsch made the VFL Team of the Year this season after leading Casey’s goalkicking with 42 majors in 19 matches and catching the eye of many with his high leaping and reading of the play. He also represented the VFL in May’s state game against the WAFL – as Smith did against the SANFL in 2016.
Casey General Manager Matthew Young said a majority of AFL clubs had spoken to Fritsch in the lead-up to the AFL Draft, but that Melbourne had seen his development at VFL level first-hand and pounced.
“The program we’ve put in place at Casey and the way we play is replicated in the AFL system at Melbourne,” Young said.
“If they’ve seen those players in a system that replicates theirs, then it ticks their boxes. The players go straight into the AFL program and pick up the game style and structure really quickly and know the language they’re talking, so it gives them a bit of a headstart.”
Fritsch has overcome a range of setbacks to reach the elite level. Having missed out on making a TAC Cup list as a junior, he starred at senior level for Coldstream in the Eastern Football League in 2013-14, winning the league’s Division 4 ‘Young Gun’ award as well as a premiership at U19 level in 2014.
Fritsch was then signed by Casey after being brought to the club’s attention by one of its assistant coaches and, according to Young, “his talent was evident from the start”. He played three senior games early in the 2015 season but struggled with back and knee injuries that prevented him from appearing at senior level again until Round 1 this year.
“At the start, our goal was just to get him on the field and get him to understand himself from a recovery and rehab point of view,” Young said of Fritsch’s early troubles at Casey. “But from a talent point of view, he understood our program and his role as a forward very quickly.
“From my perspective, he’s the most talented player we’ve had on our VFL list.”
That talent was finally unshackled this year, but Young said hard work was equally responsible for Fritsch’s stellar season.
“Bayley’s been working as an electrician the last couple of years, getting up at 5 or 6am, driving to work, getting home, getting changed and then coming to training,” Young said. “That work ethic off the field is another key attribute for him as a footballer.
“He was injured a fair bit in his first two years with us, but his recovery and rehab was in line with what you’d expect from an AFL footballer.
“We think if he can build his body up by being in a full-time program, he should play some really strong AFL footy. He’s been given the number 31 jumper at Melbourne which has previously been worn by Ron Barassi, so obviously the Dees have some confidence in him.”
See below the last 12 Fothergill-Round Medal winners, who have all subsequently joined AFL lists:
|YEAR||NAME||VFL CLUB||SELECTED BY|
|2017||Bayley Fritsch||Casey Demons||Melbourne|
|2013||Kane Lambert||Northern Blues||Richmond*|
|2012||Dean Towers||North Ballarat||Sydney|
|2011||Ahmed Saad||Northern Bullants||St Kilda|
|2008||Robin Nahas||Port Melbourne||Richmond*|
* Selected as rookies