Three years after Callum Searle was first considered a prospect for selection at the NAB AFL Draft, the Port Melbourne defender is now ready once again if an AFL club comes calling.
21-year-old Searle represented Vic Metro at the 2016 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships and played 12 games that year for the Borough’s affiliated NAB League club the Oakleigh Chargers but didn’t have his draft dream realised.
He returned to Oakleigh as an over-age player in 2017, also appearing in four Hard Yakka / Totally Workwear VFL games for Port Melbourne before officially signing at Adcon Stadium for the following season.
After an interrupted 2018 campaign, Searle enjoyed one of his most consistent seasons in 2019. The Old Haileyburians (VAFA) player had previously struggled with physical injury as well as the mental demands of the football talent pathway but found his groove with the Borough this year.
The versatile 187cm rebounding backman averaged 17 disposals at 71 per cent efficiency, 4.5 marks and five rebound-50s per game in 18 matches for the preliminary-finalists and also earned an invite to the recent Victorian State Combine.
“I found continuity in my footy this year, which I haven’t really been able to do over the past couple of seasons,” Searle said.
“I didn’t really have any expectations going into the year; I just knew I wanted to play in Round 1 and then I’d go from there. I think that really helped me, because I didn’t have any external focus. I just wanted to enjoy my footy and play as much as I could.
“In the under-18 system, I was playing for three different teams during the year. I had three different coaches all in different environments and I probably wasn’t quite mentally ready for that.
“I think I’ve really found my confidence being in a standalone VFL club environment under ‘Ayresy’ (senior coach Gary Ayres) and his assistant coaches, where I could just focus on my footy and let it dictate my destination.”
Searle’s development accelerated in 2019, with Ayres imparting wisdom gained from a decorated AFL career as a defender and Robin Nahas – Port Melbourne’s back line coach – giving Searle “the licence to really take the game on” through his ability to run and carry the ball at pace.
The Most Improved VFL Player award for this year goes to young defender Callum Searle!
Trophy donated by Bevan and Tracey Ford.#BornAndBred
— Port Melbourne FC (@PortMelbourneFC) September 26, 2019
Alongside the likes of fellow ex-Chargers Harvey Hooper, Dion Johnstone and Daniel Beddison, Searle emerged as part of a dynamic young defence that could potentially drive the Borough forward for years to come. Eventually, though, injury troubles again prevented him from completing a full VFL season.
“I had some liver impairment at the start of last season when I ended up spending the best part of a month in hospital,” Searle recalled. “I’d been put on anti-inflammatories for a bit of inflammation in my back and had an allergic reaction.
“I’d had a really good pre-season and it all kind of went to waste because I lost eight kilos and had to put that weight back on. I didn’t end up playing footy until halfway through the year. I then played six games in a row but strained a hamstring on the eve of finals.
“This year I hurt my leg in the second-last home-and-away game and had to have surgery this off-season for ankle syndesmosis. It was really disappointing, because I thought I might have a chance to get through a whole year unscathed.”
Searle did manage to return to the field for Port Melbourne’s loss to Richmond on the season’s penultimate weekend but wasn’t at 100 per cent form and fitness.
However, having to overcome another physical and mental hurdle has steeled Searle for whatever comes after November 27-28’s drafts.
“A big focus of mine in the rehab process is improving my core strength, both to help cope with injuries and to hold my own against bigger bodies,” he said.
“I have a really good balance in my life at the moment and the setbacks and disappointments have really fuelled a fire. I think I’m definitely mentally and physically ready for the rigours of AFL footy.”
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