By Nick Creely
SOMETIMES the tough conversations in life are the ones that truly make a difference.
That’s certainly the case for draft prospect Josh Battle, who in November 2015, walked into an AFL club for a routine draft interview.
The 18 year-old key-forward, who had been a success in the TAC Cup program for the Dandenong Stingrays, was blindsided by a series of stinging hard truths about his game.
“It was actually my first ever interview with an AFL club so I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
“They asked me ‘how do you think you’d go at the top level?’ and we got into a pretty in-depth conversation and they blatantly just told me that my endurance wasn’t good enough and that I’m only a one position player and almost undraftable.
“Thinking back to that moment, it did hurt but at the end of the day, I couldn’t be more grateful to that person for saying that to me.
“It was such a driving force for me throughout pre-season and it was always in the back of my mind that I needed to get fitter and work a lot harder.
“That same club has spoken to me this year so I’d be grateful if given the chance with them.”
The young key forward followed up with an excellent 2016 season with the Dandenong Stingrays and Vic Country, kicking 24 goals in the TAC Cup and following it up with 11 in the National Championships, showcasing his impressive attributes as a third-forward, and now acknowledges his endurance is his greatest strength.
“I’ve really worked hard on a lot of things; being that third tall forward you have to add a few more strings to your bow and I wasn’t great with my endurance,” he said.
“I did a lot of extra work and extra sessions and now I strongly believe that is one of my strengths now.
“I pride myself on running my opponents ragged and I just try to isolate myself in dangerous positions.“
Battle, who will have his name read out at next month’s AFL National Draft, was also a talented junior cricketer, and had to make a tough decision a few years ago on which sport to pursue.
“It was a pretty hard decision, but dad sort of after a long day of cricket noticed it was all too much, and then having footy practice the next day, I was pretty tired and I was too sore for the next game anyway,” he said.
“Dad said it just wasn’t possible to play both and it’s up to you – we sat down and had probably a half-hour chat and decided I enjoyed footy more so I choose that.”
It’s a decision that has paid off for the young man, who always dreamt about playing AFL football.
“As a little kid I always loved footy and being a hawks fan I loved watching Buddy Franklin play, and I guess it’s something I’ve always aspired to do,” Battle said.
“When I go to bed and put my head on the pillow, it’s something I just constantly think about.”
But it’s a current Hawk champion that Battle models his game on.
“Being a hawks fan and going to most games, I really love watching Jack Gunston and he is someone I look up to and someone I model my game on,” he said.
“I’ve tried to emulate areas of his game and if I’m half the player he is I’ll be thrilled.”
While the young man journeyed through high-school at Haileybury College, Battle also worked extensively with legendary Essendon goal-kicker Matthew Lloyd, who has mentored the young star.
“Lloydy’s been tremendous for me over the past three years – I first met him in Year 9 and I guess it’s unreal to have one of the game’s greats in your corner and I guess mentoring you in a sense,” he said.
“He’s taught me a lot about the game and a lot about character and personality.”
Looking ahead to next month’s AFL draft, Battle admits it is on his mind a lot, and knows that it’s almost out of his hands where he ends up next.
“I guess it’s an exciting time for all draft prospects, but I try not to think about it but it’s always in the back of my mind,” he said.
“I go to Thailand in two weeks with the family so that will take my mind off everything and I can’t wait.”
But the National Draft is a lottery, and Battle fully understands the possibility of having to relocate interstate.
“It would obviously be hard to move away from home and family,” he said.
“I’m really close to my brother Nick and he’s basically my best mate, but in saying that I’ve wanted this for so long and if the opportunity arises, I’d be happy to go anywhere.”
It’s an exciting time for the young man, who in just under a month will be starting an adventure of a lifetime.
Position: Key Forward
Plays like: Jack Gunston
2016 TAC CUP stats (averages)
Dandenong Stingrays – 8 matches
13 disposals, 3 goals, 5 marks, 3 tackles
2016 National Championship stats
Vic Country – 4 matches
9 disposals, 3 goals, 4 marks, 2 tackles
Draft Range: 20-45
Prediction: With a number of forwards such as Shane Kersten, Nathan Vardy and Josh Caddy departing the Cats, Battle could be the perfect player for the Geelong Football Club at pick 24. The Cats need flexible forward line options, and Battle’s endurance, smooth goal-kicking and elite field kicking is sure to lift the eyebrows of the Cat’s recruitment staff. Other clubs in the mix are Essendon (20), Carlton (25), Collingwood (28) and Port Adelaide (30).