Sport AFL AFL Grand Final: Jack Graham, the Tigers’ fifth-game teenager who broke the game open

AFL Grand Final: Jack Graham, the Tigers’ fifth-game teenager who broke the game open

Jack Graham Richmond
Graham and Richmond captain Trent Cotchin hold the premiership cup. Photo: Getty
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Last year, Jack Graham was dreaming of playing alongside one of his idols, Adelaide star Rory Sloane.

On Saturday, in just his fifth AFL match, he not only got the better of Sloane, but kicked three crucial goals when the game was still in the balance, making him one of Richmond’s best players in a drought-breaking premiership win.

As the victorious Tigers were presented to fans at the MCG following their sensational victory, the Seven Network’s Nathan Templeton asked Graham ‘where did you come from?’.

It was a fair question, given few footy fans had heard of him before he debuted against Fremantle in round 22.

“Just from Adelaide,” the only teenager on the field in the big game replied.

“It’s a dream come true.

“Credit to all our fans and all our boys today, couldn’t top it off any better.”

But, really, where did Graham come from?

The young man from Tea Tree Gully in suburban Adelaide was well known to keen under-age footy watchers, as he captained South Australia in last year’s AFL National Under-18 Championships.

He averaged 25 possessions per match on the way to being awarded the Larke Medal, given to the best player of the four-game carnival.

Given eight of the previous 10 Larke Medallists had been taken in the top four of the AFL Draft, it was fair to expect that Graham would be highly sought after last November.

Locals expected him to be firmly on the radar of his home-state teams, Adelaide and Port Adelaide.

“In my draft year I modelled my game off Rory Sloane,” Graham told Fox Footy last week.

“I respect him so much, but [I am] looking forward to going to war against him on Saturday.”

After missing the draft combine – where AFL clubs get to see the athleticism and ability of potential recruits up close – due to a quad injury, Graham’s draft day turned into a nervous one, as selection after selection was announced without his name being called.

Eventually, Richmond chose the 183cm, 85kg on-baller as the overall number 53 pick, and he was on his way to Punt Road.

Then there were a couple of setbacks.

He had hamstring tendinitis when he arrived.

And after doing all the rehab, his foot got stuck underneath big man Ben Griffiths’ body in a contest and he broke his ankle.

Jack Graham Richmond
Graham celebrates one of his goals with his teammates. Photo: Getty

He was slowly eased back into football in the VFL, after three months on the sidelines, and he strung enough good performances together to get a late-season call-up.

It was a great week for Graham to come into the team, too, with the Tigers thrashing Fremantle by 104 points in a dominant performance.

Graham laid 11 tackles, the equal most by an AFL debutant, and his place in the winning team was all but cemented.

He also kicked a goal in that match, and another in the round 23 win over St Kilda, and kept his place through a victorious finals campaign.

And it was there that Graham showcased his big-game temperament.

In Saturday’s grand final, his first goal – at the 25-minute mark of the second quarter – gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Another to Norm Smith medallist Dustin Martin a minute later saw Richmond go to half-time nine points up.

And Graham’s second goal, from a free-kick for a high tackle against Sloane, was the first of the second half, crucial in establishing momentum.

The Tigers kicked the next two, and although Taylor Walker eventually responded, Graham again goaled, snuffing out Adelaide’s hopes for good, and, in the process, cementing the 19-year-old’s place in Tigers folklore.

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