These interviews were to be published in the April 2020 AFL launch edition of Inside Sport Magazine, but never made it to print due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dylan Grimes

Richmond’s long time unsung hero finally got the recognition he deserved in 2019 as he became the number one defender in the premiership side following the early season injury to Alex Rance. The retirement of Rance means Grimes will need to continue his fine form into the new decade if the Tigers are to go back-to-back.

You got married during the off-season so congratulations. How else did you spend your time off?

Thank you! We went on our honeymoon to France and spent most of the time touring around the wine regions there and ducked in Spain for a little bit which is great. Other than that I just spent time up at the farm after the Grand Final celebrations kickstarted so that was great.

All Australian selection and a Premiership for you in 2019. The stats say so, but do you feel it was your best year of footy?

To be honest I feel like my best footy is still ahead of me. There’s a lot of parts of my game that I want to grow and improve. It was probably my best year of footy to date I’d say but having said that I really feel like I’ve got a lot of growth and improvement in me. I’m excited to hopefully take a step forward this year with that.

You’ve had a rollercoaster career so far. Which of the two flags was the most satisfying?

Probably 2019 because I honestly feel like we had to do it the hard way with a lot of injuries and losing some key leaders at some crucial times was challenging. Our whole journey in 2019 was one that threw some different curveballs at us that we hadn’t faced before. I’d probably say the feeling of 2017 was more elation and 2019 was more satisfying, I think.

The Richmond side is a tough one to crack. Is there anyone out there at the moment on the track that isn’t a regular who is impressing you?

There’s a few young guys actually who have really brought some life and energy. I love the look of Thomas Dow, the new draftee taken in the first round. He’s got a lot of promise I think; he’s a good size, a good mover and I think he’s got a terrific head on his shoulders and will be a leader in years to come. I’m certainly excited to see what he can do this year.

Back to back is so difficult to achieve in this modern day. Has it been spoken about by the group at all?

Not really to be honest at all. Given that it’s so far away it’s hard to let your vision go that far but having said that we want to grow and improve from last year. Dimma (Hardwick) has outlined some areas of our game plan that we’ve been working really hard on. As much as you’d like to kind of fantasize about back to back, our focus is firmly on round one.

Do you think Richmond’s best footy as a group is still ahead of you?

Yeah I feel like that. I think the best teams perform so consistently and in a few key areas really to keep growing, improving and finding ways to win. There were some things that we only really got right towards the latter half of the year when things started to click for us after the bye. We’re working really hard at the moment and we’re hoping that the work will show off in the first half of the year and we can really gets our runs on the board early and play the way we want to play early. Last year we were lucky and things started to click after the bye but every year is a new year and I’ve got the feeling that if we’re not firing early, our back’s are going to be up against the wall and we’ll have to fight really hard to get back in the position on the ladder that we want to be. For the moment we’re just doing everything we can to best prepare for round one.

Hunter Clark

St Kilda half-back cum midfielder Hunter Clark set the second half of the 2019 AFL season alight, averaging 20 disposals as the installation of Brett Ratten as senior coach revived the Saints. The number 7 pick in the 2017 AFL Draft is set for a big season as his team push for a first finals berth since 2011.

The off-season for players has increased post-Christmas, how did you spend most of your time?

I didn’t do a heap, I went away a couple of times to Byron Bay and Coolangatta which was nice. I didn’t do any big trips like many players last year but hopefully I’ll do one this year. I just went back down to my family’s joint in Safety Beach and spent most of it just hanging down there which was really nice, catching up with friends at the beach. It was a real relaxing few months for me.

You struggled early on in season 2019 and you even spent time in the VFL before bouncing back to have a huge impact. Did you learn anything through that period which will help you thrive from the first bounce in 2020?

Through that period, I probably didn’t enjoy footy as much as I did towards the end of the year, obviously that goes with your form. I learnt just to not get too down if you’re not playing well and things like that because it’s not the end of the world, it’s only a game of footy. You get each week to try and play well so hopefully I can be in the team early this year and have a strong season.

Brett Ratten has had a huge impact on the St Kilda Football Club as a whole, but what impact has he had on you? Has he set any challenges?

Not so much challenges but he wants to see me keep growing as a player and playing to my strengths. He gave me a lot of confidence towards the end of last year so I feel real comfortable with Ratts as my coach. He wants me to keep doing what I was doing at the end of 2019. Whether that’s through the midfield or off half-back or wherever really, he wants me to play on instinct and play the way I want to play so that gives me great confidence.

St Kilda recruited heavily over the off-season. How have the new guys adjusted and has training intensity lifted?

The new boys have all fit in really well, all five of the recruits and the draftees as well. They all get along with everyone and it happened pretty quickly. It makes competition for spots a lot harder and I think pretty much all five new blokes that we traded in you’d think will probably play a lot of footy this year. It makes spots a bit tougher but it’s good for the club. We’ve got a bit of depth now with 24-25 players that could be playing every week and that helps right through the year with injuries and whatnot. Training intensity has lifted as well as the skill level.

Who’s impressed you most out on the track?

Dougal Howard has been real good down back, he’s very athletic and strong. Pretty much all of the new boys have impressed. They’re all different but they’re all pretty quick and Patty Ryder’s ruckwork has been awesome so far so he’s going to help Rowan Marshall out a lot.

Zak Jones is a new recruit who will compete against you for a spot. Is 2020 for you about more time in the midfield or are you satisfied at half back?

It’s not necessarily about more time in the midfield. Last year I was playing mainly half back but each game I’d go through the midfield each quarter for 4-5 minutes so I’m not really too fussed where I’m playing. It gives us good flexibility with Jonesy, he plays predominantly through the midfield so if I’m at half back we can rotate and that gives us a different look. A lot of the new players can play multiple positions which helps.

What’s the main thing you’ve been working on this season?

My first three years, each pre-season has been about trying to get a bit fitter and stronger, which I’m managing to do. I work on all my footy craft but a lot of that stuff but a lot of that I feel confident with. It’s just getting my body up to the level that I can perform for 22-23 weeks in a row so I’m trying to get as fit as I can and stronger and my footy should take care of itself.

What would you like to achieve in 2020, both from a personal and club standpoint?

For me personally I just want to play as much as I can. I played 15 games last year I think so I want to play more than that, hopefully every game. If I keep being professional and consistent then I’ll give myself a chance to do that. As a team I think we haven’t set an outcome, but everyone wants to play finals and now after the trade period we’re in a position where we should be able to fight for a position around the eight.

James Sicily

A polarising player in his early years, Sicily confirmed himself as one of the league’s most exciting defenders after a full season in Hawthorn’s best 22. Any rise up the ladder for the Hawks will be dependent on the form of Sicily as the side look to lock in a consistent back six.

You were in the 40-man squad for the All Australian team last year, how did you view your 2019?

It was alright, it was a bit different to the year before. I had to play a variety of different roles – tall, small, sometimes key back. It was good to just progress and get a little bit better and it was a good finish to the year teamwise as well which made it enjoyable.

You’re an elite defender but your versatility allows you to go up forward. Do you like going forward and is this likely to continue in 2020?

If that’s what the team needs at certain moments of the game I’m happy to do it. It’s good to have that versatility. I’m pretty settled down back now though so I couldn’t imagine it being a swingman role – maybe it might happen 2-3 times during the year where we potentially might need a goal and we’ll try something. It’s good to have the option there but I’m happy down back.

A big off-season for the club with some key recruits and the return of Tom Mitchell. How’s the mood amongst the group?

It’s really exciting, we’re excited for the year to come. I think we’ve had a pretty good pre-season. Jonny Patton has been good, his contested marking gives us another option up forward, something different to Te’o who’s more of a run and jump, pretty athletic guy. It’s good to have the general there just plonk himself and he’s a pretty strong lad. Sam Frost is going to be an awesome addition to our backline. He can play anywhere, tall or small, he’s so fast and strong. He frees up myself, Ben Stratton and Blake Hardwick to play roles that we’re stronger at. Having Frost down there is going to be huge for us and it’s going to make us stronger as a defensive unit and it should be good.

Who of the youngsters have impressed you most out on the track?

Finn Maguiness is one where he’s got a mature body and he’s been able to come in and train straight away. Being able to handle the load, he’s been impressive. Will Day is progressing well, he’s sort of started to get a little more involved in the program. The club’s really good in not rushing young guys in.

How disappointing was it to miss finals last year and how far can the club go in 2020?

It was a bit disappointing because we did finish off the back part of the year really well so to not make finals lit a fire in the belly. It’s exciting we get Tommy Mitchell back who we didn’t have last year and he’s a Brownlow Medallist so our midfield is going to be strong. It’s just exciting and hopefully we can buck the trend of the last two years and push for finals and top four and give ourselves the best chance.

You signed a new deal at the end of last year, where do you want to take your footy in 2020?

I’d just like to get better, keep improving each year and hopefully just keep playing my role. I just want to be involved in finals footy because I wasn’t in the side when the boys went on the three-peat, I watched it from afar and it was just so inspiring and something I want to be involved with. I just want to play my role and do my best for the team, contribute and play in big games. That’s the motivation for this year.

Nick Haynes

Haynes was labelled the second-best intercept defender in the league (behind Jeremy McGovern) by former Richmond and Western Bulldogs coach Terry Wallace. The 27-year old was one of the Giants few standouts on Grand Final day and he’ll be crucial to the side’s chances of reaching that final Saturday in September again.

Last year was a big season for you from a personal standpoint, having played your 100th game and a Grand Final. How did you view your 2019?

It was an interesting start, I came off a six-week pre-season so it wasn’t ideal. I missed the first round and had to build my fitness up from there. I played some pretty consistent footy so six-week pre-seasons are the way to go I reckon!

You were one of the best for the Giants in the Grand Final, what can you take away from the experience?

The week leading up to the granny was an unbelievable experience. Not many people gave us a chance to win any finals so to get that win against the Bulldogs – there was good morale amongst the group then to win two clutch games it was really exciting. There was a really good vibe around the club, the fans and the whole community of Western Sydney. The buzz and excitement of Grand Final week was immense. For this club to come from where we first begun, obviously getting smashed in 2012 to get to a Grand Final was amazing but to end on a sour note was disappointing.

You signed a long-term contract at the start of last year. How much do you love this Giants group?

It’s awesome. We got drafted as 18-year old’s and probably 70-80% of the squad then was that age so we’ve grown up together. We’ve still got a lot of those core players in our group and I think that’s why we’re tight as a group. A lot of players are from Perth, Adelaide, Victoria and country NSW. We’ve all come to Western Sydney and formed a tight brotherhood and that’s evident with the culture we’ve created. All the new players that come in now see that as well and adapt to our culture. I think that’s why over the next coming years or decades this club is in a really good state due to that culture built over the last eight years.

What are the internal expectations for the Giants in 2020?

We feel as though we’re still in a very good spot to win a premiership. We get Callan Ward back after the injury to his knee and touch wood our list stays fresh and that we can push for that Grand Final again. We want to win as many games as possible and play a good brand of footy to try and get us into that top four and learn from what we had in 2019 to go that one step further.

Where would you like to take your footy this season?

I just want to play as many games as I can and keep improving. I want to keep improving as a leader in the backline and help our young boys coming through the ranks. We’ve got a lot of young, exciting players down there and I’m looking forward to them rising in 2020.

Tarryn Thomas

North Melbourne academy selection Tarryn Thomas was one of the most hyped players the club has picked up in recent years, forming part of a big post-2018 off-season recruiting drive. Last season didn’t go as well for the Kangaroos as the club would’ve hoped as they parted ways with coach Brad Scott and missed the finals, but the appointment of Rhyce Shaw gave supporters hope in the second half of the year. Thomas is a crucial part of North’s plan for the future and their drive for a fifth premiership.

You cemented yourself in North Melbourne’s best 22 and picked up a Rising Star nomination in 2019, how do you reflect on your debut season?

Pretty positively. I didn’t expect to play that many games in my first year, I would’ve been happy to play just a couple. Playing that much was pretty good and all of the North boys got around me and made me comfortable in the team so I loved every minute of it.

The club seems to have a new energy since the appointment of Rhyce Shaw as senior coach, just how excited is the group for the new season and who has impressed you out on the training track?

Shawry has been great. As caretaker coach last season, everyone became pretty close with him. It’s been pretty good so far. I just can’t wait for the future and what he brings to the club, like all other new coaches, has been good. We’re going in a new direction now which is great. Curtis Taylor is probably the player that has impressed me the most so far. He played a couple of games last year and knew what to expect and he has been turning it on this pre-season. I can’t wait to see what he does.

What are the expectations for the club this season and where will any improvement come from?

I think everyone playing wants to play finals so that’s what we’re aiming for. We want to do better than last year. I think with the new system now, everyone wants to do a lot better than last year. The energy around the place is a lot better and I just can’t wait for round one.

You’re still building as a small forward but are more minutes as a midfielder likely in 2020?

Yeah hopefully. I’ll probably play the same role as last year but I’m hoping for a bit more midfield time to chop out for the regular mids. Wherever the coaches want me to play I’m happy to play. I like a bit of both. Playing forward is good but getting around the ball is also good so I don’t mind a mixture.

What do you hope to achieve personally in 2020?

I’d just like to keep learning as I go off all of the older boys and just play my role for the team on and off the field.

Xavier Duursma

19-year old Duursma was taken with Pick 18 in the 2018 AFL draft, forming part of Port Adelaide’s young brigade. Duursma kicked 11 goals in his first year and excited fans with his unique bow-and-arrow celebration that was the subject of media controversy mid-season. Port’s number 21 will look to help Port up the ladder in 2020.

You played 20 games and earned a Rising Star nomination in 2019, how did you view your debut season?

The club showed a lot of faith in me and the other young guys like Willem Drew, Connor Rozee and Zak Butters also got a go last year from round one. We were very lucky, I think all of us played at least ten matches, I was very lucky to play to play 20 and I thank the club. I’ve got a lot of great memories and times out of that past year. It was obviously a pretty big year for the club going from an older list to a younger, more promising outlook on what they’re trying to do with their list. It was pretty good to be a part of that and I did quite well with my season but I’m obviously trying to improve on what I did last year.

The combination of Rozee, Butters and you were one of the stories of the season. How well do you all get along and just how promising is the future of the club?

We all get along quite well. Obviously some of the young guys like to play tricks on each other and talk a bit of smack so we always have pretty entertaining conversations. It’s a lot of fun when we get together on gameday and during the week. We’re looking forward to this year and what it brings for us.

What’s the story behind the arrow celebration and will it continue in 2020?

Yeah it will. It’s inspired by the NBA, two guys that do it are Jamal Murray and Reggie Jackson, some of my favourite players. I’m a massive fan of the NBA as a whole and how it entertains people, the way the NBA players express themselves and they just enjoy the game of basketball. I want to try and bring some of that into footy because I think having some personality and expression of how much you love the game is good. I think that we should do it more.

Your coach Ken Hinkley has been well publicised for his “finals or bust” expectation, how have the group been tracking so far?

We’ve really been training well. This is a big year, the 150th year, for the club so we have to make sure that we are giving ourselves the best chance to compete for the finals. We want to try and compete for the premiership. We’ve had an excellent pre-season, I think. The good thing about it is that everyone has been out on the track – there’s been very few people in the rehab room which has allowed us to build a pretty good team connection and some energy and momentum in the pre-season matches. Lots of guys have done some amazing feats – there’s been lots of PB’s in testing.

What are your personal expectations for 2020?

I had a reasonably successful last year and I’m just trying to build on that. I’m going to try and play as many games as I’m able to, so if I’m healthy 22 games and hopefully finals. For me, that just means I’m doing all the right things in terms of my positioning, playing consistently and doing what I can to help the team win, whether that be kicking goals, helping in defence or taking marks and feeding it out. The more our outside players can get forward and create some excitement, the better our team will go.

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