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All-Australian Cats help Gillies settle at Geelong

SOME kind words from a couple of All-Australian defenders helped Geelong draftee Tom Gillies settle into his new home at Skilled Stadium.

The Cats selected Gillies, the 192cm defender from the Dandenong Stingrays, with pick No.33 in Saturday’s NAB AFL Draft.

Walking into a foreign environment and knowing no-one is never easy, especially when you’re the new kid on the block.

But Gillies says despite his head still spinning since hearing his name read out on draft day, he’s starting to feel more comfortable in his new life as a professional footballer.

“We got introduced and then they showed highlights [of new draftees],” Gillies said.

“Scarlo (Matthew Scarlett) and Matty Egan said [to me] that they thought they were pretty good … so that was pretty nice of them.”

Gillies, who will wear No.25 next season, is considered part of a succession plan for the Cats, given their star-studded backline is growing a little longer in the tooth.

The full-back was rated a strong chance to be drafted but few had him linked to Geelong in the lead-up to last weekend.

The Stingrays’ best and fairest winner from 2008 had spoken to seven clubs ahead of the draft but only had late contact with the Cats, and therefore assumed he was an outside chance to end up in the blue and white hoops.

Also believing he was most likely to be selected after pick 50, Gillies was startled when he heard his name early in the draft.

“I didn’t hear [them say] Geelong, I just heard Tom Gillies,” he recalled.

“I didn’t know what club it was but then found out it was Geelong … it was unreal.”

Later that afternoon, with his back regaining feeling following the bombarding of slaps, Cats coach Mark Thompson popped over to congratulate him and fill him in on what life as a Cat will be like. But the club’s well-wishers had already started, and would continue.

“Cameron Ling rang me after the draft, and I had messages from Jimmy Bartel,” he said.

“Heaps of other guys rang me, Tom Harley rang me, Joel Selwood ... it was awesome.”

Dandenong TAC Cup coach and former Melbourne defender Graeme Yeats believes Gillies will be a perfect fit at Skilled Stadium.

Yeats said the ability to attack from defence had always come naturally to Gillies.

The Stingrays coach believes under the guidance of All-Australian defenders Matthew Scarlett, Darren Milburn and Tom Harley –Gillies could develop into a star at AFL level.

“He’ll be well coached [at Geelong] and he’ll have some great personnel to learn from, so I couldn’t think of a better environment for him,” Yeats said.

“He always had the confidence to do that (attack). He wasn’t intimidated by being in the last line of defence … he was the perfect backman, which in TAC Cup footy is rare.

“There were two really good defenders this year in [Michael] Hurley and Tom. He always played on the best forward and I don’t reckon he had his colours lowered often.”

Yeats also said Gillies had the right mental approach.

Yeats said he listened to parts of Saturday’s national draft and was thrilled to learn his best and fairest winner had been selected. But he was just as happy with how his level-headed defender handled the aftermath of his draft-day success.

“By 11.30 or midday he was on the phone ringing everyone [from the club] and thanking them for their help,” Yeats said.

“That’s the type of kid he is. He’s gracious, unassuming, hard-working and professional.

“He’d probably set his sights two years ago on making it to the AFL in some form and he really dedicated himself to the challenge and it’s no fluke that he’s been picked up.”