THE TAC Cup finals series often throws up some surprises, and this year it was the progression of the Eastern Ranges and Oakleigh Chargers into the Grand Final from outside the top four.
The Chargers went on to claim the premiership – their second in a row – but it shouldn't dent the effort of the Ranges, who were almost singlehandedly dragged into the flag decider by midfielder Ryan Clarke.
Clarke ended a consistent season with a prolific finals series, averaging 25 disposals across the first three weeks to help Eastern to three finals wins.
It capped what had been strong season by Clarke, who averaged 19 disposals in five games for Vic Metro at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships and also played at school level for Melbourne Grammar in Victoria's APS competition.
Clarke finds the ball. It's hard to teach players how to pick up possessions like Clarke has managed to do throughout 2015, and he averaged 31 disposals in 11 games for the Ranges. That puts him among the top echelon of ball-winners in the draft.
What elevated Clarke is his ability to combine the inside grunt work with the outside run. His mix of disposals – about 12 won in contested situations and the rest uncontested – highlights his desire to get moving as soon as the ball has left the pack. He averaged nearly six clearances and more than 10 handball receives a game, a strong indicator of a player's work rate.
Clarke also likes to stream down the field and be dangerous close to goal. He booted 16 goals for the Ranges, which is an excellent tally for a near-permanent midfielder. He makes the most of his shots and enjoys rewarding his run with some action near goal.
There isn't much that stands out about Clarke that will make clubs too worried. He's a high-production player who seems to perform most times he takes to the field.
He's quick enough (he ran a three-second 20m sprint at the combine) and solid enough by foot to make teams pay. Does he have the outstanding trick that will separate him at the next level? Perhaps not, but his work ethic and competitiveness covers for that.
There's a little bit of Jack Steven about Clarke, with his relentless run and drive through the midfield and ability to hit the scoreboard when pressing forward. Clarke is probably a touch more polished consistently than the Saints midfielder.
Clarke seems likely to fall somewhere in the second round on draft night. He should fit into the 15-35 range.
Clubs can pick Clarke with confidence that he'll take his chance seriously. There's no frills with Clarke, he just gets to business and might be the hardest working midfielder in the pool. He's a solid on-ball prospect and one who should come into AFL contention next year.