Ollie Dempsey poses for a photo with a junior player from Barwon Heads Football Netball Club after winning the Tom Willis Award in Geelong's victory over Essendon in round 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

GEELONG youngster Ollie Dempsey was front and centre of a contentious and rare deliberate rushed behind call against Essendon on Saturday night, saying he pounced on the opportunity to draw a free kick.

Dempsey and teammate Brad Close were in the goal square as Bomber Jye Menzie opted to jog the ball over the goal line and concede a behind, having initially looked inboard to judge whether to kick the ball clear.

The umpire awarded a free kick to the Cats after Dempsey pulled up and halted his chase as Menzie stepped through over the goal line.

The AFL has since conceded the umpire made the wrong call, but Dempsey says the split-second decision to pull back in his chase had the desired result.

"I knew he was going to go through, and if not, they were going to kick it out anyway," Dempsey told AFL.com.au after the game.

"He was either going to kick it out and we'd get it back anyway, so I thought I'd tempt him into that one. It was a good result in the end."


On Monday, Bombers coach Brad Scott said the AFL had conceded the call was a wrong one, with the Dons coach happy to move on.

"The AFL made it clear that was a mistake. OK, we all make mistakes," Scott told Fox Footy. "Now I can provide absolute clarity to our players that that was a mistake.

"It's not a witch hunt, it's not about seeking vengeance. Mistakes are mistakes."

While the incident generated plenty of post-match headlines, Dempsey's role in Geelong's 45-point win was far more significant than just a single moment.

The 21-year-old won the Tom Wills Award as best afield in the annual Country Game at the MCG, the decidedly inner-east Melbournian from Carey Grammar playing a key part on the wing as the Cats pulled clear in the third term.


After the suspensions of Harley Reid and Sam Darcy and the recent concussion that has ruled George Wardlaw out of action for a fortnight, Dempsey – who has been playing on the wing this year – has shot to favouritism for the Telstra AFL Rising Star award, with Darcy Wilson, Caleb Windsor and Kai Lohmann among the other leading contenders.

"I'm just playing my game, and whatever happens, happens," he said of any post-season accolades.

"I don't listen to too much of it, but I'm enjoying the team and I love playing out there with the boys and getting the opportunity, and the coaches have trust in me, so it's been really fun this year.

"I'm getting more confident. I put on a bit of size in pre-season and my off-season, and I've been entrusted with opportunities.

"I love playing on the wing. It's obviously a bit different, doing all my pre-season and all my first two years up forward. It's not a traditional wing (role), it's a lot more forward and it plays to my strengths and I like it up there."

Dempsey is quickly winning over the Cats faithful both young and old. In the rooms post-match, teammate Mitch Duncan brought his four-year-old son, also named Ollie, over to his favourite player to say well done. Ollie senior grinned from ear to ear as he said hi to his young fan.

After the Cats snapped a worrying mid-year losing streak, Dempsey is hoping the smiles keep coming in the back half of the season.

"It was good to get our game back. It was a close game all night, and we were able to break out in the third, with our skipper Paddy (Dangerfield) just being dominant for us. It was good to get our game back and it felt good to get another win," Dempsey said.

"We definitely did click, and we've just been focusing on our game, we've changed a few things. It's good seeing Sam De Koning in the ruck and him and 'Blitz' (Mark Blicavs), they work really well.

"We've changed a few things around that (which) I think are really good for our game, like 'Stewie' (Tom Stewart) in the midfield. I think it's good for our back half of the year, and we think we can still do really well. We're excited about it."