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New Hawk Dallas Willsmore a small-town hero

Rookie Pick #17: Dallas Willsmore Watch highlights of new Hawk Dallas Willsmore.
The biggest setback for him might end up being the biggest gain
Ballarat Rebels region manager Phil Partington, on Dallas Willsmore

HAVING won a place on Hawthorn's rookie list only three days ago, Dallas Willsmore is yet to play an AFL game.

Like any other draftee, there is no guarantee he'll ever get one – although his talent suggests he will be quite capable.

But for the people of Underbool, Willsmore's drafting alone has provided a major morale boost, at the end of a difficult year for the town.
The Willsmores are sporting royalty in Underbool, a place with a population of around 200, located in the Mallee region of north-west Victoria.
Dallas' dad Andrew is a 348-game champion of the local football club, the Walpeup-Underbool Kangaroos.

His mum Tanya is just as revered for her feats in netball.
A goal shooter and multiple best and fairest winner, she is still playing in the club's A-grade team.

In February this year, the Underbool community was struck by a terrible tragedy, when locals Scott Munro and Tim Vallance were killed in a light plane crash.

It affected the Willsmores as deeply as anyone.
Munro was married to Tanya's sister, Prue, and therefore an uncle by marriage to Dallas.
He was also Andrew's best friend.

While the town and the family mourned, Dallas was away at boarding school, at St Patrick's College in Ballarat, trying to cope with his grief while preparing for an important season of football with the North Ballarat Rebels.
Making matters worse, he hyper-extended his knee a short time later, relegating him to seven weeks on the sidelines.

"It takes a toll on any human being, losing a member of the family and a close friend, and in tragic circumstances," Rebels region manager Phil Partington said.

"It was a shock to the community up there and to the Willsmore family. 

"No doubt the kid was going to take some time to heal and really work hard. 

"It made it hard for him in the first four or five months of the season."
Willsmore returned from his knee injury just before the national championships, and turned in some good performances for Vic Country.

He continued to build his form at the Rebels for the remainder of the season, but ran out of time to fully entrench himself as a draft certainty. 

Come NAB AFL Draft night, his name went uncalled.

But the Hawks had not forgotten him, and snapped him up with their first pick on Wednesday morning.
Not that the young sharpshooter was glued to the computer screen watching – he was busy driving a tractor, helping his dad with the harvest on the family farm.

A flurry of calls and text messages alerted him to the news and, as Partington tells it, work for the day quickly came to an early end.

"I called his dad, and to say he was excited was an understatement," Partington said. 

"I think his dad knocked the workers off, and they might have sat around the header and shared a few quiet beers together."
The news spread quickly around the area, delighting the town and its football club.

Dallas Willsmore takes a shot at goal during a game for Vic Country this year. Picture: AFL Media

Willsmore had first played senior football for the Kangaroos as a 14-year-old.

Although he had been unable to play many games at home in recent years – with Rebels and St Patrick's commitments taking priority – he remained, according to Walpeup-Underbool president Tony Keely, passionate about the place he first pulled on the boots.
"He was a standout right from the start," Keely said of Willsmore's junior years.

"You could tell he had it. 

"He had a beautiful kick on him, and his judgement on the field was second to none. 

"Even at a young age he controlled the game from a centre half-back position in the under-16s, and when he played his few senior games he stood up well."
At 191cm, with a good set of hands, a strong endurance base and a long, accurate kick, Willsmore has the makings of a high half-forward or third tall, who can lead up the ground and then double back with pace.
He is likely to take some time to develop – as most young talls do – but Partington believes the initial disappointment of missing out at the national draft may be the spark that drives the laconic country kid toward success.
"The biggest setback for him might end up being the biggest gain," Partington said. 

"Getting a kick in the guts on Thursday night just might make Dallas a little bit more hungry, and just fully aware that AFL footy doesn't come easy."
Whatever happens from here, Willsmore has already won the admiration of his home town for the way he has succeeded in the face of the early-year tragedy.
"To keep going the way he has and get to where he has is a real credit to him, and he's very deserving," Keely said. 

"We're all hoping he goes well and we're very proud of him."