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Family ties keep Lamb's eyes on the prize

Tom Lamb of the Stingrays handballs during the 2013 TAC Cup Country Round 1 match between the Geelong Falcons and Dandenong Stingrays at Queen Elizabeth Oval, Bendigo on April 13, 2013. (Photo: Theo Karanikos/AFL Media)
Tom Lamb shoots out a handball for the Dandenong Stingrays

SINCE he was 11, Tom Lamb has been picked up and driven to games of football every weekend by his grandfather, Ian Cooper.

Cooper, a blond-haired forward flanker and ruckman in St Kilda's 1966 premiership, has recently started letting Lamb take the wheel as the 17-year-old chalks up hours on his learner's licence, but the tradition continues.

"Sometimes we'll go past a ground and he'll say 'I kicked nine goals there one day'," Lamb told

Once they arrive, Cooper sits by himself on the wing and watches Lamb play. And no matter how the running and athletic draft prospect goes, the former Saint will shake his hand after a game and slip him a five-dollar note.

Twenty Under-18 stars to watch

That started in juniors, when Lamb could buy a can of coke and a lolly, and it still comes with a word of advice.

"Even if I play bad he'll say something positive," Lamb said. "If I don't play well I'll know, and be a bit down, and 'Pop' will say 'Don't worry about it, there's next week' or 'That was a good pick-up over there'. He's always trying to keep my head up."

That's a big thing for Lamb as he edges closer to November's draft.

Lamb is exciting, and he can do things that most other players can't. He runs, jumps, kicks goals and can turn a game his side's way – and quickly. For a 193cm prospect, his traits are unique.   

Through the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships for Vic Country, starting Sunday, he'll play in the midfield, on the wing and half-forward, and he's in no hurry to lose that flexibility.

"Different people see me as a different type of player," he says.

But just as importantly, he is closing the gap between his best and worst, something he sees as a mindset adjustment.

Lamb's coaches at the Dandenong Stingrays tell him every week to focus on keeping his chest out and chin up, and to be aware of his body language. That message, Lamb thinks, is sinking in.   

In round one for the Stingrays, he made two mistakes in the first quarter and cost his side goals. By the end of the game, he had kicked six goals and was the match-winner.

"I could've easily dropped my head, but I decided not to," he said.

"I'm not sure why, it just happened. I thought 'Nah, stuff this'. I felt bad for my teammates. A few things came my way, I didn't drop my head, we came back, and won by a point."

Tom Lamb takes a walk on Mordialloc Beach in Melbourne. Picture: AFL Media

Lamb has focused on getting things settled off the field. He's improved his diet and sleeping patterns, and feels more structured this year. 

Then there is school. Lamb left Haileybury, where he was on a scholarship, to join Parkdale Secondary College and finish his schooling close to where he lives in Mordialloc in bayside Melbourne.

He got to Haileybury and felt behind, and looks back and wishes he stayed at St Bede's College, where he started his secondary education.

Even still, his mum Kate has noticed him take more interest in his studies this year, and Lamb has also enjoyed having his mind on something other than footy.

His father, Wayne, has been another to offer encouragement. He lives in Tasmania, and often tells Tom about the things he wished he had done during his own football career, which spanned 21 games at Melbourne and Fitzroy in the 1990s.

"He sent me a text and said you want to limit the amount of regrets you have in life by the time you get older, because he probably had a few throughout his footy career," he said.

"He's just said you have to work hard to get there, if you want it."

Lamb does. He has since he started playing with Edithdale-Aspendale's under-nines side, and especially so when he saw three players from the club – Dylan Shiel (Greater Western Sydney), Brett O'Hanlon (Richmond) and Jordan Kelly (Hawthorn) – end up on AFL lists.

"They never used to get beaten. They were awesome to watch. Dylan was a freak. One day, when he was in the under-16s, he played a seniors game and got tagged in the midfield," he said.

As he moves closer to possibly joining them in the AFL, Lamb is getting used to new things coming up during his draft year.

One is that people – recruiters, peers, coaches – will always be watching and making assessments of him. He knows some will form views purely because of his scraggy mop of blond hair, which he's had since he was 13, but that doesn't bother him.

Lamb sees his biggest challenge as putting together all the best parts of his game, and doing it week after week. Clubs have started visiting him for interviews and they all tell him consistency is a key, even if Lamb would like to know a little more of what they're thinking.

"When you do meet with a recruiter, you kind of do wonder 'Do they like you?' 'Do they not like you?' and you just wouldn't know," he said.

"There's no point wasting energy worrying about if they do or don't. You just have to go out there, play your own footy and do the best you can."

Lamb's given himself every chance of that. His pre-season was strong and, unlike this time last year when he was out with an ankle injury, he's kept fit ahead of the under-18 carnival.

"It's definitely exciting. You're going into the unknown," he said. "You don't know what will happen each week when you run out onto the field to play."

Twitter: @AFL_CalTwomey