ABOUT this time last year, Liam Duggan hoped he would be good enough to get drafted, but he wasn't sure. So he set himself to improve, and add more elements to his game.
Until this season, the small left-footer had been used mostly as a rebounding, neat-kicking defender. But he wanted to become more than that, and worked hard at his midfield craft.
In the early parts of the season, Duggan started his transition further up the ground, and immediately impressed in ball-winning roles.
Duggan plays for the Western Jets in the TAC Cup but lives on the border of North Ballarat's region in Bacchus Marsh, and he captained St Patrick's College to another school title this season.
Duggan is the player who you'd want with the ball if you need someone to control a situation. He'll pick the right time to slow things down, but also has the nous to be ready to take things on, tuck the ball under his arm and go for a run.
He showed this season he can play all over the ground: as a deep small defender, an attacking half-back, a free-wheeling wingman, and a pretty complete midfielder.
He proved that last part late in the TAC Cup season, when he gathered 30 disposals and laid 12 tackles for the Jets against the Gippsland Power. He also used his elite foot skills in attack, kicking 14 goals for the Jets this season.
Duggan (who stands 183cm and 75kg) is an outstanding leader, one who stands up in games, speaks well off the field, looks you in the eye and can talk comfortably to anyone. Winning the Ben Mitchell Medal, as the standout of the AIS-AFL Academy intake, was testament to that.
It's no wonder clubs thought he was one of the best players to interview throughout the season, with many recognising his captaincy traits.
At the start of the year you might have wondered whether Duggan had the inside game to be an effective midfielder at AFL level, but that isn't a question any more.
In fact, there really aren't too many faults against him and what he doesn't have in blistering speed (he runs a 3.1-second 20-metre sprint) he makes up for in smarts. He might not have a big point of difference, but a club will get a very rounded prospect.
Duggan has a little bit of Nick Dal Santo to him in his neat and sharp disposal, his creativity with the ball, and his poise under pressure. Not much seems to fuss Duggan wherever he's playing, whoever he's playing against, and whatever the situation.
Duggan has continued his steady rise throughout the season and is in the mix as a top-10 pick. There's no risk about him, and many clubs would like him to be theirs.
Duggan ticks two important boxes: he's a safe bet, and he's still got heaps of room to improve. With his 18th birthday in December, Duggan will be one of the few players in the draft to walk into an AFL club as a 17-year-old. A classy, composed player getting better and better.