GROWING up at nearby Mordialloc as a full-forward who lacked mobility, not even Will Fordham himself could have imagined he would become an elite inside midfielder.
A growth spurt in his mid-teens resulted in Fordham, now 26 and looking forward to his 100th VFL game in Frankston’s clash with Casey Demons at Skybus Stadium on Sunday, seeing his footballing future blossom.
"I got a bit taller and slimmed down a little bit and that is when I got better at footy," he said.
"I became a really good runner as well … running has probably been my biggest strength through footy."
The former St Bede’s College student went on to represent Sandringham Dragons in the Under-18 TAC Cup before being selected by North Melbourne at pick 33 in the 2014 AFL Rookie Draft, spending his time at Arden St developing his craft at the Kangaroos’ affiliate Werribee, Fordham remembered his time fondly, despite the pressure it put on him.
"I thought I was a little bit too young for the AFL at that stage," he said.
"It’s obviously a massive step up … I wouldn’t take anything back, but I sort of wish I got drafted when I was a little bit older."
When he was delisted by the Kangaroos after the 2017 season, Fordham knew he needed to develop more versatility in his game, having primarily been seen as an athletic wingman at the top level.
"I put my hand up to go in the midfield at Frankston," Fordham, who has kicked 53 VFL goals, said.
"I just wanted the opportunity to move into other areas and grow and they offered that opportunity."
Fordham also saw an opportunity to focus on more than just his own football development, with the Dolphins emerging from some of the darkest years of its history to be now sharing their star midfielder’s milestone when they run out for their 500th VFA/VFL home match against the Demons.
"I’ve come from those years of footy where it is all about yourself and you just want to get better yourself," he said.
"(But) I love building something – the Frankston rebuild has been a bit of a slog the first few years, but it has been good to see the list and the club grow."
The Dolphins had lost their licence in 2017 after entering administration the year before, with their financial woes mirroring their lack of success on the field, having not had a winning season since 2006, but a concerted fight saved the club and the hard work is now starting to pay off.
Frankston won just three matches across 2018-19, but Fordham saw the potential which started to be realised in the ultimately curtailed 2021 season.
The Dolphins have continued their growth into 2022 and are well positioned to make an assault on the top eight – not that they are getting ahead of themselves.
"We don’t speak about the F word," Fordham said before allowing himself a moment to imagine the reality of making the finals and what it would mean to everybody at Skybus Stadium.
"Finals would be awesome – I would probably cry – but just to go another step forward, if that’s finals, that’s awesome, but as long as we just grow as a team, that’s the best thing we can do," he said.
Fordham credits the club’s leadership and players for its return to competitiveness.
"I’ve always known the talent has been there, it’s just whether or not they hang around," he said.
"Hats off to (coach) Danny Ryan and (captain) Josh Newman and all the leaders and the culture they have built that the players have stayed this year.
"If we keep bonding the sky is the limit for this team."
No doubt the compliment would be returned from the club as they point to Fordham’s consistent quality since he arrived for its re-entry in 2018.
The former winger’s belief in his ability and the need to bring more upside to his game has been justified as he has thrived in an inside midfield role.
"The more I did it, the more I was getting better and I actually found myself pretty good at it," Fordham said.
The midfielder is sixth in the VFL Coaches Player of the Year after Round 9 and fifth in tackles (averaging 7.3 per game), as he bounces back from the Covid-ruined 2020 and a season-ending knee injury last year that curtailed the development that saw him win the Dolphins’ best-and-fairest in 2019.
"I blew out my meniscus completely," he said.
"I had a running issue with my knee and it always used to click a bit … apparently, it was slowly tearing.
"Sometimes it did lock for about five or 10 seconds and it just popped back into place, but this time I spent about an hour in the shower at training trying to whack it back into place."
Fordham chose rest over an operation to maximise the potential for his long-term health and he has been untroubled since.
Some NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft assessments have the Frankston midfielder in their calculations, but Fordham is keen to enjoy the present knowing it frees him to play his best football.
"If (being drafted) comes it comes, but I am having so much fun at the moment at Frankston and I think that is why I am playing good footy," he said.
But with a maturity underpinning his growth, Fordham wouldn’t take a second chance at the highest level for granted.
"I haven’t thought about it, but I would love the opportunity again and I would take it with both hands," he said.
More immediate though is securing a win in his 100th game at home to the undefeated Demons.
"I saw the fixture a couple of weeks ago and thought ‘what a challenge, what a win to get in your 100th game’," Fordham said.
"I am more focused on the team continuing this form and that we come out of the bye ready to go … they (Casey) are a quality team – bring it on."
And he’s asking for help from Frankston’s loyal fans to get the team home.
"I’m hoping the crowd continues to get down to Frankston and watch us grow, it’s an awesome vibe when you get to our home games," Fordham said.
"We’ve got the bongos on the hill still, and the big lights which create an awesome atmosphere."