Sam Dunell bails out

Mature-aged rookies tend to find their way into the AFL system after years of persistence through crushed hopes.

But Sam Dunell takes a more realistic view of his late arrival to the AFL scene, admitting it took him longer than usual to develop.

“I definitely wasn’t ready at the end of school. I was a late developer and it took me until my 19th and 20th year before I really shot up and grew,” Dunell told

Dunell was a star cricketer and a decent footballer in his days at Melbourne Grammar. He said the three years that passed between when he finished school and when St Kilda rookie listed him at the end of 2011 were vital to his football development.

“There was no doubt I was nowhere near ready and I always loved playing footy and continued to play but my cricket was more advanced than my footy through school,” Dunell said.

“I was playing in some rep sides and state sides through my junior career cricket career. It was only from when I got out of school that I started to grow and my body started to mature.”

Dunell’s cricketing ability took him as far as Essendon’s 2nd XI in Victorian Premier Cricket as well as the under 19s Victorian squad, training three times a week at the MCG.

He also played underage representative cricket with Australian fast bowler James Pattinson.

But while he focused mainly on his summer sport, Dunell’s football was quietly bubbling away.

His extraordinary rise through the ranks in such a short time wasn’t through ability alone – Old Melburnians club president Stuart Rose says he has seen few amateur players take such a professional and meticulous approach their preparation.

Dunell was playing for Old Melburnians in the VAFA as recently as last year before he got the call up to play for Essendon’s VFL team Bendigo Bombers in the last six games of the year.

As the son of 1984 Essendon premiership player Frank Dunell, Sam already had a connection to the Bombers. That connection furthered Sam’s chances of a chance at the elite level when the St Kilda recruiting team headed by Tony Elshaug, a former Essendon teammate of Frank’s, chose Sam with the 12th pick at last year’s NAB AFL Rookie Draft.

Dunell’s first four games for the Saints all began with him donning the unwanted green substitutes vest but he got a chance to play a full match against Melbourne last week which he said was a whole new insight to league football.

“It’s a big step up from VFL. The pace, the bodies and the mental side of it takes up a fair bit,” he said.

“I got my first full game on the weekend so I got my first taste of how the first half pressure is on. It was good to get that experience and get that out of the way,” he said.

“It hasn’t been too bad. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to play my role and come on to be the sort of person who can go back or forward. That’s why being the sub attracted me.

“The weekend was a good experience – I really wanted to get a taste of a full game and see how I’d go running it out. It was a good one to get under my belt so I would know what it takes to contribute for four quarters.”

Dunell is leaving no stone unturned in his quest to build an AFL career and already knows which aspect of his game requires the most work over the pre-season.

“I know it’s got to be my strength in the physical contest. I get exposed a bit in one-on-one contests and it is something I’ve really tried to get better at,” he said.

“I’ve sort of avoided it and played more of an outside role, which has allowed me to get by. But you need to have a more rounded game in the AFL to have an influence.”

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