The Devon Meadows dozen

Left to right: Jack Wilson, Nathan Drew, Tyler Hunter, Ty Kirkwood, Alex Canal, Riley Simmons, Toby Sinnema, Patrick Sinnema, Riley McDonald, Kai Davies, Bailey Phillips. 404272 Picture: JONTY RALPHSMITH.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Precede: Devon Meadows has unearthed 12 gems aged 21 and under who have played senior footy this year, each with their own unique story.

Alex Canal: Coach Ryan Hendy has projected big things for the energetic and diminutive Canal. The small forward/mid is improving his craft and has the fun job of crumbing at Patrick Ryder’s feet and is looking to establish consistency as he pushes for a VFL preseason.

“I came here four years ago and something which stood out was the culture. (Teammate) Kai Davies got me down from Narre North Foxes and then I was able to connect to everyone from the get-go. Because we’re all young, we’ve built the culture together and having guys who have played at the top level embrace the place as well is what has brought everyone together.”

Kai Davies: Has been at Devon Meadows since under-14s, playing 13 senior games across 2021-23 and is looking to establish a permanent role in the defence.

“We’re starting to form a strong unit in the backline. There’s always leadership down there and we’re not leaking too many goals which makes it easier to settle in.”

Nathan Drew: Played his 50th game on the weekend and has fitted seamlessly into a well-drilled defensive unit, with his poise standing out for a young player.

“When you have (Dean Kent) down there, you just feel comfortable. There’s no pressure on you. Dylan Gregson and Kent are awesome but the chemistry is there so we know what each other is doing which makes it easier.”

Tyler Hunter: The son of club stalwart Craig made his debut in the Anzac clash on Saturday. Has grown up around the club but didn’t officially cross until this year, having previously played at Langwarrin.

“Getting told I was debuting was a nice moment for the family. I’m loving it back here, it’s a good family club and they’ve all been good with me when I was younger so it’s good to be playing my footy here.”

Ty Kirkwood: Missed Saturday’s game with a calf complaint but it’s a wonder he doesn’t cop more impact injuries given his old-school hardness at the footy. Played all his local junior footy at Devon Meadows.

“I want to win the contested ball – those hard-balls have improved as I’ve gotten stronger. I don’t like to sit off. I like getting in there, getting the hard hits and don’t mind copping one myself and giving back feels even better. The way those experienced boys control the ball inside and can just work it out and advice they bring to me and the other boys is great.”

Ryan Koo: Promoted to the leadership group this year, the 21-year-old was Casey-listed last year and has brought that intensity back to Devon Meadows.

Hendy on Koo: “He’s taken his game to the next level. He’s put his hand up to be an inside mid this year and has taken it with both hands to become one of the leaders of the club based on his attitude and desire to get the best out of other players. He’s really good with that young core and gets the best out of himself. He likes bringing other blokes into the game and is really good with his voice.”

Riley McDonald: A winger vying for more midfield minutes who is finding more of the footy as his self-belief and understanding of the role grows.

“In my first couple of years (of senior footy), I was really searching for it. Now I feel like I’m naturally getting my hands on it and getting myself to better positions whereas before I would have to think a little more. Having Dean Kent’s voice behind me helps and guys like Nick Battle and Joel Hillis dishing it out makes it a lot easier and more rewarding.”

Bailey Phillips: Like Hunter, Phillips has a family connection to the club, his Dad Dave having previously played, with Phillips running around in the same number 35

“I want to show that I can make an impact as a dangerous forward. Joel Hillis and Patrick Ryder have been huge for me throughout preseason as I looked to get my fitness up to help me run out games.”

Riley Simmons: After playing Under 9s to 11s at Devon, Simmons turned his attention to basketball, representing Victoria four times as a power-forward centre and trialling for the Australian U19s team. The ruck returned to footy at St Kilda City in 2022 before crossing back to Devon last season.

“There’s a family-vibe here which didn’t exist as much in basketball and the culture was a big thing which drew me back to footy. Everyone has been phenomenal because they know I’m not very experienced: forwards give me advice on my marking, backmen give me advice on playing on an opponent and Paddy (Ryder’s) ruck advice is just the best. I’ve improved my timing, working on how to read the ball in the air, how to read the other ruckmen, how to work around bigger opponents, how to outwork and wrestle with smaller ones and also my tapping craft. I was very heavy handed when I started here, whereas now I’m controlling the ball a lot better and get it to the right spots for our midfielders.”

Patrick Sinnema: One who impressed with his dedication in preseason, Sinnema umpired Outer East footy games until 2022, running about 12 kilometres and playing footy in the same weekend. That high level of fitness is shining through with the role he is playing this year.

“Umpiring has definitely helped a lot because there’s a lot of sprinting involved. Playing alongside Paddy (Ryder) has helped my crumbing because I’m accustomed to playing as more of a key forward. Laying tackles adds another weapon to my bow – I can play tall when Paddy needs a rest, I can play high and deep as well.”

Toby Sinnema: The younger brother of Patrick played senior footy alongside his brother for the first time in round one. The 17-year-old is also Stingrays listed and has played for them on the wing, while he also represented Vic Country’s under-16s last year.

“The Stingrays has helped with my skill development and playing here against senior bodies has been good as well, so putting those two together makes you a really good player.”

Jack Wilson: After limited opportunity at the Dandenong Stingrays last year and a preseason with Frankston, Wilson has thrived has thrived as a connecting half-forward who can go into the midfield. Has already re-signed for 2025.

“I think it’s been a big step up compared to some of the other footy I’ve played so far, with the bigger bodies and ball movement. I’m still adapting but I’ve loved it so far. My fitness went to a whole new level at Frankston – I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t have thought of in terms of forward craft which I’m using now. I want to showcase my inside 50 kicking and finishing on the scoreboard and have another crack at VFL next year.”