Downie’s on the way up in Giant ruck role
THE shoes Tom Downie is filling don't get much bigger, but the young ruckman is taking it in his substantial stride.
The 22-year-old had played just one senior game in his three years when he was recalled to the GWS Giants' line-up two weeks ago to replace the injured Shane Mumford.
The premiership big man is sidelined for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury, but Downie says his mentor's support has been invaluable.
"He's been really good so far. I have a chat to him during the week after games. He's always giving me tips," Downie told APN this week.
Mumford is renowned for the 'heavy lifting' he does for the Giants, and has encouraged the 203cm Downie to do the same.
"He's told me to be aggressive," he said. "In my two games I've played this year I've felt that's helped me a lot; something I'll continue to do while I'm playing senior footy."
Downie, from the north-east Victorian town of Benalla, has done a long apprenticeship after switching from basketball.
He was a national under-17 representative, before deciding to follow the Aussie rules path.
He had only played two games of TAC Cup football with the North Ballarat Rebels when the Giants snapped him up as a long-term ruck prospect in the 2011 national draft.
"At first I wanted to come straight into the side, but then I realised that I was going to have to put on a lot of size, and learn the role of a ruckman before I was to come in," he explained.
"I definitely had to think of the long term."
It became that much clearer to Downie when he did make his senior debut midway through 2013 - against Fremantle 212cm follower Aaron Sandilands.
"It was definitely eye-opening," he said. "I got dropped the next week, but it motivated me heading into that next pre-season to work a lot harder. I knew the level I had to get to if was going to play AFL footy."
Filling out to 100kg, Downie says he has now "got used to my body weight and can run out games a lot better now".
He took on Richmond's Ivan Maric in round 15, and then St Kilda's Billy Longer last round, collecting a solid 21 and 24 hitouts, respectively. He also laid six tackles in the win over the Saints, which ended a run of three losses.
With Gold Coast loading up with Zac Smith and Peter Wright alongside No.1 ruckman Tom Nicholls when the Suns (2-12) host the Giants (8-6) at Metricon Stadium today, Downie is in for another tough battle.
"Now that I've had an opportunity the last two weeks I don't want to let it go," he said. "I want to do everything I can to keep my spot."
For his team, it is a pivotal match with the Giants sitting inside the top eight and on the threshold of a maiden finals series - something the Suns were unable to achieve in their fourth season.
Downie, however, said he and his teammates weren't looking that far ahead.
"I feel like we're a level-headed playing group," he said.
"We've also got good coaches around us. (Senior coach) Leon (Cameron), especially, is always making sure we never get ahead of ourselves, keeping an eye on the job ... the next week ahead."