Jai Culley described the feeling of waking up a West Coast Eagles player as “the greatest feeling in the world”.
From working in supermarkets in the morning to Charcoal Chicken in the evenings to keep his footy dream alive, The 19-year-old Langwarrin product was grinning from ear to ear after he was selected with the first pick in the 2022 AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft last night after an impressive first half of the season at Nab League level with the Dandenong Stingrays.
After being overlooked in last year’s drafts, Culley took it upon himself to put in the work on the physical and mental sides of his game. Averaging almost 25 touches per game with the ability to push forward, mark overhead and kick goals, Culley had been the standout overage performer of the Victorian pool, culminating in a four-goal, 22 disposal game in the Young Guns vs Vic Metro game last month.
As he prepares to fly to Adelaide to link up with his new teammates for the Captain’s run ahead of their game against the Crows before arriving in Perth for the first time ever, Culley said it was “bloody nuts” and is soaking up the excitement of being on an AFL list and getting messages players he has long admired.
“I had a really good message from Luke Shuey, which was pretty surreal,” he said.
“You see them all on TV, now he’s on my phone”
He credits the relationship and off-field work with the psychologist at the Dandenong Stingrays, along with the in-field transition from playing forward into the midfield as one of the driving factors that has seen him go from overlooked at the end of last year to first selected mid-season.
“transitioning from forward to the mid, I gained alot more confidence off-field,” he said” “I’ve been doing abit of work with our psychologist (At the Stingrays).
“We have a really good relationship, I’ve gained heaps more self-belief and confidence off-field”
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Culley is joining the Eagles in a time of big transition. Sitting at the bottom of the ladder and with a rebuild looming for the AFL powerhouse out west, Culley is determined to break into the Eagles’ starting side and be part of the rise back up the ladder.
“I’m obviously going to be so excited going onto an AFL list, Even more excited that it’s West Coast,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to heading over and trying to make an impact.
“New place, New people, I’m really looking forward to it”
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