Top 10 AFL Draft prospect Harry Sheezel back at the home of all his junior football for Ajax, Princes Park. Image: Ali Zekeria

“I played footy with your dad, Harry. He was much better than me. Good luck.”

It’s a comment and well-wish from a passer-by on his morning walk around the main oval at Princes Park in Caulfield on a chilly November morning. A ground that is close to Harry Sheezel’s heart, being the home of all his junior football.

“I kicked seven here once against St Peters,” Sheezel recounted to The Inner Sanctum, reflecting on his many years running around for the Ajax junior football club.

“There was one game that was pretty funny. It was pouring rain, thundering so we actually stopped playing for like two quarters. And then we had to come back on and play like the last quarter.

“I think there was one goal kicked the whole game, then I caught someone holding the ball near the goal square and kicked a goal right before the siren.

“It was the only time I’ve kicked the winner.”

It’s the family connections at the Jackas that make the football club an integral part of the Melbourne Jewish community. The club where his father Dean played more than 150 games for the Ajax Senior Club.

The club Harry debuted for when he was 16 years old on ANZAC day last season alongside his cousin Toby.

Like every local football club around the country, it serves as a meeting place. Many Jewish families connect and play together under one banner. Bringing together different cross-sections and sects of the community at large.

Sheezel looms as an early selection in the 2022 AFL Draft, which will be a first for the Ajax junior football club, has felt the groundswell of support and love from the community throughout the year.

“It’s pretty cool,” Sheezel opined, thinking about the prospect of joining the AFL elite with an entire community having his back.

Sheezel is taking it all in his stride as he ponders the magnitude of what he is about to achieve and what could follow.

Poised to join merely a handful of Jewish players to have reached the top level come Monday night, Sheezel will not only become a household name, he could become one of the most recognizable community leaders in the country at just 18 years of age.

“I’ve kind of had to [take it all in my stride] with all the attention but I’m trying to see it through a positive lens and try be an inspiration for people because it is not common for people achieving what I’m likely to achieve. Which I think is a bit weird because I think we have the potential too. We have a good junior group coming through, so hopefully, more people can follow in my footsteps”

“It might get hard sometimes [with people constantly coming up to me] like I said before, I’m going to try and see it as a positive thing. Don’t look at it as being annoying, but actually trying to have an influence on these people that they look up to and try and be like a role model for those kids.”

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It’s been quite the season for Sheezel, who has maintained his impressive form all season to be near the top of AFL clubs’ Draft boards to loom as a top-five pick.

After two COVID-19 interrupted seasons, he kicked 49 goals from 14 NAB League games for Sandringham Dragons and four Vic Metro games in the U18 championships, and one for the Australian NAB U18 academy.

The optimism around him has grown exponentially as the year has progressed.

As the raps have grown, the support from the immersive community has only gotten tighter and louder. It’s something that Sheezel is eternally grateful for.

“It has meant a lot,” he said.

“I was saying at the combine, it’s not too different from other kids in their local footy clubs and communities. I’m not religious or anything, so it’s kind of just the community that affects me.

“It’s such a great community. Everyone just cares for each other. You don’t even have to know someone but they do something for you. Especially playing footy here [at Ajax], it’s the type of club where you just know everyone. Everyone older than me, everyone younger than me. And that’s just something pretty rare.

“Other clubs probably don’t get that.”

Image: Ali Zekeria

It’s an exciting element of what Sheezel is hoping to carry into his time at the top level. Knowing the attention that comes with being a top selection, alongside carrying the hopes and the eye of a community cheering him on.

“It has been something I’ve been building towards I think for a while,” he said. ” I’ve worked pretty hard and stayed pretty consistent and I think I got what it takes to have influence at the next level.

“On field and then from like, using my role in society off field, being a role model and try to make that positive to everyone around me”

School and exams have been a welcome distraction in recent weeks. The 2022 AFL Draft is the next big ticket item in Sheezel’s life in just under a week.

With the next big phase in his life about to commence, the glow of the spotlight will be bright. For Harry, the chance to play the game he loves, rub shoulders with and against childhood heroes whom he has modelled his game on, and represent his community at the top level will be a moment to savour.

He’s tipped to go early, having met with multiple clubs with early selections on more than one occasion. While the dream would be to get drafted by the club he has barracked for all his life, Hawthorn, the final destination of a spot on an AFL list is good enough for Harry.

“No matter wherever I go, I’ll be over the moon and I can’t wait to get into it and start training.”

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