It may have only been just a half, but it was more than enough to excite St Kilda supporters. Ben Long, the Saints first pick last November, entered the fray in the second half of Saturday’s game and made an instant impact in the forward half.
The 19-year-old laid seven tackles in just 42 per cent game-time, including a bone-jarring hit on Simon White which pinned the big-bodied Blues defender holding the ball and forced him from the ground, before Long calmly slotted his first goal in red, white and black.
While it was only a small glimpse into the future, the lightly framed Northern Territorian builds his game around pressure and appears to have the tools to terrorise opposition defenders for many years to come.
“It’s all about pressure for me. I’ve been training as a forward all pre-season. I’ve found my spot down there and I’m very comfortable in the forward line so I just really focused on my pressure today,” Long told saints.com.au after the 92-point win at Ikon Park.
Unlike the vast majority of Victorian based (Long boarded at Melbourne Grammar) draftees, Long was exposed to senior football in his draft year.
After playing for his state and then the Allies in the under-18 national championships, Long played the last seven games for Footscray in their run to the premiership. But despite the experience, Long said the step up in intensity and skill level was large on Saturday.
“I was obviously pretty nervous but it was exciting at the same time. I knew it was going to be a high-intensity game but I ran out there with the boys and they gave me a lot of support during the week and on game day,” Long said.
“AFL is obviously a lot cleaner and a lot faster. I played a few games in the VFL and got a taste of what the intensity is like but stepping up to another level in the AFL is something special for me; I learnt a lot out there today.”
Long admitted playing alongside Josh Bruce and Paddy McCartin – two of the best players on the ground – was a surreal experience after watching them from afar in recent years.
“Watching them on TV a few years ago before I got drafted and obviously having the wish to play AFL so to play alongside them is something pretty special to me and I won’t forget it,” he said.
With pre-season No. 1 now in the bank, Long is looking forward to benefiting from the hard work he put in over the summer in first year at Linen House Centre.
“For me, my first pre-season has been the toughest pre-season I’ve ever had. It’s worked out for me building my fitness and working on a lot of things to get me where I want to be,” he said.