NEW ADELAIDE draftee Jack Gunston only has to look down at his crooked elbow for a reminder of how close he came to missing out on his AFL dream.
The Crows drafted Gunston, 18, with pick No.29 in last week’s NAB AFL Draft but eight months ago a career at the elite level seemed almost inconceivable.
The Haileybury College student was a stranger to the TAC Cup competition before trying out with the Sandringham Dragons last summer.
He survived the initial cut, but two weeks out from the first game his season was put in jeopardy when he suffered a severe elbow injury.
“I was playing in a practice game for Sandy [Sandringham]. I contested the ball and my elbow just popped out. I had to go to hospital and the doctors put my whole arm in a cast,” Gunston said.
“I was more worried about making the Sandringham Dragons’ squad (than the draft) at that stage but then the specialist told me I’d be out for the majority of the season, so it was a pretty down time.”
It took surgeons three hours and a dose of anaesthetic to put Gunston’s elbow back into place.
The initial part of his recovery was slow but the quick-leading forward persisted and surprised everyone, including his specialist, when he returned to the field for Haileybury just eight weeks later.
The 191cm utility caught the attention of Adelaide scouts almost immediately, but the club needed to see more of him before they could commit to selecting him in the November draft.
Fortunately he received a call up to the Sandringham side for the last six games of the season, with his final three performances impressing the Crows.
“I only saw three of his [TAC Cup] games, but I liked his competitiveness and the way he went at the ball,” Adelaide recruiting manager Matt Rendell said.
“I saw him play at full-forward and at full-back and I liked the way he went about playing the full-back role even though he was undersized.
“He’s not going to play full-back at AFL level, but it just showed us what he could do.”
Last year the Crows snapped up injured key position player Phil Davis at what they considered a bargain basement price of pick No.13.
Rendell said there was no doubt both Gunston and the club’s No.13 pick Daniel Talia, who missed part of the season with a hamstring complaint, would’ve been taken higher in the draft if not for injury.
“Jack only played the six [TAC Cup] games and Talia only played three, so it happens with a few of them,” Rendell said.
“Sometimes you just don’t get to see enough of them and it’s hard to pick kids straight out of college because the level of competition falls away pretty quickly.”
Gunston showcased his speed with an impressive time of 2.98sec in the 20m sprint at the Victorian state screening session.
He’s also adept below his knees having played most of his junior footy in the midfield before a growth spurt, adding 13cm in under three years, saw him recast as a forward.
The lifelong Essendon supporter arrived in Adelaide on Monday.
His elbow is still three degrees off where it used to be and at just 74kg he has some work to do in the gym but Gunston said he was looking forward to repaying the Crows’ faith in him.
“I’ve got a big, extended family back at home, so it was a bit sad to say ‘goodbye’ but this is a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it.”