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Foley stands tall at Tigerland

Tony Greenberg  December 7, 2012 3:45 PM

The best of Nathan Foley The best highlights of midfielder Nathan Foley, as he celebrates his 100th game.
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Nathan Foley of the Tigers in action during the AFL Round 10 match between the St Kilda Saints and the Richmond Tigers at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. (Photo: Darrian Traynor/AFL Media)

In the lead-up to next Tuesday’s 2012 rookie draft, Tony Greenberg focuses on a player who’s had a major impact in the Richmond line-up since earning his promotion from the rookie list in the mid-2000s - gun midfielder, Nathan Foley.

Nathan Foley was selected by Richmond with its first pick (No. 4 overall) in the AFL’s 2004 rookie draft.

He was a highly-regarded, young midfielder from TAC Cup team Geelong Falcons, who almost certainly would have been snapped up in the national draft, a month earlier, but for the one knock on him - he was considered too small for AFL football by many of the recruiters back then.

Long-time Geelong Falcons manager, Mick Turner, was an unabashed Foley fan, and couldn’t understand the reluctance of league clubs to recruit Foley.

“One recruiting manager teed up an interview with Nathan down at the Mercure in Geelong . . . when Nathan walked into the room, his comment to me was that it was like watching a jockey walk in,” Turner said.

“A lot of clubs at the time thought Nathan (177cm and 78kg then) was a bit small.  I think a few had queries over his pace and skill, but if they did a little homework on him, they would’ve realised he had great character and he was an out-and-out professional . . .

“He was always an excellent professional and I think that’s one of the mistakes the AFL clubs made at the time . . .

“Nathan Foley became a league footballer because he’s got an attitude that includes coachability and work ethic.”

The many impressive qualities Foley possesses enabled him to overcome the various obstacles that confronted him in his quest to become the best player he could, at the game’s highest level.

He spent the entire 2004 season with Richmond’s VFL affiliate Coburg, displaying a maturity well beyond his years, and impressing in the midfield, defence and attack with the ability to win his own ball, break the lines and create opportunities for teammates with slick skills.

Then, during the opening half of the 2005 season, Foley’s form simply demanded that he be elevated to the primary list at Richmond.

Finally, in the lead-up to the Round 10 clash with Melbourne at Etihad Stadium, the then 19-year-old received his senior promotion.

Foley made his league debut against the Demons on a Friday night that was memorable for all the wrong reasons . . .

Richmond, sitting third on the ladder with seven wins from nine games, was smashed by 57 points and star forward Nathan Brown suffered that horrific broken leg, which ended his season and curtailed his league career.

Young Foley had two kicks, six handballs and took one mark in a fairly quiet debut display that gave little indication of the influence he would subsequently exert in the Tiger team.

Foley played six league games all-up in 2005, but the following season he became a permanent member of the side, missing just one match and receiving an AFL Rising Star nomination along the way.

In 2007, Foley blossomed into one of the best young midfielders in the competition.

He played every game, excelled at the stoppages, was ranked No. 1 at the Club for handballs and tackles, and finished a close second in the Jack Dyer Medal.

That striking form continued into 2008, with Foley winning selection for Victoria in the special tribute match against the Dream Team, as part of the 150-year anniversary celebrations of Australian Football.

Foley was one of Victoria’s best in its 17-point win before nearly 70,000 fans at the MCG, showcasing his contested ball-winning ability, hard running and polished disposal.

With an average of 22.2 disposals per game in his 21 appearances for Richmond in season 2008, Foley again was a driving force in the Tigers’ line-up.

He maintained that imposing form into the second half of 2009, before an ankle injury brought a premature end to his season.

Unfortunately, that was to be the start of a horror injury run at AFL level for Foley, who managed only four games in 2010, as he struggled to overcome his persistent ankle problems.

Displaying trademark professionalism and determination, Foley fought back to play all 22 games in the 2011 season, finishing a creditable eighth in the Jack Dyer Medal.

Then, in the first half of this year, Foley was flying, before further injury problems resurfaced.

A ruptured Achilles tendon ruled him out for the rest of the season in July, and he’s now again on the path to recovery.

Richmond has shown faith in the talented on-baller by signing him to a new three-year deal.

The man affectionately known as ‘Axel’ is undoubtedly due for a change of luck on the injury front.

Let’s hope that eventuates because he is a key ingredient in coach Damien Hardwick’s recipe for success.