For local product Tom Highmore, taking a longer journey to the AFL has all been worth it after having his name read out at the 2020 AFL Draft on Wednesday night, 9 December.
The 22-year-old defender was selected at pick 45 by the St Kilda Saints, where he will team up with fellow Canberran and 2020 All-Australian, Jack Steele.
After missing out on the previous few drafts, Highmore said he didn’t want to get his hopes up too high this year but was thrilled to hear his name read out.
“Pretty surreal feeling. After missing out on three or four drafts, there was certainly disappointment, but to have my name read out the other night, it almost didn’t feel real,” said Highmore.
“I’d met with another couple of the clubs via zoom heading into the draft, but you didn’t want to get your hopes up too much, so you try and talk yourself out of it [being drafted], but it didn’t feel quite right when my name was read out that’s for sure.”
Highmore watched the draft with his two housemates and his best mate from Canberra, who drove to Adelaide to surprise him, and said his phone has been running hot ever since.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest. Been receiving a lot of calls and messages so you definitely feel the love and support from all your family and friends,” he said.
Along with messages of support from his loved ones, Highmore has been inundated with messages and calls from several key figures at the Saints.
“I got a call from Brett Ratten straight away and I kind of panicked on that phone call which my best mate seemed to love,” he said.
“Got messages from all the guys including Jack Steele, who’s another Canberra boy; he gave me a call which was nice.
“Right through the list from young guys like Max King and Hunter Clark through to Seb Ross and even coaching staff like Jarryd Roughead have all sent me messages, which just makes you pinch yourself.”
A Tuggeranong boy, Highmore started his journey to the AFL as a young kid playing for the Tuggeranong Lions in the AusKick where developed his love for the game.
“I started playing in the under 7s or 8s for the Tuggeranong Lions. Then won a flag in under 12s which was probably the highlight of my footy career, especially with my old man coaching, which was pretty cool,” said Highmore.
“It’s probably where my love for footy started, playing with my best mates there who I’m still mates with today.”
After a couple seasons with the Tuggeranong Hawks, Highmore played for Marist College before being selected to play for Eastlake in the NEAFL whilst still at school.
“From Year 11, I got picked to play NEAFL footy straight from under 18s for Eastlake under Ben Wade which was unreal,” he said.
“I had a pretty solid year there and that rolled into the Canberra Demons which I absolutely loved.”
After a few successful seasons with the Demons, including being named in the 2019 NEAFL team of the year, Highmore made the decision to move to South Australia for both a change of scenery and a chance to further his footy career. A decision that clearly paid dividends.
“Coming over here [Adelaide] was just as much for a lifestyle change as it was for a footy opportunity,” said Highmore.
“I suppose in the NEAFL, clubs don’t rate it as highly as the SANFL or VFL, so when the opportunity presented itself, I came across and thought I could definitely call this place home.
“South Adelaide welcomed me with open arms, so I was more than willing to make the move and give it every chance.
“They’ve had a pretty good history of having blokes picked up, so it all ended up working out really well.”
After playing senior footy for the past few seasons, Highmore believes he is capable of playing at the highest level but is first focused on earning respect from the club.
“I suppose that’s why you do get picked up; they have a vision for you and I believe my best footy can compete at that level,” said Highmore.
“You more just want to see if you can fit in, get a gauge of where you sit amongst the group and whether you can come in and make an impact straight away. I suppose it’s a cliché but just earning the respect of your teammates and coaching staff.”
In terms of what sort of player Saints fans can expect to see, the 192cm-tall Highmore sees himself as an intercepting defender and has modelled his game off two All-Australians.
“The two guys who I probably try and model my game off from the AFL are Nick Haynes from GWS and Tom Stewart from Geelong,” he said.
“Down in the backline that can be a supportive type of player that can play on talls and smalls but generally that third tall.
“My strength is probably reading the play and chop off and take intercept marks when I can and then use the footy well by hand or foot to try and set up the game from the back half.”
Highmore joins a growing list of AFL players from the nation’s capital and hopefully his story of persistence can inspire more kids in Canberra to chase their AFL dreams.