If Sydney Swans draftee Angus Sheldrick needs an inspiration as he begins his AFL journey this morning he only needs to look across the breakfast table in Perth. His father Dom is perfect.
Like ‘Gus’, as the 17-year-old inside midfielder from WAFL club Claremont is known in Perth, Dom was an aspiring athlete on a fast upward spiral.
He was a swimmer at the Australian Institute of Sport and represented Australia at the 1987 Pac Pacific Games in Brisbane in a team that included such swimming luminaries as Duncan Armstrong, Jono Sieben, Rob Woodhouse, Nicole Livingstone and Julie McDonald.
He won a bronze medal with Armstrong in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay and was beaten in the 50m and 100m freestyle individual finals by no less than Matt Biondi, who went on to win eight Olympic gold medals and break countless world records.
The next step for young Sheldrick was the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. But it didn’t happen. His performances fell away and after a sub-par performance at the 1988 Olympic trials he realised something was amiss.
Detailing it bluntly in a recent pre-draft interview, he said: “I missed the Olympic Games that year and went to see a doctor because I was feeling like crap. I was diagnosed a week or two after that with chronic myeloid leukaemia. I had a year of waiting around because the treatment back then was so life-threatening in itself because you had to have your bone marrow killed off with chemotherapy and take a transplant and there was no guarantee the transplant would work.
“I had a bone marrow transplant from my younger brother Nicholas in March of 1989 and that was a complete match, I then had the rest of ‘89 to recover and then got back into the water in 1990.
“I swam for the next 18 months and got back to my best ever but fell short at the Olympic trials in ’92. I just missed out having made the final for the trials. It was a slow and painful journey towards retirement, recognising it was all over for me.”
But it wasn’t over. He went to university and later worked as promotions manager for the Fremantle Dockers for their first “three or four years” of their existence. And now he is president of WA Swimming.
Dom, his wife Tasha, and other children Ollie (20), Liberty (14) and Lachie (12), were as proud as can be last night when Gus was drafted by the Swans to add another chapter to an outstanding family sporting history.
Angus’ grandfather John Sheldrick won a discus bronze medal in the 1962 Empire Games for England before staying in Perth, uncle Jeremy Sheldrick was a Claremont champion in the WAFL and one of the last players cut from Fremantle’s inaugural AFL squad, and uncle Nick was a State winger in rugby.
Angus Sheldrick himself was a State junior hockey representative and played club water polo, but off-field work aside the AFL is new to the all-sports Sheldricks. Never in 125 years has a person with this surname played at the elite level in Australian football.
And, although Melbourne’s 2021 premiership player Angus Brayshaw has done his bit recently for the Christian name Angus, following 211-game Essendon and Port Adelaide star Angus Monfries and 1954 Footscray premiership player Angus Abbey among others, there has never been an ‘Angus’ among 1438 Swans players since 1897.
That Sheldrick now has the opportunity to write his own history with the Swans is something that seemed unlikely given that, speaking recently of his football status 12 months ago, he described himself as “relatively unknown” and was said to be “outside WA’s best 23” after he missed the entire 2020 season with a collarbone injury.
Even 24 hours before the draft AFL website draft specialist Cal Twomey did not have him in the top 30 players in his famed ‘Phantom Draft’.
Sheldrick, who only turned 18 on 7 November, was still so convinced he would not be drafted among in the first round of the 2021 AFL Draft on Wednesday night that he and his family had organised a party for the remainder of the draft tonight (Thursday).
But an outstanding 2021 season in school and club football changed all that.
A Prefect at the prestigious Christ Church Grammar School in Perth, he won the school football best & fairest and the Claremont Colts B&F despite playing only nine games. He polled in every game and was judged his side’s best seven times, including a standout 27 possessions and two goals in a grand final loss despite playing with a heavily strapped quad.
He was one of WA’s best in two U19 matches against South Australia, averaging 24 possessions, and tested strongly at the NAB AFL Draft Combine with his 3.05 seconds for 20 metres and 8.36 seconds for the AFL agility run.
In the lead-up to the draft WA Football Commission State talent manager Adam Jones likened Sheldrick to Gold Coast Sun Matt Rowell as a player “you fall in love with”.
“He was one of the last couple selected into our under-19s squad and (coach) Marc Webb and I met with him and all players individually before we played a game to give everyone an understanding of where they sat,” Jones recalled.
“The discussion with him was that he was probably outside of the best 23 so he was going to have to fight his way past a few to get into the team for the championships.“By the end of the conversation, Webby and I said to each other, ‘He’s going to cause us some headaches’ because you could just tell by his determination in that meeting and the character that he is that he was going to fight his way past a few.
“In the end, he was one of the first picked for every game. He hasn’t really played a bad game and every level that he’s stepped up to, he’s been able to have the same impact. We’ve seen an improvement in his kicking throughout the year and he’s probably proven to be a lot more powerful and dynamic than we initially thought.
“Gussy is a player that when you’ve involved with him, you fall in love with him because of how he competes, so I think he’s shot up into top-30 calculations and I reckon whoever picks him up is going to get an absolute ripper.”
Speaking of an ultra busy 2021 before the draft, Sheldrick described as “a super big highlight” his appointment as football captain at Christ Church. “Just being able to lead my mates and for them to have voted me in and think of me as the right person to lead them was great. Even though we didn’t have a very successful year, that’s probably the first thing that springs to mind. It was a massive honour.
“Making the State Academy was also another huge accomplishment from the start of the year, being relatively unknown after breaking my collarbone last year and not playing any games.
“So to come in and have the form that I have is something I’ve been pretty proud of and I’ve had to work pretty hard to get that happening.
“Probably just being clean with my hands and not fumbling as well, which has probably been my best attribute this year and something that’s got a lot better.
“I think everyone had to work on their endurance because nobody is at the AFL level of endurance, but I was probably a bit behind most of the guys and that was something I worked hard on. Then skills as well, so it was a bit of everything but I just sort of plodded away and did little bits at a time and it’s paid off.”
He gave huge credit recent AFL Hall of Fame inductee and ex-Richmond and West Coast rover Rob Wiley, the first XVIII coach at CCGS during Sheldrick’s three years in the team.
“He’s probably been the one person, when I didn’t make State 16s and the like, who’s always shown a lot of belief in my ability to take it to the highest level,” Sheldrick said.
"He’s always been that guy who said I’ve got what it takes and if I’m willing to work with him on things that he thinks I need to improve on. He always thought I could get there.
“I’ve had him ever since I started playing first XVIII at Christ Church in Year 10 and that was his first year at the school as well.
“We built a close relationship and he still calls me, even though the PSA footy season is done, so I can’t thank him enough and he’s had the most influence on my footy than anyone else by far. I don’t know where I’d be without his input.”
Sheldrick played his early football in Perth at Mosman Park, also the one-time home of Hawthorn and Fremantle 200-gamer Ben Allan, the inaugural Dockers captain and later caretaker coach.
It was only minutes after Sheldrick was drafted that his junior club posted a congratulatory message on Facebook which said: “We are thrilled to share the BEST NEWS EVER! Mossie Park Redback Gus Sheldrick has become an AFL footballer, drafted by the Sydney Swans at pick #18. We are so proud of you Gussy. Go well young man.”
It was a selection that is poised to make him the 13th Claremont player to wear the red and white of the Swans.
It is a connection that goes all the way back to Jim Reid, who played 36 games including two grand finals for South Melbourne in 1935-36. Astonishingly, he had a career win/loss record of 30-6 – but he lost both premiership deciders to Collingwood.
Mitch Morton, a 2012 premiership player in his 12th and last game for the Swans, is another Claremont product along with 1996 grand final team member Derek Kickett.
Barry Beecroft, a 71-gamer from1973-77 and in 1982, heads the games list among this group from Kickett (63), Reid, Andrew McGovern (20), Tom Derickx (13), Morton (12), Gerard Neesham (9), Mark Hepburn (7), John Hutton (5), Tony Begovich (5), Ryan Brabazon (3) and Syd Young, who played two games in 1941.