Ben Maher debuted for the Gunnedah Bulldogs in round two last year against the Tamworth Kangaroos, with him making an immediate impact.
In the words of opposition captain Daniel Johnson post-match that day, Maher showed that at the ripe age of 17 he was a “star of the future”.
Twenty-five games later and Johnson’s prediction has materialised, with Maher making his AFL North Coast representative debut against AFL North Coast in 2017.
Starting and playing the entire match in the midfield, he kicked two goals. Yet it was his blinding speed out of congestion and his ability to find the football that stood out for North West coach Greg Piggott, who is also Gunnedah’s coach.
Maher, an AFL player for just 18 months, received two coach’s votes from Piggott.
For the Bulldogs, Maher has already reached 50 goals, has figured in post-match coach’s votes 19 times, with three best-on-ground efforts, and has been a top-three performer on 10 occasions.
He finished 2016 in the top five of the Bulldogs’ best and fairest count, and won the club’s rising star award.
His explosive speed off the mark is eye catching, and while he began as a small forward in the pocket, his best performances have come in the midfield. His toughness in and around the contest is a credit to a school kid playing against seasoned veterans.
Time and again he is bashed form pillar to post, but he picks himself up and produces clutch goals that win games.
He has to be a shoo-in for AFL North West’s rising star award in 2017.