Gippsland Power bottom-ager Xavier Duursma is benefiting from having a couple of former AFL-listed players in his corner.
The versatile 17-year-old has played every TAC Cup game in 2017 – his first season of football without father and ex-Sydney and Melbourne-listed player Dean Duursma as his coach.
Dean is currently an assistant coach in Gippsland’s U16 program but previously mentored Xavier as head coach of the Power’s U16 and U15 programs, as well as throughout his son’s junior career at Foster in the Alberton FNL.
In addition, Xavier’s uncle Jamie – who played 59 games for Sydney, Brisbane and then Melbourne from 1985-89, including the Demons’ 1988 Grand Final loss – has also had an influence on his nephew’s football.
The AFL careers of both Dean and Jamie were hampered by injuries, with Dean unable to break through for his senior debut at the highest level. It means they have plenty of lessons to pass on to Xavier as he pursues his own football dreams.
“Dad’s always there for me,” Xavier said ahead of the TAC Cup’s third and final Futures Round this weekend. “He tells me when I play well and when I don’t play so well, and he’s always there for advice because he has a great knowledge of footy.
“He was a similar player to me because he was a rebounding half-back-type when he was playing. He was a very good mark and I think that’s becoming one of my strengths as I develop as well.
“The lessons he’s passed down to me are that you can always bounce back, and it’s the same with life. You can always bounce back – he’s shown me that.”
Duursma’s transition from his father’s coaching to that of Gippsland head coach Leigh Brown has gone smoothly so far, the 184cm utility averaging 14 disposals per game and booting five goals in 12 matches playing a variety of roles for the Power.
While happy to be on the way to reaching a pre-season goal of appearing in every TAC Cup game this year, Duursma knows what he needs to improve on to achieve his ultimate aims.
“I started off the year a little bit inconsistently and I don’t think I adapted as quickly as I thought I could to the speed and intensity (of the TAC Cup),” Duursma said. “I thought I was a bit slow in the first round.
“I think I was able to change the way I play by about Round 6 or 7 though, and I was able to pick up the game a lot easier and use my speed to my advantage.
“I’ve been playing a bit as an attacking half back but also as a small or medium forward who rotates into the midfield, and then I’ve been playing as a winger the last couple of games. I know I’ve got to be able to play everywhere… but my goal is to be an inside midfielder by the end of 2018.”
Power head coach Brown said Duursma’s versatility had made him a key contributor to seventh-placed Gippsland’s 4-7 season.
“Xavier’s strength is his effort at the contest, his contested ball and his aerial ability, and he’s playing some very good footy as a bottom-ager,” Brown said. “I think he’ll progress to become an inside midfielder as a top-ager.
“Xavier’s very driven and he’s a joy to coach because he just wants to get everything out of himself.”
Coming from just his second-ever coach, such an assessment reflects pretty well on Duursma’s first one.