K rock Football

Investment pays off for Gribble

Werribee’s Tom Gribble has won the Liston Trophy as VFL best-and-fairest. (Sports Media Image/Marcel Berens)

SIX weeks out from the start of the 2019 VFL season, Tom Gribble was left out of decorated new coach Mark Williams’ preferred Werribee line-up.

Now the Geelong West product is a J.J. Liston Trophy winner, and the turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular.

Gribble, who was awarded only two votes last year, claimed the competition’s most coveted individual award this season with 25 votes after polling in 13 of his 18 home-and-away games.

The 24-year-old finished eight votes clear of Footscray’s son-of-a-gun Rhylee West (17), with North Melbourne ruckman Tom Campbell (15) a further two votes behind.

It might not have happened if not for Williams’ decision to post a hypothetical team before the season began.

“It stung me. I had a chat with (teammate) Mick Barlow and I was down in the dumps for a week,” Gribble said.

“I was pretty pissed off … but it certainly sparked me. I was probably cruising throughout pre-season, to be honest, and I was just battling a little bit with the change of coach and coming back for another year.

“I’d just started full-time work, so all those challenges were coming into my mindset. It sparked me in a good way.

“It was just about proving to him that I was invested. That’s all he wanted from me.

“It’s not that I wasn’t invested, but I was probably just cruising a little bit and he wanted to give me that little bit of spark.”

Gribble said AFL premiership coach Williams had been a huge influence on him in more ways than one since taking the reins at Werribee this season.

The prolific onballer, who has to manage Type 1 diabetes when he takes to the field, has improved his decision-making and kicking to become a more damaging and influential player.

He averaged 29.5 disposals across 20 games this season as the Tigers reached the semi-finals before bowing out with a narrow defeat to Essendon on Sunday.

“Choco’s key thing is the development of players and I definitely feel that this year I’ve gone from a good player to a really good player,” Gribble said.

“I’ve developed aspects of my game under him. He’s been awesome for the club and brought the fans back a little bit, and the club’s in a really good position.”

Former AFL player and Werribee assistant coach Nick Daffy has been another source of knowledge, as has new teammate Barlow, who returned to the Tigers after calling time on his AFL career.

“It’s not only craft and knowledge, but it also helps that the focus does go to Mick a lot of the time,” Gribble said.

“He’s just a massive ball winner and can do it inside and out. We’ve developed a nice combination in there.”

Gribble felt he was capable of following in fellow J.J. Liston Trophy winner Michael Gibbons’ footsteps by making the leap to AFL level, however, the thought is not one that consumes him.

“Getting drafted doesn’t enter my mind at all,” Gribble said.

“That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to, nor do I think I shouldn’t be. I think I go out weekly and match it with AFL players and beat AFL players who are on lists.

“I’m 24, I’m still young, I’ve been pretty durable apart from the year that I missed (with a serious leg injury).

“I’m ready to go, and getting into a full-time environment, I think I’d keep improving.”

Gribble was one of five Werribee players named in the VFL Team of the Year alongside Barlow, Jack Henderson, Nick Coughlan and Jake Riccardi.

In a big night for the Tigers, Riccardi received the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal as the VFL’s Rising Star.

MEANWHILE, Geelong duo Amy McDonald and Rebecca Webster were named in the VFL Women’s Team of the Year.

McDonald was also a finalist for the Debbie Lee Medal as VFLW Rising Star.

with Tom King

Twitter: @shayne_hope