By Kavisha di Pietro
ONE year ago, a 17-year-old Ben Ronke enjoyed a stellar season in the Victorian Amateur Football Association.
He cemented himself as one of St Bernard’s brightest talents, capping off his debut season in Premier Division with a Grand Final.
His draft chances seemed remote after being knocked back from the TAC Cup the previous two seasons but a lifeline from Calder Cannons as a top-age player began a whirlwind year where the speedy on-baller confirmed himself as one of the hidden gems in this year’s draft crop.
The best and fairest winner averaged 20.5 disposals, 4.7 tackles and 12.9 kicks across his 15 games for Calder Cannons.
Ronke said he used his unconventional road to the draft as a driving force for his breakout season.
“Getting knocked back from Cannons and not making it, there was a few ways I could’ve gone about it but I tried to stick to it and use it to motivate me a bit more,” Ronke said.
“Even when I got knocked back I have always kept hope and believed that I do have the potential to play.
“Having a supportive family around me and good mates as well definitely helps that side of it.”
The 181cm midfielder showcased one of his greatest assets – speed – during the state combine in early October.
His time of 2.93 seconds in the 20m sprint was one of the fastest recorded at both the national and state draft combines.
“My strength and speed would be my main two [assets] I think … footy smarts is another one and that physical, contested side to my game,” he said.
“I have always prided myself on the way I look after myself off the field and I think that is one of my strengths.”
He spent significant time this season working on his kicking; something he admitted was one of his weaknesses.
Calder Cannons talent manage Ian Kyte told Inside Football Ben learnt how to find time and space using his agility and speed, which has enabled him to demonstrate a higher level of kicking.
“His use of the ball has become a lot better,” he said.
“He needs to keep working on his kicking which is a little awkward under extreme pressure … but it has really improved.”
Having played predominantly through the midfield this year, Ronke looks to Richmond’s Dustin Martin and Brownlow medalist Patrick Dangerfield for inspiration.
“I modelled the way they play … similar attributes with their strength and speed, and the way they can kick goals as well,” he said.
Despite fitting into the Cannons midfield nicely Ben feels that if he got the opportunity at the next level he would be most comfortable in the forward line -where he played during his time at St Bernard’s.
After impressing at TAC Cup level Ben played two games for Coburg in the VFL as 23rd man before returning to the Cannons on the eve of finals.
Against top-four finishers Casey and Collingwood, he made an immediate impact averaging 16 disposals, 7.5 kicks and kicked 3 goals.
He was named in the side’s best during the Lions 66-point loss to the Pies.
Ronke said it was the experience of playing against AFL-listed players that he enjoyed most.
“Getting to play against sides with players that I watch on TV was sort of surreal at the start but I tried to learn as much as I could off it,” he said.
The physicality at senior level prepared Ronke well for his stint in the VFL, allowing him to transition seamlessly into the higher grade.
“I adjusted quicker than I thought … having played a bit of senior footy did help,” he said.
Ronke was a clear standout for the Cannons during their only finals game in a day that was all one-way traffic with 2015 premiers Oakleigh Chargers winning by 108 points.
His work in the centre of the ground for much of the day was superb and he finished the afternoon with 17 disposals and booted two goals.
He capped off his stellar debut season with a best and fairest win, edging out Zach Guthrie, who led for much of the night, before Ronke’s elimination final efforts awarded him enough votes to claim the win.
Essendon nominated Ronke earlier this year as one of six multicultural or indigenous Category B rookies under the Next Generation Academy system.
Ben, whose mother was born in South Africa, grew up barracking for the Bombers.
Should he not be selected in the National or Rookie Drafts by another club, Essendon will have the opportunity to select him as a rookie.
Ronke has spoken with AFL clubs but says he is staying level-headed when it comes to his draft hopes.
“I’m playing because I enjoy it … it takes the pressure off,” he said.
Last Modified on 15/11/2016 12:50