Junior Guthrie Ready To Make His Mark
RIGHT now, he’s known as the younger brother of Geelong star Cam, but Calder Cannons’ Zach Guthrie is hoping for that to change very soon.
Zach, 18, is one of many talented young footballers eagerly awaiting the 2016 NAB AFL Draft, to be held on November 25 in Sydney, and he is already preparing for the next step.
“I’ve been trying to put my best foot forward, both in school and at training,” Guthrie said.
“It’s [balancing schoolwork and football] been a challenge at times, there’s been a few times when it’s been difficult to study, but it’s been tough for plenty of others as well.”
Guthrie, who finished his VCE exams only recently, now has plenty of free time to continue to hone his fitness before the big day.
“It’s been a nervous couple of weeks,” he said. “Now that my VCE exams have ended, I’ve been ramping up my training, going to the gym, doing my running. School’s been a good distraction, but now I’ve got a little more time to myself.”
While comparisons with the older Guthrie - who finished fourth in Geelong’s best and fairest count in October - may be unavoidable as he starts out, Zach is keen to make his mark as a young gun in his own right.
“People might want to make comparisons, but we’re our own players,” Guthrie said. “It’s been good to be exposed to Cam’s journey through the early part of his career, to look up to him a bit, but really I just want to be the best player I can be.”
Guthrie’s chances of being drafted took a hit after missing out on a spot with the Cannons in 2015. But the youngster put the disappointment behind him to put together an outstanding season with local club Sunbury Lions, which not only made him impossible to overlook for the Cannons in 2016, but has made him one of this year’s biggest draft bolters.
“It was a bit of a step up at first, a lot more intense style of play,” Guthrie admits. “But I try to bring in as much confidence as I can, as much intensity as I can.
“It was definitely disappointing [to miss out in 2015], but I just put in a lot of hard work with Sunbury, knowing I could get picked again in a year’s time.”
Despite having played much of his junior football as a midfielder and forward, the younger Guthrie has proved his versatility with an outstanding season across the half-back line, finishing a close second behind midfielder Ben Ronke for the Cannons’ best and fairest award and winning the club’s Most Improved Award, as well as being invited to the AFL State Combine in October.
Taking on - and holding his own against - the likes of Oliver Florent, Brett Blair and Kayle Kirby is no mean feat, especially with little previous experience as a defender, but Guthrie has taken it all in his stride, with AFL superstars Robert Murphy and Corey Enright noteworthy models for his developing defensive game.
Guthrie’s courage and natural competitive spirit have held him in good stead this year, with his skill by foot a valuable commodity for the Cannons across half-back.
Three consecutive best-on-ground performances for the Cannons in May proved he had found his niche, and a 25-disposal, 12-mark game against the Bendigo Pioneers in July emphasised his attacking credentials.
“The first few games [playing in defence] were a bit of a challenge, but since the middle part of the season I think I’ve adapted well to the transition,” Guthrie said.
“Early on I was a bit too conscious of just looking after my opponent, but as the year’s gone on, I’ve started to improve on finding the right balance between attack and defence.”
In the vein of AFL stars Scott Pendlebury and Kurt Tippett, Guthrie was a talented junior basketballer, but selection in the Cannons’ summer training squad saw him put all his focus on his budding football career. Nevertheless, he says the experience with the round ball has helped improve his skills in his preferred sport.
“I think it’s helped me work in tight situations, what with the court being so much smaller [than an AFL field],” Guthrie said. “It’s helped my decision-making, and working well in traffic.”
Cannons talent manager Ian Kyte told the Sunbury Leader earlier this year that Guthrie was a “perfect candidate” for the upcoming draft.
“If he doesn’t get rookied he’ll come back as a 19-year old,” Kyte said.
“He is a late developer, still growing…and that would just about make the Guthries a 10-year family at the club.”
And if Zach does line up against his older brother sometime in the years to come, where will the family’s loyalties lie?
“I’m not too sure,” Zach laughed. “I’d like to think me, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”