Hurl him forward or hurl him back?

18 August 2011

Written by: Jonathon Wilkinson

There are few players whose versatility has divided AFL supporters to the extent that Michael Hurley has. Should he play to his strengths? Or should he fulfil the team’s needs? These are questions often raised by Essendon fans when talking about the up-and-coming star.

Michael Hurley is a truly unique athlete. Hurley is among the AFL’s brightest key position prospects – not only because of his raw ability and strength, but also because of his versatility. At 21, he carries the frame of a key position player and has shown potential in both halves of the ground. It is these qualities that have debate raging amongst fans and experts on where he should apply his trade.

Essendon’s luck with drafting key position players in the last decade has been mixed at best. Hurley, Tayte Pears, Jake Carlisle and Cale Hooker have been standouts amongst the disappointments of Scott Gumbleton, Austin Lucy, Courtney Johns, Andrew Lee and Jay Neagle. With the jury still out on Gumbleton and his injury woes, along with Essendon’s need for a presence in the forward half, it would seem that Hurley would best be utilised as a key position forward.

Hurley has shown promise in patches, having kicked enough goals to show that he is more than competent in the forward line. However his role is not purely to kick goals, but to add structure and presence to a forward line that at times been disorganised and floundering.

Essendon have experimented with the likes of Paddy Ryder and David Hille up forward, but only with mild success. Throughout the year Hurley has proven to be the most successful in the forward fifty, with his improvement as a player correlating with Essendon’s recent good form.  With Essendon’s depth in the back half, there is every reason to suspect that James Hird will mould Hurley into a much desired centre half-forward.

However, Hurley’s work down back in his short career cannot be dismissed. He has claimed numerous scalps in his budding career, including the likes of Warren Tredrea, Jonathan Brown, Barry Hall and more recently James Podsiadly, and Nick and Jack Riewoldt.

With the likes of Tayte Pears, Cale Hooker and the newly emerging Jake Carlisle, this young Bombers’ backline oozes with class and potential, with each of them bringing their own star attribute to the table. Under the guidance of club legend Dustin Fletcher, this backline is fast becoming a formidable defence. Fletcher has praised Hurley’s defensive work, even touting him to be the best defender since himself.

Despite this, Essendon’s many tall backmen has afforded Hird the luxury of playing Hurley up forward, where he has not only fulfilled the needs of the team, but has also starred in his own right.

One thing’s for sure – Hurley’s versatility is the envy of every coach in the AFL.

Kevin Cheong is a first year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.