There was a strong Gunnedah influence during North West’s win over North Coast in Saturday’s representative clash.
Four Dogs – Ryan Wheatland, Tom Maher, Jasper Thomas and Hayden Baker – lined up for the North West under 17s side.
All four youngsters played a part in the 8.17 (65) to 6.8 (44) win over North Coast.
While Baker didn’t get to play as big a part as he would have liked: “I was carrying an ankle injury and only played half the game. It was a bit of a struggle,” Baker told the Namoi Valley Independent on Monday.
The junior thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to play with the representative side.
“It was great. I loved it,” Baker said.
“Most of the other kids from other towns – we’ve had things to do in other sports so we know each other fairly well.”
Those previous experiences with one another came to the fore as North West put in a strong performance.
Baker said his Gunnedah teammates were amongst those strong performers.
“Tommy was our leader in the defensive line. He had a good game back there,” Baker said.
“Jasper was his typical self. He used his speed on the wing to get the ball from one end to the other in a matter of seconds and Ryan was consistently solid in defence as well.”
2018 is Baker’s first season playing AFL.
He said learning the rules was first on his to-do list when he started playing.
Baker also said there were a couple major differences he had to wrap his head around between Aussie rules and his native sport.
“Coming from league to AFL – kicking the ball is different,” he said.
“That was something I had to learn as well as passing to hand balling. It was all easy, though. It’s all good now.”
Baker also said advice from the likes of coach Andrew George and captain Ben Maher was incredibly helpful.
Long term, Baker now wants to work on kicking on his non-dominant foot but in the immediate future, he wants to get his ankle right.
“It’s a lot better than it has been and hopefully it comes good. We’ve got a big game this weekend against Inverell,” Baker said.