Tom Ellard wasn’t where he wanted to be.
The Werribee recruit and former Perth product had just helped Essendon Doutta Stars secure the 2015 Essendon District Football League Division 1 premiership. But having managed a handful of VFL games for Coburg in 2014, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling he wasn’t getting the most out of himself playing local footy.
“I wanted everyone to be on the same page as me, and I still had that aspiration to make it to a higher level, so I thought, why not try again and see how I go,” he recalls.
Determined to resurrect his VFL career, Ellard began training at Richmond alongside cousin and star AFL fullback Alex Rance. He managed a few practice matches ahead of the 2016 season but was unable to break into the side proper and soon found himself playing back at the local level with Riddell District Football League club Sunbury Kangaroos.
Flirting with the idea of a return to Western Australia, Ellard decided to try his luck at Werribee, where an opening had emerged within the club’s development side. He impressed enough in his two games to earn a call back, and the conversation that followed with football operations manager Mark Stone and recruiting manager Ange Cristoforo was enough to convince him to remain in Victoria and sign on with the Tigers for 2017.
“I was actually tossing up whether to stay here or go back to Western Australia to play for Swan Districts,” Ellard recalls.
“But the conversation I had with Stoney and Ange obviously made it a lot more appetising for me to come here. It’s a better opportunity, and the facilities are being built, so next year will be a lot better for all of us, and I can’t wait.”
In the meantime, Ellard has already made a solid start to his time at Avalon Airport Oval, having held his spot in the senior side since making his debut against the Casey Demons in round four.
He has proven himself to be a solid performer at both ends of the ground, bobbing up with two vital goals in the Tigers’ comeback win over Collingwood and providing strong defensive pressure when thrown down back, and he says his All-Australian cousin’s base of knowledge and experience has proved a handy resource as he looks to re-establish himself at the elite level.
“It’s really good,” he says of the relationship with Rance.
“I always keep in contact with him and try to get him down to watch me a few times and give me some pointers. At Richmond, he helped me out a fair bit, and I loved it.”
“Uncle Mo (Murray), who is his old man, captained the Eagles, so we’ve got a good base to talk about it all.”
By his own admission, Ellard has exceeded his own expectations, but his experiences over the past few years have taught him not to get ahead of himself or rest on his laurels.
For now, he’s simply focused on keeping his head down and making the most of his second chance as a VFL player, whatever that may throw up.
“At the start of the year I wouldn’t have thought I’d play in the North Melbourne interclub let alone play senior VFL, so I’m tracking well and really happy with the performances I’m putting together.
“I’ve just got to play some consistent footy now.”