Aaron Cadman entered his draft year as a promising, athletic, tall wingman with a long left-foot kick and a strong tank but without the genuine strength needed to be a dominant key forward.
Less than two months before the 2022 draft, Cadman is up to 15kg heavier – thanks to “eating like crazy” – yet hasn’t lost any of his aerobic base, leading to comparisons to Cats superstar Jeremy Cameron – the player he models his game on.
In a draft stacked with midfielders and hybrid types, Cadman has emerged as the clear best key-position prospect.
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The GWV Rebels star – and full-time sparky – therefore has several clubs with early draft picks interested. Most notably, the Giants have reportedly inquired about North Melbourne’s Pick 1 in what could be a bid to help it secure the Cameron clone – two years after Cameron’s blockbuster move from GWS to Geelong.
“I see it all,” Cadman says of the reports of him being linked to clubs. “It‘s a privilege to have my name be read out like that.
“But at the end of the day, it‘s what the club wants to pick and all these other guys up the top, they all deserve it as much as I do. It’s cool to have my name up there.”
FROM SKINNY WING TO ‘EATING LIKE CRAZY’
Cadman’s rise has been rapid. An outside first-round draft chance at the start of the year, now he’s in the Pick 1 mix.
The 18-year-old had been playing on the wing. He had the height (194cm) to be a key-position goalkicker, but not the strength to match it with the NAB League’s top tall defenders.
Rebels coach David Loader late last year flagged with Cadman he’d like to shift the left-footer into the forward line – a prospect the player jumped at.
“I love playing on the wing, don‘t get me wrong, but it’s nice to get the reward,” he tells foxfooty.com.au with a laugh.
It’s proven to be a life-changing move.
Cadman had a “massive pre-season”, by his own admission. While continuing to clock up the kilometres with his running, he also worked meticulously on his forward craft. Just as importantly, he hit the gym with greater purpose and strategically upped his calorie intake.
Protein smoothies – banana-flavoured ones, particularly – have been the most significant addition to his weekly menu. Often he’ll just “add something on to every meal, whether it‘s an avocado or some biscuits”.
Subsequently, Cadman reckons he’s put on “10 to 15 kilos” this year. He’s stronger, yet still has the same elite aerobic capacity and high leap, meaning he beats defenders in the air, one-on-one and on the run – at any stage of the game.
Put simply, he’s a nightmare match-up for opposition sides.
“I’ve been eating like crazy,” he says with a laugh.
“I’m conscious of what I’m eating. I don‘t have a specific diet or anything, I’m just making sure I’m eating good foods, but a lot of it.
“At times I don‘t want to eat or get that smoothie down, but you realise it’s all for the bigger picture and it’s preparation you need to do.
“I feel like it‘s paying off. Last year I felt a bit out of place and a bit smaller than everyone. But now I’m matching up against my opponents and I have confidence I can work my one-on-one stuff and my forward craft and exploit them.
“Some games I‘m really trying hard to break my opponent and I just can’t, so you’ve got to keep trying and trying and trying. Then eventually when he cracks, I can just run them off their legs in the last quarter and that’s when I can break the game open. I feel like I can impact and it’s pretty satisfying when you feel like you’ve been really influential.”
Cadman says “I try to cook for myself”, but admits his mum, Diane, is much more accomplished in that space.
For the record, Cadman’s most frequent grocery request is ingredients for tacos or spaghetti bolognaise.
“She gets a bit annoyed sometimes because I’m breaking the bank when she goes shopping,” he says with a laugh. “But she‘s been really good.”
Cadman, the second-youngest of five siblings, credits his entire family – mum, dad John, two older brothers, one older sister and one younger brother – for keeping him grounded and, professionally, accommodating.
While playing for the Rebels and giving himself the best chance to be a professional footballer, Cadman in 2022 has been working as a full-time sparky, alongside his dad and older brothers, in the family electrical business.
For Cadman, Tuesdays this year during the NAB League season have been especially tiring. He’d wake up at 5am, walk out the door of his Darley family home at 6am and drive to Melbourne for a 7am start. He’d then work until 2pm – his dad let him clock off an hour early – and drive home to Darley to fuel – likely with a banana smoothie – get changed and prepare for training within the space of 15 minutes. A 45-minute drive to Ballarat followed where he’d train at the Rebels for several hours. Then he’d drive back to Darley, arriving home in the same darkness he was met with at 5am earlier in the day.
“It’s a bit much. But once you get the hang of it, it’s not too bad really,” Cadman says.
“There are some days when I don‘t get as good of a night’s sleep as I would like, but just as long as I’m getting a good sleep – which I really focus on – and making sure I’m getting all my food into me, then I’m usually pretty good.
“But I can’t thank my parents and my brothers and sisters enough for supporting me the whole way through and just backing me in. At the start of the year when I was taking time off for training, Dad said to me: ‘This better pay off. You‘re working for this, so keep working hard and make sure it pays off.’
“I think when, or hopefully if my name gets called out, I think that‘s when it’ll all come to me. But I’m still working, I’m not there yet.”
His hectic 2022 lifestyle has helped Cadman keep “massively” grounded.
“I think my family plays a part in that as well. They‘re always keeping me feet on the ground and just making sure that me head screwed on and I know what my priorities are,” he says.
EMPHATIC RUN HOME
From Round 1 of the NAB League – when he kicked 4.3 from 15 disposals and seven marks – to his final Under 18 national championships game for Vic Country – he kicked 3.3, including two fourth-term goals – Cadman in 2022 was mightily consistent. And consistently elite.
His finish to the season was excellent. He booted 16.10 and averaged 20 disposals and six marks from his last five NAB League games. But scouts were particularly impressed by his performances against Gippsland and Geelong, inspiring the Rebels to victory in the final two home and away games with big fourth-quarter displays.
“This was my first year playing as a key-position forward,” he says. “I was learning and learning throughout the year and then towards the end I kind of got the hang of it.
“I started putting a few good games together and it all kind of just ticked off from there.”
A left-footer renowned for his goal sense, athleticism, swagger and ability to win the ball up the ground, it’s no wonder why Cadman has been compared to Cameron.
Cadman says it’s a “privilege” to be compared to a player like Cameron. But, as he suggests, “at the end of the day I’m my own player”.
Cadman not only wants to get drafted to an AFL club, he’s also keen to “make an impact straightaway as early as possible and try and get a couple of first-year games, which I‘ve done the work for”.
North Melbourne will be considering holding its top pick and selecting Cadman, while foxfooty.com.au understands Essendon also has interest in the left-footer.
But the NSW-based Giants, if they get their way, could ultimately be Cadman’s AFL home – a prospect he’s prepared for and would be excited for.
“I think it‘d be really good to move interstate and I’d actually look forward to it if I could move interstate,” he says.
Draft hopeful’s touching act during 2k | 00:36
“I think it‘d be a really good experience just to try new things and just see what it’s like really. I’m confident that I’d be comfortable and be able to build strong relationships.
“I’m prepared to go anywhere … As long as I get on a list, whether it‘s Pick 1 or Pick 100.”
“I think just sharing the game with the people around me and my teammates and seeing how much joy you can bring to a group of people and just winning. I just love winning and the competitiveness in football and the crowds and how passionate everyone is about it. That‘s what makes me want to become a footballer.”