Ben’s meteoric rise

A YEAR is a long time in football – just ask Ben Duscher.This time 12 months ago all Duscher was hoping for when he joined the Bendigo Bank Bombers from Rochester was to simply get a game.But such has been his meteoric rise within the VFL club, Duscher is no longer a budding player trying to forge his way into the side – he’s the co-captain alongside the Melbourne-based Trent Shinners.For 23-year-old Duscher, the appointment is a tremendous endorsement in both his playing and leadership abilities from the Bombers, who this year enter their ninth season in partnership with AFL affiliate Essendon.“There’s a lot of good men who have been captain of this club in Nick Carter, Simon Rosa and James Flaherty, so it’s an honour to be able to follow in their footsteps,’’ Duscher said before heading overseas on a week-long holiday to Thailand.The announcement of Duscher and Shinners as the Bombers’ co-captains for 2011 was made last week at the Essendon Community Function at the All Seasons Quality Resort.“I got a bit of a hint from Shannon (Grant, coach) about two weeks ago. He said we needed someone to take control of the Bendigo group and show a bit of leadership,’’ Duscher said.“So once I got a bit of a hint I’ve tried to take the reins a bit, but we were only officially told the other night.’’While Duscher may be only 23 years old, he is already well-travelled when it comes to football clubs.He played his junior football with Merbein in the Sunraysia Football League, including a season of senior football with the Magpies as a 16-year-old, before joining the Bendigo Pioneers in the TAC Cup in 2005, earning selection in the Victoria Country squad of 40 alongside Pioneers team-mates Joel Selwood, Grant Weeks and Josh Bowe.Also in the Victoria Country squad in 2005 were the likes of future AFL stars Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas and Shaun Higgins.By the time he had turned 21 Duscher was already a senior premiership player in two major leagues – with Balranald in the Central Murray Football League in 2006 and Rochester in the Goulburn Valley Football League in 2008.In between those two premierships, Duscher – renowned for his hardness at the ball and overhead marking for a 181cm player – played with the Bendigo Bombers reserves team in 2007.Duscher was a regular in the best for the Bombers reserves that season, but couldn’t crack it for a game in Matthew Knights’ senior side.The following year he joined Rochester and stayed with the Tigers for 2009 before deciding to have another crack at VFL level with the Bombers.“I went to the Bombers hoping just to get a few games last year, that’s it really,’’ Duscher said.“But Shannon had confidence in me, which made me feel more confident in myself.’’With the Bombers axing their reserves, Duscher aligned himself with Bendigo Football League club Sandhurst, where he starred in the midfield for the Dragons in the first half of 2010 as he staked his claim for a spot in the Bombers team.Duscher’s first 10 games of his 2010 season were with the Dragons, kicking 27 goals and consistently being named in the best players.During one red-hot patch of form between rounds five and 10, Duscher polled 24 of a possible 30 votes in the Bendigo Advertiser-ASM Player of the Year Award.It was an award Duscher ended up finishing fifth in, despite playing just over half a season in the BFL with the Dragons.“Ben was our best player during those 10 games, and a lot of the way we played revolved around him,’’ last year’s Sandhurst coach Keiran Nihill said.“With us last year, we had heard a bit about him and probably the one criticism that came through when we got him was he had enormous talent, but perhaps he was a bit laid-back and casual.“Well, it was very clear last year to see just how driven he was. He trained harder than anyone and on game day played harder than anyone, so it was the exact opposite to what we had been told.“He looked like he was very keen on getting to where he wanted to go, and he trained and played accordingly.’’Duscher’s consistent form with the Dragons was finally rewarded with VFL selection for the Bombers in their round 11 game against Frankston at Windy Hill.The rest is history.Duscher was named best on ground for the Bombers in their 96-point win over the Dolphins in his VFL senior debut, while he also kicked three goals.“We got told at the start of the season to go back to our home club and if we play well we will get an opportunity,’’ Duscher said.“I started with Sandhurst and I put some good games together and when you’re waiting for the call-up and it doesn’t come you start to get a bit down, but I finally got in there and I just took my chance.’’Duscher would hold his place in the Bombers side for the remainder of the VFL season, with his standout performance coming in round 14 against Werribee in another best-on-ground game when he booted five goals in a 10-point victory.By the end of the season Duscher had finished top-10 in the Bombers’ best and fairest and won the Graham Warfe Memorial Award for the best first-year player.But more was still to come, with Duscher invited to train with Essendon in early December in the lead-up to the AFL rookie draft.“That was the most intense training I’ve ever been a part of... it was a real eye-opener,’’ Duscher said.While much of the pre-rookie draft speculation had Duscher touted as a strong chance of being selected by Essendon, ultimately, he was overlooked.But he was far from disappointed at missing out at the draft, considering the position he had been in at the start of the year.“I went to the Bombers at the start of the year just hoping to play VFL, so whatever came after that was always going to be a bonus,’’ Duscher said.“So I was happy just to get the opportunity to go to Essendon and experience a couple of weeks of training with an AFL club.’’However, Duscher doesn’t have to look far for inspiration when it comes to his AFL dreams.In 2007 Stewart Crameri was a team-mate of Duscher’s in the Bendigo Bombers reserves team that won just three games that season.The following season Crameri established himself in the Bombers senior team and like Duscher, was given the opportunity to train with Essendon before the rookie draft.Crameri was overlooked by Essendon at the 2008 rookie draft, so he went back to Bendigo and produced another solid VFL season with the Bombers in 2009.Again, Crameri was invited to train with Essendon the following pre-season, and this time his persistence paid off, with the former Maryborough junior being selected by the Dons with pick No.43.And Crameri, 22, now has three AFL games to his name – his first on the big stage of Friday night football against eventual premier Collingwood at the MCG in round 20 last year.But for the meantime, all Duscher is worried about is putting together another consistent season in the VFL and helping the Bombers qualify for a second-consecutive finals appearance.“I think we’ve got the makings of a handy side, so hopefully, we’re looking good for the year ahead,’’ Duscher said.“The season is not far away now, so I can’t wait to get into it.’’Duscher will get his first opportunity to captain the Bombers when they begin their practice matches against Collingwood on Friday, February 25, at Gosch’s Paddock from 4pm.The Bombers will also play practice matches against Coburg at Highgate Recreation Reserve on Saturday, March 5, from 5pm; against Geelong at Skilled Stadium on Saturday, March 12, from 1pm; before a second match against Collingwood at Gosch’s Paddock on Friday, March 25, from 4pm.The Bombers’ 2011 VFL season will begin on Saturday, April 2, with an away clash against last year’s runners-up, the Northern Bullants, at Carlton’s Visy Park from 2pm.

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