By Greg Allen-Pretty
With only one AFL round played so far this season, a second year Port Adelaide player from Gippsland is keeping himself fit and match-ready for when a resumption of the season is announced. Meet the impressive Xavier Duursma who excelled at Gippsland Power and with Vic Country, and is now making his mark in the AFL.
He’s smart, he’s loyal, he’s his own man. Xavier Duursma could very well stay at Port Adelaide FC for his entire AFL playing career. The 19 year old from Foster was destined for this, shaped by his own passion for the game and, in no small way, the influence of his father.
Xavier’s first year at the elite level of Australia’s national football game is behind him and he is satisfied with his performance.
“I could certainly improve but across the year I was pretty happy with how I went and I just want to build on that,” he said, keen to get back on the field when Covid-19 restrictions allow.
“Before the draft I said to clubs, if you take me I’d be very happy to be a one-club player. And that’s still the same for now. Obviously there’s different circumstances and a lot of things can happen but I’d like to stay at Port if I can.”
While it’s early days for Xavier in the AFL, his career has been taking shape since joining Auskick at age 8 and playing junior footy in Foster. With him all the way has been his father Dean who was on the playing lists of the Sydney and Melbourne AFL clubs. After moving to Gippsland he turned his talent to coaching, both at Foster and with Gippsland Power in the AFL’s elite Under 18 national competition.
“I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what it takes to be successful and to at least give yourself the opportunity to move ahead,” the older Duursma said.
“I guess it’s more him (Xavier) because we haven’t pushed him. A lot of it is internal from his desire and dedication.”
Dean has watched his son progress, and has coached him, from junior footy at Foster into the Gippsland Power program where he displayed not only a natural talent and instinct for the game, but also tremendous leadership qualities.
“I think he’s a natural leader through his ability,” Dean said.
“Everybody’s always looked up to him. His teammates followed his lead and that’s a natural thing.”
Xavier was elected as captain of Gippsland Power in 2018, after which he was drafted to Port Adelaide as their second selection at pick 18.
Although praised for his leadership at Power that year, and despite his father recognising that quality in him, Xavier himself is a little more humble about describing himself as a leader. He brushed off a potential comparison to fellow Gippslander and current captain of the Essendon Bombers Dyson Heppell.
“He’s obviously one of the very great AFL players and if I can be anything like him I’d be very happy with that,” Xavier said.
“I’ve tried to be the best leader that I can and it seems to come fairly naturally to me, but guys like Dyson and Bob Murphy have taken leadership to another level.”
As a player though, Xavier has a desire to learn and improve, as observed by his father.
“It was more about effort than anything,” said Dean, “and picking up on little things… little skill areas that he could improve on. Also game sense and where he should be to get the footy, and to use it well.”
Xavier acknowledges the important role his father has played in his life and career.
“My dad’s been very important for me… a good role model, and mum as well.
“Dad and I would travel together to Morwell for footy training, and all the conversations we had and things we learned about each other – lots about footy but also about life in general.
“I’d call him one of my best mates to be honest, as well as a father figure.”
At Port Adelaide, “Travis Boak (former captain) – he’s a leader, a terrific player and a good bloke as well. And Ken (Hinkley) and all the coaching staff. They’re all great people to look up to and I have learned a lot from them.”
There are also two other men Xavier has high praise for. Helping to develop his skills at Gippsland Power were Talent Manager Peter Francis and Head Coach Leigh Brown.
“Pete and Leigh are two of the best in the business. I really can’t speak highly enough of them.
“They set me up – I was with Pete and Leigh ever since my bottom age in Under 15. And I can still call them, and they ring or text me just to see how I’m going.
“I can’t thank them enough. They prepared me very well, not just in football but also in becoming a man. That was part of their program at Gippsland Power – to develop great young people. And they’ve definitely done a very good job of that.”
While those influences have been important, Xavier is also his own person and doesn’t care too much what other people think of him.
He has been dancing at his mother Susie’s dance school from age three until he left for Adelaide.
Dean said that was quite a thing for a boy to do in a country town like theirs.
“Early on he got a bit of teasing and ribbing from his mates. But he didn’t care about that, he just kept doing it,” Dean said.
“But it has helped his football – his flexibility, his strength in the core, the balance and so on.”
“Xavier is an individual and he doesn’t care what other people think. I think you see that in how he celebrates a goal!”
Xavier has become known for his ‘bow and arrow’ goal celebration, which has been both praised and criticised in the media.
“He doesn’t care if people think it’s a wank or whatever. He just does it because he really wants to.”
Xavier Duursma has been described by his father as “kind and decent with a lot of quirks and interesting things about him.” But be assured there is also plenty of guts and determination when needed, especially on the hallowed turf.