THIS YEAR has been the making of Gryan Miers. Already a premiership player with Geelong, the creative and brilliant half-forward has produced an incredible campaign that has elevated him to be in All-Australian contention.
The Cats forward chatted with Cal Twomey for Cal's Q&A this week about his unique role, his early challenges, the background to his kicking style, idolising Jason Akermanis and Lance Franklin, premiership success and why he's keeping notes on many of his teammates.
You have pieced together one of the great seasons by any player in 2023. Where do you think your jump in form has come from?
It's come from a lot of things I think. There's an element of being on the back of the success we had last year which has given me confidence to ride that momentum and with a few players injured having to step up both as a leader and player to fill their holes. But I also put it down to continuity with my teammates. I've played with pretty much the same forward line for two years which really helps me know where to position myself. I know where players are going to run. It makes it all fun and games for us ahead of the ball.
Did you always believe you'd be able to get to this level?
I don't know. There's times where you doubt you can, but I also just work towards where I can get to. I don't think I'm a finished product. Next year I might look like a completely different player to what I do this year, either better or worse, so I never really know what I'm going to turn out to be. I put the hard work in and surround myself with the right people and keep learning. You don't know where you can take yourself.
I actually spoke to the Academy boys last week, Daisy Pearce interviewed me in front of those boys, and I was able to recap a little bit on that year where it was really important in the long run that I didn't play. I was able to sharpen a lot of edges in my game and put in some work on some stuff I wasn't too good at. I wasn't a great tackler, I was a smaller kid growing up, and I spent a lot of that year not working on my strengths. I was trying to hide my flaws. By the time the pre-season came around ahead of 2019 I put in a lot of effort into getting back to what I was good at and the other stuff was at a good enough level. I could then really go after what I was good at, which was goalkicking at that stage and my running. There became a hole in the team with some departures and I haven't really looked back.
Early doors people probably thought of you as a bit of a cult hero with the hair and kicking style. Lots of cult heroes fade out. How determined were you to show that you were in it for the long haul?
I've always been really determined to have a good AFL career and not just have moments. That's probably the motivation of this year. I got the team success last year and I didn't want to just have my career based on that one game or one year, I wanted to back it up and show that I'm a good footy player and a hard worker. I've always aimed as high as I can so getting to 100 games was ticking a box and I want to play well as often as I can.
How much of that drive also came back to how late you were taken in your draft year – pick No.57 after kicking 50 goals and seven in the Grand Final. Did that hurt at the time?
Not initially. Initially it was just relief to get drafted. The year before I never thought I was going to get drafted so it was awesome to just hear my name called out and get to a club. Even my first year the players I got drafted with were well ahead of me in terms of getting played and I was probably the only one not to get offered a contract in the first year out of my bunch. So those things, included with maybe looking back at what pick I was, I thought 'Jeez, am I good enough for this level?' That's the confidence you can lose based on the pick you are taken because there are people judging you, but I stripped it back and when that second year of the pre-season started I just went for it. That was my go time. My first year I just used as a learning year and once I put it all together I wanted to give it all I've got. It worked out for me that year (in 2019) and each year has been very different since then. To be able to be picked pretty much every year since then when I've been fit has been very rewarding for me and means I'm doing the right things.
Do you look back and think your kicking style was the main reason in that?
Definitely that was a big factor. At that stage when I missed shots it looked really ugly and when I kicked goals it looked really good and you want consistent players at AFL level. Even that draft year, for the first half of the season I was dominating and once people noticed me they put some of their best defenders on me and it slowed me down a bit. I think AFL clubs looked at that, and the kicking, and maybe thought I had too many flaws. But I'm pretty interested in the recruiting side of things and I think that a player's strengths are the biggest things you should look at. The rest of it comes second. I trusted myself and what I could do and that was kicking a ball a bit weird, but it seems to have worked for me thus far.
Where does it originate from?
There was a few things. As a kid I would go down to the park and imagine I was every AFL player. That was the thing where I would imagine I was Buddy Franklin and Matty Suckling and I'd kick around corners and it'd make me be able to kick all different directions quite accurately. I'd actually kick it on my left foot to be like them, so maybe I've just converted it to the right foot. There was no right footers who did my style at the time. But I was such a little kid so when people tackled me if I ran straight lines I would be very easy to catch. I wasn't fast, I was just little, but I had OK agility. So I used to run out sidewards from packs or stoppages rather than running straight lines. When you run out sidewards you just twist the ball around your body to kick so those factors played into it and it became what it was. In my top-age under-18s year my kicking became probably the most unique it's been where I was kicking goals a lot from the boundary and that seemed to work a lot better than when I was kicking straight. I ran with it.
People often talk about the game having so much system that individualism can be pushed out of modern footy. Do you enjoy the fact people now see you as having that personal flair element in your game?
I do, and I did like standing out in my first few years. I've kind of pushed that part of footy aside now. I did enjoy getting talked about as being a bit different. Obviously the hair was a big factor but also the kicking. It does get pushed out because once you get to an AFL club they talk about systems and fitting their mould whereas I feel like if you get to AFL the change is the AFL club adapting to what they get. I'm a person like that. The role is very different to how it was when I got there. When I got into the team the role probably changed as much to fit me as I did to fit it.
After playing in the 2020 Grand Final, you became a premiership player last year with the win over Sydney. Can you describe the build up to that and what it means to you now?
It was a very different week to the 2020 hub. Through that year's Grand Final week there was nobody at trainings, it was all very odd, but last year we got the full experience. It definitely was a motivational factor. I got told today that at the start of last year there was a turnover of 16 staff members and obviously a lot of players turn over each year. I believe if things went our way we could have won any of those years before last year and those guys could have had that success so I did feel quite bad and felt we owed it to them as well for ones who had put us in that position time after time and the work they had put in. We had to do it for them as well and not just the people who were there on the day on that moment last year. It felt like it was a six-year celebration. It obviously wouldn't have felt that way for the people who left but I hope they do get some reward from it as they were the ones who put in the hard work along the way to get us all there.
It's been a different looking Geelong side at times this year. How crucial is Friday night against Collingwood?
It's absolutely massive. It's a great test for us, which we need. We put ourselves in a position we don't want to be in ladder wise, but it's a great chance to see how we can respond because the last five years during the regular season it's gone quite smoothly for us. At this time of the year we've rested players and been in great positions, whereas this year it's basically elimination final after elimination final to the end.
How do you judge your games at the moment because your impact is huge but your goal tally has never been lower?
I play such a weird role that there's not many stats that reflect if I've played well or not. Sometimes you play the exact same way and have 30 and sometimes you'll get 10 but done exactly what the coach has asked of you each week. It's a very odd role. Going into the season I was just trying to make good decisions. I don't need to be valued on how many goals I kick, it will just be on how good my decisions are. A stat I was looking up to go well in was score involvements because if I'm getting the ball and getting it to my teammates that lead to goals and putting them in good positions then I'm making the right decisions. So that was probably a stat that I wanted to go after, and the goal assist thing has come after that. When I come off the field I'm more looking at whether I made the right decision and sometimes I'm passing it off when I should be just kicking the goal. It's always a bit of a catch 22 when you do one thing well and one thing bad but my focus is making the right decision off ball and with ball. That's probably what I judge myself on.
The focus on that stat has worked. You're 11th in the AFL for score involvements – two years ago you were 159th – and have broken Jason Akermanis' record for score assists. With three more goal assists you can break his record for that too. When did you set yourself to be so unselfish?
I came into the team and thought that my role in AFL footy would be kicking goals because that's what it was as a junior. In the first year we had a forward line filled with a lot of defensive players like Tom Atkins, Esava (Ratugolea) was down there creating contests, Gary Rohan was a pressure forward, so it was my job to kick the goals. But the last few years recruiting Jeremy Cameron, Ollie Henry and Tyson Stengle, they're all really good at that. I knew if I was going to play in this team it was going to be to fit around them. I think that's what I do well to run up the field and be a link in the chain and end up becoming the assist player. That's where the mindset came from – how am I going to get into this team and how am I going to help this team? On the back of that I ended up getting a lot of outside media attention which I wasn't targeting and don't really want but it's come on the back of trying to be a team player rather than trying to be selfish player.
If you had told the kid playing for Grovedale that he would enjoy setting up goals more than kicking them what do you think he would have thought?
He's probably be like 'What the hell are you doing?' at some moments because goals and to be the man of the moment was what I looked for. But Geelong do such a good job that when you come to the club you're a part of something much further than yourself and they teach you that you'll get individual praise on the back of being a good person and a good team player. That's what I learned when I got to the club and it's what I want to teach other people when I leave the club.
What have you made of your name being thrown into All-Australian discussions?
I don't really like it. I don't really think it matters to me if I make it or not. There's obviously players who deserve it ahead of me, but I do think if I were to make it it would be good for footy in that sense that I'm not out there in a role where you can get 30 touches every week. I'm doing it for the half-forwards in the other teams who don't get the praise I'm getting at the moment who are doing the same jobs for their teams as I was last year and years before that. It would be cool to do because of the unique role I play and the stuff I'm doing but it's not something I care about or want.
Who are those guys who you think are maybe not getting the praise they deserve?
Brad Close is a big one and my partner in crime who has been doing it for years, Sam Switkowski, Lachie Schultz, Alex Neal-Bullen, Dylan Moore. Even Richmond had Jason Castagna who copped it a bit but was doing his role for the team. Those types who play the right way and you don't really see the stats and glory, but they're extremely important to their team. That's how Geelong has always used Brad and I and it's why I feel at home there.
You've spoken about barracking for Brisbane because of 'Gryan the Lion' and 'Aker' being a childhood hero, too.
I was absolutely mad Aker and mad Brisbane. All my jerseys had No.12 on the back. I've still got them in my wardrobe. Every school dress up I was Jason Akermanis. I'd wear the same fake moustache and Brisbane kit so I was absolutely obsessed with him and the way he played and I was a big Brisbane fan. I watched every game since I was about three years old until the day I got drafted. It's pretty funny that the conversation at the moment is all about me and him when it's the guy I looked up to the whole way through.
Have you ever met another Gryan?
Nah. But there is a kid on an island off Fiji who has been called Gryan and I've been sent a few photos of this kid called Gryan but I've never come across anyone with Gryan either as their first, middle or last name.
What about Lionel? How was that week when you kind of became a part of the Messi meme in your 100th game celebrations?
That was a bit overwhelming. As I said before I probably used to want the spotlight whereas now I want to get away from it and that really put me under the spotlight. But it was in good fun, not for Gerard (Whately) maybe, but for everyone else it was all fun and games and my family and friends bought the t-shirts with it on and dressed up so we all had a good laugh about it. It's still running a little bit but it's dying down which is nice also.
You mentioned the recruiting work you're doing at the Cats. Is that something you'd like to pursue?
The last two years I've had some injuries where I've missed eight-week blocks and during those times I'd do some mind-numbing stuff at home so I started doing work with (Cats recruiter) Liam Woodland. I wrote notes on about eight of my teammates when they were going through the draft process on what I liked and didn't like about my now teammates, guys like Toby Conway, Mitch Knevitt, Ollie Dempsey, Phoenix Foster, Ted Clohesy, Osca Riccardi to name a few. It's definitely something I'm interested in post-footy, probably more the list management side but being a good recruiter is important to that too. I'm really thankful to Liam for giving me the time to do some work with him and he's put some good challenges in front of me and I've really enjoyed it.
So what do you say when you see a draft prospect who kicks it a bit differently pop up on the footage?