Heatherley re-signs with the Hawks

MAKING the transition from basketball to Australian Rules football was challenging.

As was making the move from New Zealand to Australia as a teenager.

But Kurt Heatherley’s ability to successfully tackle the challenges that come with being a professional footballer are continuing to pay off.

The rookie-listed defender has signed a contract extension that will keep him at Hawthorn beyond this season.

Heatherley said it was an exciting time for him, as he continues to press his claims for an AFL debut.

“The club has obviously put a lot of faith in me, so hopefully I can repay them over the next few years,” he said.

“I’ve still got a lot to improve and a lot to learn, but hopefully over the next few years I can keep developing and achieve that goal of playing AFL football.”

The 20-year-old New Zealander has made great strides with his football over the past two years on the Hawks’ rookie list.

Heatherley has been a consistent contributor at VFL level this season, holding down a key defensive post for Box Hill Hawks’ senior side, after getting a taste of VFL senior and development league football in 2014.

Having the opportunity to play on AFL-listed forwards, including North Melbourne duo Majak Daw and Aaron Black, has helped the developing defender build the skill-set required to be an AFL footballer.

Heatherley said it had been tough – but worthwhile – moving from New Zealand as a teenager.

“I did two years of school over here at Caulfield Grammar, so that was fantastic with getting to know a group of guys outside of the club,” he said.

“It was pretty tough to move over here by myself – I basically knew no one other than the recruiting staff.

“I was lucky enough to have a family look after me, the Dunphys, and I’m very thankful for what they’ve given me and for letting me spend time at my house and helping make my transition easier.”

Learning the ins and outs of AFL football has also been a challenge, and Heatherley is determined to continue his development not just for himself, but for the people who have had faith in him across his journey, including the club’s Recruiting and List Manager Graham Wright.

“Graham was the one who spotted me playing basketball,” he said.

“He’s had lots of faith in me to bring me over here all the way from New Zealand, I’m just very thankful and hopefully I can repay the faith over the next few years.”

Wright spotted Heatherley playing for New Zealand in Tasmania in 2009.

He said his development as a footballer since then had been clear to see.

“What we liked about him then was that he was quick, big for his age, had good lateral movement and was pretty aggressive,” Wright said.

“He’s grown a bit since then, about five or six centimetres, and has done a really good job to get to where he is now.

“He’s still quick with good lateral movement, and he’s improved his kicking and handballing and has worked really hard on his game.”

Heatherley has now settled in at the club – and his parents have moved to Australia to support him as he pursues his dream.

He has fellow countryman Shem Tatupu at the club for company – but enjoys the company of the whole group – and hopes there is a bright future for New Zealanders who want to play in the AFL.

“It’s been a challenge – something a bit different – obviously being a New Zealander rugby and those kind of sports are the major focus over there,” he said.

“I’m living with my parents at the moment, it’s obviously fantastic they’ve both moved over here.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one to come over here. Obviously there’s Shem over here too, and hopefully there’s many more (New Zealanders) to come in the future.”

Story – Hawthorn.com.au