CANBERRA Demons product Tom Highmore has found his way to AFL club St Kilda.
The mature-age defender’s journey has come first circle after initially landing at an aspirational rival club in 2016 that has ties to the ACT before slowly coming back into AFL calculations after crossing four borders.
That culminated in Wednesday night’s (December 9) national draft when his name was called out at pick No.45 earlier than most pundits predicted.
“It’s still feeling a little surreal to be honest,” Highmore told the CityNews.
“I am still receiving calls and messages from the coaches and the players.
“It still doesn’t quite feel right, but it is still exciting nonetheless, and I think the closer it gets to flying across on Sunday, the more it begins to feel real.”
Highmore impressed enough during his 2020 covid stint at SANFL side South Adelaide to get the nod from Moorabbin recruiters.
The Saints were only able to acquire the 22-year-old after moving up the order on the draft night when they exchanged pick No.54 and a future fourth-round selection with Hawthorn.
But the former Marist College student had no inclination that St Kilda were prepared to take a punt on the young journeyman.
“They were always probably going to be one of my better chances (of being selected),” Highmore said.
“I did meet with them a couple of times in the lead-up to the draft.
“I hadn’t heard anything for about two to three weeks leading into draft night from anyone.
“I kind of thought I would have heard something by now or I’d have a bit more information if there was something that was going to happen.
“So, no, it was pretty exciting, but I definitely didn’t expect anything to happen from it.”
Highmore left the Eastlake NEAFL club as not only vice-captain, but after being announced in the 2019 NEAFL team of the year.
He had previously come through the GWS Giants academy, but was unable to gain a spot on the Sydney-based club’s senior or rookie list.
Through the academy that has a strong focus on developing prospective Canberra AFL talent, Highmore met future St Kilda star Jack Steele, who was also initially tied to the Giants via Belconnen and was limited to just 17 games in 2015-16.
“I was pretty fortunate to have a fair bit to do with Steeley going through the Giants academy – he was a couple of years above me,” Highmore said.
“I was able to watch his progress, him come back from injury, picked up as a 19-year-old and I have tried to emulate the same thing.
“But having that Canberra connection, initially go to the Giants and now to the Saints, is perfect for young kids coming through the junior pathway in Canberra, ACT and NSW to have someone to follow.
“I have literally aspired to be like him ever since – I think he is something special.”
Not only one-time Canberran Steele, but new teammates Seb Ross, Hunter Clark and Max King have already reached out to Highmore in the days since being drafted.
The 192cm prospect had built on a growing reputation at South Adelaide as the leading intercept mark in the SANFL while offering courageous acts springing out of half back despite taking on a mid-season ankle injury.
The standout season didn’t end with his clean hands, with Highmore disposing the ball at a high 81 per cent efficiency.
Highmore honestly believed – especially in wake of the suspension of the NEAFL competition during covid times – that leaving Canberra had pushed his chances of an AFL career over the line.
“I made the conscious decision to come across prior to anything happening now with the Canberra Demons withdrawing from the NEAFL,” he said.
“I was after a bit of a lifestyle change, I think, and I probably done as much as I could to get drafted out of the NEAFL but it’s not held in as high of regard as the SANFL.
“A couple of the clubs were in contact and I came and met with South Adelaide and decided they were the best fit for me, and it’s obviously paid dividends for me the move.”