By JESS WEBSTER
“He just wouldn’t leave me alone.”
Canberra coach Kade Klemke was tireless in his pursuit of Alex Paech.
And it was for a good reason. At just 19, Paech stands at a commanding 196cm and 105kg.
The young key defender has been responsible for shutting down some of the NEAFL’s best forwards this season – and doing the job well.
But Paech wasn’t always set on joining the Canberra Demons for the 2018 season. The former GIANTS Academy member and Murray Bushrangers product had his heart set on the VFL.
“I was pretty set on going to the VFL, but Kade was very persistent and kept calling me every two weeks,” Paech recalled.
“It was actually really encouraging knowing how much he wanted me to come and play for him.
“It was the confidence that he had in me to come and play for him that made me return the favour and end up signing with Canberra.”
Klemke saw vast potential in an emerging key position player who’s already clocked up plenty of miles in his pursuit of playing at a higher level.
Hailing from a small country town called Walla Walla in New South Wales, Paech was scouted by the GIANTS Academy when he was 13, and came through the NSW/ACT Rams and Murray Bushrangers programs.
He would often drive up to an hour to training in Albury each way, plus four hours to Melbourne on game day during his two years in the TAC Cup in 2016 and 2017.
On top of Under-18s commitments, Paech debuted at NEAFL level in 2016, and took his tally to eight senior games by the end of last year.
Not only has his move to the Demons paid off for the club – sitting equal second and on a five-game winning streak – but Paech’s development has come along in leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Klemke.
He’s played every game this season, taking on the likes of Gold Coast’s Peter Wright, Brisbane’s Josh Walker, GWS GIANTS’s Jon Patton, and most recently Aspley’s Jono Freeman – a performance which earned Paech the Round 12 Tribal Sport NEAFL Rising Star nomination.
“I couldn’t be happier at Canberra,” Paech said.
“It’s really encouraging going in to team meetings knowing you’re going to be playing on the best forward.
“It’s great that you have that opportunity to not just play against good NEAFL players, but good AFL players aswell. It’s a really good opportunity to match up with some of the big spearheads in the competition.”
Canberra has taken the competition by surprise this season with a breadth of young talent more than holding their own – the club has four nominees for the Tribal Sport NEAFL Rising Star Award, and 20-year-old midfielder Mitch Maguire is leading the NEAFL MVP Award.
Paech believes his playing-coach is a big part of their success, and the group is determined to have their winning ways continue.
“He (Klemke) respects both ways. He knows if he isn’t doing something right on the field he’s not this big coach that you can’t talk to, you can let him know about it,” Paech said.
“It’s great that he has confidence in every one of us. We all have that trust in each other that when it’s your turn to go and have an influence on the contest, you have to do it.
“We have that faith in each other that we’re going to do it every single time.”
For Paech, the other goal on the agenda is to one day play AFL football, and he’s keeping one eye on the big prize.
“I was really happy with my year last year. I thought I had a solid year. It would have been nice to finish off with the ultimate goal of being drafted but I couldn’t get there.
“It (AFL) would be a dream come true. It would be unreal. If I got the opportunity I’d take it with both hands and give it all I’ve got.”