Western Bulldogs coaches encouraged No.1 draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan to balance team-first football with embracing “individualism” in the weeks leading into his breakout five-goal game.
The 20-year-old’s captivating performance on Saturday night, including kicking three of the Dogs’ five last quarter goals as they chased down Melbourne, was comfortably the best of his 17-game career.
Ugle-Hagan, like many top picks before him, has copped a large dose of criticism in his first 18 months as an AFL footballer, but the tide is clearly turning.
He had only three disposals in as many quarters to start the Demons match but those numbers hadn’t done justice to how well he competed aerially.
Then came the final term fireworks as Ugle-Hagan’s overdue reward, following his three-goal effort a week earlier in another important win against St Kilda.
First-year Bulldogs assistant Matt Spangher, who works closely with the Oakleigh Chargers graduate, was thrilled to see the young forward “get off the chain”.
“The major piece is the significance of what this win could mean in the context of our season,” Spangher told News Corp.
“But the fact that ‘Marra’ had such an influence towards the result, particularly with such a strong last quarter, is really pleasing to see as a coach but also as a club.
“He certainly had moments throughout games in the past month where I think everyone’s seen glimpses of the talent we all know he’s got.
“He knows he just needs to put it together for four quarters, but his actual contests throughout the game – even the manner in which he got his two earlier goals – (were impressive) and that’s it what he’s been working on.”
There was an intense spotlight on Ugle-Hagan from as many as two years before he was drafted, when the Lance Franklin comparisons began and he was touted as a likely No.1 pick.
Criticism flowed thick and fast when he struggled to break into the Bulldogs’ side in his debut season last year, with harsh evaluations on his social media habits through to his work ethic.
He is just the latest key forward at the top of the draft to face a baptism of fire, following Nick Riewoldt, Jack Watts, Tom Boyd and Jon Patton.
“I always find it amazing how all these guys handle that. Being the No.1 pick is an element of pressure that very few can understand,” Spangher said.
“No one can have a true understanding, in my opinion, of what that feels like and the pressure he puts on himself. But, in many respects, it’s not a bad thing and it means he actually cares.
“You’d almost be more concerned if he was more flippant about it, but he spoke pretty openly earlier in the year about how he may not have handled things as well as he would have liked last year.
“That showed maturity. I think he understands he’s still a young man and he’s got some pretty good leaders around the club who I know he looks up to and tries to feed off. “