Zac Williams is no doubt a classic example of what young boys from country towns like Narrandera can achieve if they take the right path.
Having lost his father at the age of six, Williams and his older sister were raised single-handedly by their mother, Joy O’Hara, who urged her son to chase his dreams.
“It was quite tough at times … I grew up with not much,” he said in an interview with the West Australian newspaper.
Williams said that it was this adversity that drew the tight-knit family closer together.
Champion Data ranked him as Greater Western Sydney’s No.1 defender; quite remarkable for a former rookie-listed outsider who spent large portions of his youth playing rugby league and basketball.
But Williams AFL path hasn’t been as smooth as those travelled by the Giants’ glut of high-end draft selections.
“Initially overlooked by all 18 clubs at the 2012 national draft, he was thrown an opportunity at GWS, where Kevin Sheedy dangled the carrot and Leon Cameron wielded the stick,” the West Australian said.
“Sheeds gave me a few games here and there. It boosted my confidence and I got that feel of the game,” Williams said.
“From there on, Leon was a bit tough on me and didn’t play me as much as I think he would’ve liked.
“I was still so young and I was coming from a lower base, but Leon said it was my apprenticeship.”
Williams admits that what he now appreciates as “tough love” had challenged his ability to cope with the uncompromising nature of professional football.
“I was seeing all my mates the same age playing in the AFL side and they were travelling all together,” Williams said.
“I was getting a bit frustrated and hot-headed there for a bit.
“Leon made me work for it and when I was getting upset that I wasn’t playing he made me ask myself the question about what more I could do and what I needed to do better.”
The answer was simple.
“I wasn’t doing the little things well.
“I think that was because I came from a small country town and didn’t really know how things worked,” Williams said.
“I learnt that over the years and got a lot more experience, and I think it’s heading in the right direction.
“The fact that Leon was a bit harsh on me early days was a really good thing and helped me to get to the way I’m playing now.”
Getting those little things right included Williams working on his endurance, strength and skill.
It also meant spending extra hours in the gym and on the training ground under the watchful eyes of defensive coach Mark McVeigh and childhood hero Lenny Hayes, now in charge of the Giants’ midfield.
“I needed to repay Leon and the other coaches for putting in all the time and working with all the little things.”
His improved fitness led to more repeat efforts around the contest and the ability to link up with teammates, not unlike the way Cameron used to glide across the turf for the Western Bulldogs
The switch flicked mid-way through 2015, Williams’ third season at GWS.
Champion Data analysts were reportedly staggered that Williams wasn’t nominated for the 2017 All-Australian team and say it is his consistency across a wide range of categories that sets him apart.
“Once I knew I was going to get my opportunity, I was going to take it with both hands,” Williams said.
“I didn’t really look back. It’s all upwards from here,” he said.
In February this year at the Giants’ first JLT Community Series match at the Narrandera Sportsground, Williams signed a contract extension that will see him remain at the club until at least the end of 2020.
He gained third-round selection to the Giants in the 2013 Rookie Draft.