His sparkling debut, in which he was the third-highest ranked player on the ground in the SUNS’ brave loss to the GWS Giants in Mt.Barker, saw Clohesy top the 21-possesson debut of 2015 SUNS debutant Josh Glenn.

He was only the fourth player among the SUNS’ 102 AFL debutants to top 20 possessions in his first game, with 2011 debutant Michael Coad and current SUNS defender Bodhi Uwland having had 20 in their first outing.         

So good was Clohesy that Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy, speaking on SEN radio in Melbourne on Monday night, suggested the SUNS rookie should have received the Round 4 AFL Rising Star nomination that went to Western Bulldogs’  Sam Darcy, pick #2 in the 2021 National Draft, over West Coast’s Harley Read, pick #1 in 2023.

But it wasn’t exactly a new experience for the 189cm 21-year-old, who had time in the Gold Coast SUNS Academy in a football apprenticeship that saw him play for no less than 10 clubs across Australia.

There are 22 top 10 draft picks and nine other first-round picks among the SUNS’ other 101 AFL debutants - David Swallow (#1), Matt Rowell (#1), Harley Bennell (#2), Noah Anderson (#2), Jack Lukosius (#2), Sam Day (#3), Izak Rankine (#3), Jed Walter (#3), Ben Ainsworth (#4), Kade Kolodjashnij (#5), Mac Andrew (#5), Ben King (#6), Bailey Humphrey (#6), Josh Caddy (#7), Elijah Hollands (#7), Peter Wright (#8), Callum AhChee (#8), Dion Prestia (#9), Will Brodie (#9), Ethan Read (#9), Daniel Gorringe (#10) and Jack Bowes (#10), plus Tom Lynch (#11), Sam Flanders (#11), Seb Tape (#13), Jesse Lonergan (#13), Jarrod Garlett (#15), Will Powell (#19), Jack Leslie (#20) and Brayden Fiorini (#20) and Will Graham (#26).

And that’s not including Jake Rogers, pick #14 last year who is yet to debut.

But that’s only part of the remarkable journey for the new SUNS #33, whose 19-year-old brother Ted is on the Geelong list. He made his debut as the Cats’ substitute in Round 24 last year against the Western Bulldogs in Geelong, collecting five possessions in limited game time.

Sam Clohesy started his football journey at St Joseph’s in Geelong. He was a members of the SUNS Academy while aged 14-16 when his father Paul was a school principal in Murwillumbah, played with Darley in the Ballarat league while boarding at Assumption College, and with the Calder Cannons in the AFL Talent League in 2021.

He made his VFL debut with the Sydney Swans while playing with the Cannons and had time on the list of VFL club Coburg before joining VFL club Werribee in 2022, Darwin club Palmerston in the 2022-23 summer season, and going back to Werribee in 2023.

Born 12 December 2002, Clohesy was eligible for the 2020 AFL Draft, in which 109 first-time draftees received the call that he was yearning. But after the disruption of Covid it wasn’t going to happen.

In 2021 he looked on again as 106 first-timers draftees lived their football dream, and in 2022 when another 106 first-timers got the call. And then in the 2023 National Draft, he saw 64 players taken on 20-21 November. Still nothing for him.

But in the Rookie Draft, conducted via video link on 22 November 2023, it happened …. At last.

With pick #1 West Coast took Sturt (SANFL) utility Loch Rawlinson, who made his AFL debut on Saturday. With #2 North Melbourne took Northern Bullants’ ex-basketballer Finnbar Maley before Hawthorn re-drafted one-time Geelong first-round choice Cooper Stephens at #3.

With pick #4 in the 2023 Rookie Draft the SUNS claimed Clohesy.

Ironically, his coach at Werribee, his final launching pad, was an ex-SUNS player who followed a remarkably similar journey. Michael Barlow, now head of development at North Melbourne, was a 22-year-old rookie when he debuted with Fremantle in 2010. He played 126 games with the Dockers from 2010-16 before 15 games with the SUNS in 2017-18.

Remarkably, too, Barlow won the 2009 Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal for the best young talent (under 24) in the VFL playing with Werribee – the same award Clohesy won playing with Werribee in 2023.

There is also one more freakish coincidence that says it was meant to happen – when Werribee won their last premiership in 1993 his father Paul Clohesy was a member of the beaten Port Melbourne side.

That was a famous occasion best remembered for an incident in which Werribee’s Joskun Aziz reportedly flattened Port defender Paul Barlow in the first quarter. Spectators swarmed Princes Park in the final term before Werribee triumphed under 155-game North Melbourne utility and caretaker Hawthorn coach Donald McDonald, father of current Roos’ co-captain Luke McDonald.

Sam Clohesy, a 2023 clubmate of fellow 2023 draftees Logan Morris (Brisbane) and Shaun Mannagh (Geelong), praised the influence of Barlow in helping to put the final touches on his draft audition at the time of the draft.

“He (Barlow) is a big reason why I’ve been able to get here been huge for me over the past two years - he’s developed my football, really helped me out and I owe him a lot,” said Clohesy, who was among Werribee’s best in their loss to the SUNS in the 2023 VFL Grand Final.

Significantly, too, Barlow offered a glowing endorsement of Clohesy, "He's driven, competitive, tough. He's got two or three kilos to put on, (but) can run really well," Barlow said. "He played for his team, got the trust of his teammates, then he had some fun in the back half of the year when he was playing freely and running off half-back.

It all started to ring true when Clohesy jumped up the SUNS pecking order with an outstanding performance on the wing in an early season practice match against the Lions at Springfield which had fans from both clubs asking ‘who’s that?’.

But after his stunning debut on Saturday those days are over. And Clohesy sits more than comfortably among the long list of first-round draft picks that share the SUNS lockeroom.

And while Clohesy and Uwland carry the flag for the 20-possession SUNS debutants, the six players who were multiple goal-kickers on debut for the club – and the only debutant who polled in the Brownlow Medal for the club - have all moved on. They were Rankine (3 goals 1 vote), Lynch (2), Charlie Dixon (2), Josh Corbett (2), Hollands (2) and Josh Hall (2).


Sam Clohesy will forever share memories of his debut with the similarly special memories of ex-SUNS captain and former #1 draft pick David Swallow, who wrote his own place in AFL history on Saturday.

With the SUNS playing at Mt.Barker in the Adelaide Hills, Swallow, player #11,916 on the all-time AFL player list, did something that 11,915 players before him and 1205 who have followed him have not done. He played at his 22nd AFL venue.

In chronological order, they have been

2011 – (1) Gabba, (2) Marvel Stadium (Vic), (3) Football Park (SA), (4) Carrara, (5) Subiaco (WA), (6) York Park (Launceston), (7) Cazaly’s (Cairns), (8) Kardinia Park (Geelong), (9) MCG.
2012 – (10) Manuka Stadium (Canberra), (11) Marrara Stadium (Darwin)
2013 – (12) SCG
2014  - (13) Adelaide Oval
2016 – (14) Sydney Showgrounds
2017 – (15) Jiangwan Stadium (China), (16) Traeger Park (Alice Springs)
2018 – (17) Perth Stadium, (18) Mars Stadium (Ballarat), (19) Riverway Stadium (Townsville)
2021 – (20) Bellerive Oval (Hobart)
2023 – (21) Norwood Oval (Adelaide)
2024 – (22) Mt.Barker (SA)

Swallow has not played at only three venues that have been used for AFL football since the SUNS joined the competition in 2011 – Stadium Australia in Sydney, Wellington Stadium in New Zealand and Blacktown Stadium in West Sydney.

The SUNS games record-holder went one venue past the AFL record he shared previously with ex-GWS, Port Adelaide and Gold Coast player Jack Hombsch, who spread his 116 games over 21 venues.

Brisbane’s Lachie Neale is outright third, having played at 20 venues, with ex-SUNS Jarrod Harbrow (Western Bulldogs/Gold Coast) and Jarryd Lyons (Adelaide/Gold Coast/Brisbane) on the fourth line at 19 venues with Dayne Zorko (Brisbane), Robert Harvey (St.Kilda) and Paul Salmon (Essendon/Hawthorn).

In a statistic that underlines the travel load of players based interstate, Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury, who played his 388th game against Hawthorn at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, has played at only 11 different venues.

Pendlebury has played at only two venues in Victoria – MCG (243 games) and Marvel Stadium (52) – and nine interstate – Adelaide Oval (10) and Football Park (8) in SA, Subiaco (12) and Perth Stadium (8) in WA, Gabba (20) and Carrara (8) in Queensland, and SCG (9), Stadium Australia (10) and Sydney Showgrounds (8) in NSW.