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A lot went right to get here

Dad’s screams would echo across the dark road, that’s when we knew the game was over.

It was the final siren that ended our footy match. My two brothers, three neighbours and I had been playing well into the night — we’d already turned the lights to the oval on when it initially got dark.

That’s one of the most enjoyable memories I have from my childhood and it’s no coincidence it involved footy.

I had the same feeling last weekend in the JLT match for the Magpies. Although it was only a pre-season game, it was my first crack at the elite level without any restrictions.

I played a pre-season match last year for the Swans but was limited to only five minutes on the ground. This time was exciting because I had a full go at it — a real chance to show the industry and my new teammates what I could do.

It was the whole reason I came to Collingwood at the end of last year. Midway through 2017, there was some interest from the Magpies but everything was left until the footy season finished up.

The money, the length of the contract and all that stuff didn’t matter for me, as long as it involved an opportunity to play senior footy.

I was hungry for it. I’d watched my teammates do so for two years and Collingwood had an idea of where I could fit in and that appealed to me.

It was hard to leave Sydney because I have a lot of mates there and loved everyone at the club but in the end, I knew what I needed to do to play at the highest level.

There was obviously a lot of outside interest when the trade went through given what Collingwood gave up to get me across. I’m not one to read a lot into the media but it is hard to escape it.

One thing I kept reminding myself, and it’s something Derek Hine, Collingwood’s recruiting manager, talks to me about, is that no one had seen me play yet.

I came across to play senior footy and can start changing perceptions once I started playing. Everyone is going to have their doubts around recruits until they’ve been proven wrong.

I felt different this year. I got to Sydney as a rookie and you know you’ve got to put in the hard work and do your time but coming to Collingwood, I’d matured through two years in the system and feel more confident that I’ve done a lot of work to get here.

That doesn’t mean I can stop now but I’m a lot more confident in my abilities and what I can bring to the side. It’s almost like I have a lot more respect for myself as a player this year.

I’m just happy to chase my dream and feel a little closer to it — it’s one I’ve had since those days kicking the ball on that dark oval in Ganmain.

But it hasn’t come easy so far.

I knew early on a lot had to go right for me to get here. I never once made a representative side as a junior, which was always a kick in the guts — I was usually the second last to miss out.

With the Murray Bushranges as a 17-year-old, I missed out by three or four spots and the same thing the following year.

I was told I wasn’t good enough. I remember one time, I was told I was too slow and it wasn’t the only time a comment like that was thrown around.

I was always a small kid who never dominated games of football — I was always borderline.

Mum and dad were always great support through these times. Their advice was that it was only someone else’s opinion and they’ll always be someone with an opposing opinion.

I didn’t actually think the AFL dream was within reach until I was 18 and playing for the Wodonga Raiders where former Swan Daryn Creswell was the coach. He told me there were people interested in me and I was a chance if I did everything right.

And I had to do everything right and tick every box because I came from a non-traditional path, I didn’t have recruiters watching me every weekend.

I had to make the most of that opportunity. You spend your whole life getting to that point but then it all comes together so fast in such a small period of time. I didn’t realise what was going on until I was actually at the Swans.

It’s now been more than two years since that time and I’m excited for what this year might hold. I feel like that kid who wanted to play forever with his brothers and neighbours again.