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Anatomy of a debut — Brayden Ainsworth

It was Thursday, an hour and a half before we were due to fly out to Sydney for our game against the Giants where I thought I was a travelling emergency.

I was playing table tennis against Jarrod Brander when Adam Simpson walked up and started casually chatting to Jarrod.

He then turned to me and said that I would be pulling the jumper on in two days’ time.

Just like that, I was playing my first AFL game — but I had a game of table tennis to win. We finished playing (the scores were 18 to 15 before Jarrod had to get a massage) and I rang my parents and two older brothers who were over the moon.

It was reward for all the hard work I’d put in along the way. My journey began with Auskick and progressing through the junior ranks in my home town of Esperance before biting the bullet and moving to Perth to take my career further.

WAFL premiership player Kinglsey Hutcherson had previously moved back to Esperance and he saw something in me.

He encouraged me to take my game further and we trained one-on-one during the pre-season the year before I moved to Perth. He instilled that belief in me.

Fast forward to last Thursday night where I hung out with my dad, step mum and little sister in my room in Sydney before heading to sleep. I woke up around eight o’clock on Friday and tried to relax by seeing my mum and step dad in the morning to kill a bit of time. Then I went up and grabbed some breakfast before getting a coffee with my mate and my brothers, which kept me busy until it was time to go.

There were always a few nerves floating around, which were at their peak in the warm-up. I’d played in a JLT match and remembered how nervous I was for that. I didn’t play too well that day but I knew what the experience was half like.

I approached the game like it was my second experience, which helped calm my nerves.

I have a few superstitions. I always wear the same coloured jocks, put my left sock on and left boot on first, wear double socks and always have the same meal before a game — baked beans on toast with a coffee. I’ll also always eat spaghetti bolognaise the night before so I have my fair share of rituals.

Running onto the ground for the first time was a strange experience but one that actually helped me settle a lot.

Somehow, my uncle managed to find his way onto the ground as one of the people holding up the banner. I have no idea how he did it but he yelled out to me as we ran out, which made me laugh.

That helped me relax. I was able to enjoy the moment because of that — he took the seriousness out of the situation and I knew playing the game would be a lot of fun.

I started in the middle of the ground and the plan was to hit the ball to me first. Elliot Yeo and Jack Redden were doing their jobs and blocking their opponents, which led to a clean tap and clearance for us.

Having the ball in my hands early meant I was in the game straight away and I wasn’t trying to chase the footy too much.

If I was to do anything differently next time, it would be to not let my teammates get the ball themselves, if that makes sense. A few times I looked around and probably let Yeoy or Reddo go and get the pill when I know I’d be able to do the same when it comes my way.

A highlight was the Gatorade shower, which was an unbelievable feeling. We obviously got the win and all the boys getting around me was the best feeling.

The whole experience was unbelievable. It’s hard to describe and I couldn’t be more thankful for getting the opportunity. It was a dream come true and was one of the best days of my young life.