When inaugural Giants Academy coach Lachlan Buszard drove down the highway to Culcairn with academy physiotherapist Henry McGregor to convince a 16-year-old Jeremy Finlayson to uproot his life and move to Sydney, he knew he had a challenge on his hands.
Finlayson was a reserved, but skilled athlete who had enough x-factor to convince the Giants that he was a talent worth pursuing.
Buszard and McGregor sat around the Finlayson’s kitchen table with his parents, convincing them that a move 519km north to Sydney was a great opportunity for their son.
“We thought joining the academy was the best decision for Jeremy and we needed to convince his parents that if he was going to play league footy so this was an important step,” Buszard told AFLPlayers.com.au ahead of the Giants’ maiden AFL Grand Final appearance.
Finlayson was first discovered during an under-15 carnival in Riverview (in Sydney’s lower north shore).
He was playing as a half-forward flanker at the time, whose star on the field shone brightly.
Buszard’s memories of Finlayson were that he was a “super shy” young man, but the type of player with rare talent who could kick on both feet.
“There was something about him that was really exciting and it was going to be our challenge to try to harness that,” he said.
Convincing Finlayson’s parents that leaving behind his family to move to a much bigger city was no easy feat but the decision made sense.
At the time, Finlayson wanted to become a police officer.
But Buszard and the development staff at the Giants felt he needed to surround himself in an environment that would harness that drive and encourage him to get the best out of himself as a person and footballer.
Buszard and the Giants wanted Finlayson to understand that joining their academy not only allowed him the greatest possible chance to play AFL, but would also would set him up with the tools to become a police officer, should he choose to pursue that career path.
Buszard can still remember taking Finlayson to the driving range in those early days in Sydney for the first time.
“He hit a ball over the back fence of the range even though he’d never played golf before… he was a super talented kid.”
According to those who know him, every sport he tried his hand at he would have success in.
He gave Lawn Bowls a shot and became a representative for the New South Wales state team and was a talented cricketer and tennis player, too.
For Buszard, it became a matter of harnessing Finlayson’s insecurities and using them to motivate him.
“Jeremy had a fear of failure and not being good enough; but he needed someone to believe in him and what he could achieve,” Buszard said.
“He’s come out of his shell now and has become a confident and self-assured young man and that’s being reflected on the field.”
As difficult as the move was for Finlayson, it was the right one.
He was eventually drafted with pick No. 85, and the Giants’ last selection, in the 2014 National Draft.
Despite the slow start to his career, where Finlayson played 15 games across his first four season, he has played 22 games this year and has kicked a career-high 44 goals to become one of the most important prongs in the Giants’ dynamic forward-line.
No longer needed just in emergency situations, Finlayson will be ready to police the forward line against the Tigers.