Daniel Lloyd wasn’t ready.
It was 2007, and between the ages of 15 and 17, he was spending his school holidays as a NSW Scholarship participant with the Western Bulldogs.
At that time, AFL clubs had a litany of youngsters trying to make it onto their list as part of the program. If they were good enough when they got to an eligible draft age, their club was provided with the opportunity to transfer the player to the main list.
In the case of young Daniel Lloyd, the Western Bulldogs chose to decline the option.
Braedon Jones, who spent the best part of three years with Lloyd as a fellow scholarship recipient, believed that he had all of the talent.
The two were sent down to Melbourne as part of the program, and began to build a relationship with each other as they trained with the senior list during their school holidays.
“We were both really young and it was definitely at times an overwhelming experience,” Jones told Aflplayers.com.au.
“I feel that Dan knew he had the perfect attributes to be a successful AFL-level footballer, but he needed to develop the passion for the game and required some time away from the pressure of elite junior sport to find a love for it.
“The two of us hit it off straight away, we shared a lot of common interests and came from similar backgrounds. Dan was a fairly quiet guy, but definitely someone whose support I valued on our trips away from home.”
After the scholarship fell through, Lloyd was presented with an opportunity to re-discover his love for the game.
Away from the sport, he started an apprenticeship and continued to play local football back home in the Central Coast.
Some four years later, former Essendon player Mark McVeigh, who is an ambassador for the Black Diamond Football League in NSW and also a member of the GWS Giants coaching staff, noticed a mature-bodied, ready-made talent plying his trade on the work site, and for the Killarney Vale Bombers.
“About three or four years ago, I noticed him playing for Killarney Vale on the Central Coast where I’m from,” McVeigh told Aflplayers.com.au.
“I felt that he had some talent. I thought his kicking was at the elite level, I thought he had good hands, he was strong and big, but obviously he was a little overweight.
“He had a nice knack about him, so I researched a bit into him and noticed that he had a scholarship with the Western Bulldogs many years ago, but that didn’t come to anything.”
McVeigh needed to know more about him, after all, some general intrigue wasn’t going to be enough.
What made Lloyd tick? Why did the opportunity at the Western Bulldogs amount to nothing?
While the former 232-gamer is involved with the Black Diamond League, he’ll admit that the standard isn’t the highest, and the jump from there to the elite level is a big one.
“I started the process of having a chat to him about his thoughts on his football, where he was at, and to get to know him. I needed to understand what he was like as a person,” McVeigh added.
“He was really down to earth, he had a young family and he was getting married. He seemed to be in a really good place, compared to where he was as an 18-year-old.
“I spoke to numerous people who were around Daniel at the time of his scholarship with the Dogs, and the feedback wasn’t great from an attitude point of view, to be honest. It was poles apart to the person I met five or six years later.
“He admits that he didn’t apply himself one bit when he had that chance. It wasn’t on his mind to play AFL; he didn’t know how serious you had to be.
Exploratory discussions led to a training phase with McVeigh by his side, where the two would test each other over a six-to-eight-week period.
Despite being out of the system for three years at the time, the former Bomber could stick with the young carpenter, but had he done enough to potentially pique the interest of Leon Cameron?
“I spoke to Leon and mentioned to him that I thought there was a bloke here who could potentially play a really good role in our NEAFL side and also as a rookie. Leon’s really good like that and told me to bring him down.”
After McVeigh spoke to the Giants coach and passed on the knowledge that he amassed, Cameron was keen to meet with the Central Coast product.
“Once he was down here, we put him through a series of testing and his speed was pretty good, his skills were really good, and Leon said that he’d sit on it and have a think about it.
“In the end, Leon told me that he wanted to go with him for a rookie spot and that it was a good story. He’s not a western Sydney boy, but he is still a local and it’s a good story that he’s coming from a totally different background.”
After being selected with pick 26 in the 2016 Rookie Draft, Lloyd took some time to really hit his straps at NEAFL level.
He wasn’t setting the world on fire on the training track, either. The pace of training and the sheer amount of work took its toll early on, with new recruit breaking down regularly — sustaining injuries to his groin, back and shins due to the training block he was now facing.
It took about six months before the results were really starting to show during the 2016 season.
In the back half of Lloyd’s first year in the NEAFL, he steadily became more comfortable in his new environment.
In Round 8, he announced himself with 28 touches, 10 marks and three goals, followed by nine inside-50s, 32 touches and two goals the next week.
Four weeks later he managed to be an emergency in the senior side, and he did so again in round 17 but failed to make his senior debut, finishing out the year in the NEAFL where his physicality and tackling ability was a standout.
The form continued at the beginning of 2017.
“Early this year, he pretty much dominated the competition when he played,” McVeigh explained.
“Eventually, our injury toll grew and he was in a good spot for us to pick him into the senior side because he was knocking on the door every week, even when we had our best side out there.”
On May 13, 2017, Lloyd debuted against Collingwood at Spotless Stadium — eight years after his scholarship came to an end.
His numbers weren’t eye-catching, but his 17 disposals and a goal helped his team to a nail-biting, come-from-behind victory. With a growing injury list, his spot on the team remained for the next three weeks.
“I have always followed his journey though,” Jones explained.
“I sent Dan a message both when he was Rookie listed and prior to his first game. Despite what happened earlier in his career, I never thought Dan wouldn’t or couldn’t make it to the very top. He is born with a great resilience, he was regularly unfazed by setbacks and had a rare footballing skillset.”
Interestingly, Braedon Jones would also go on to carve out a career in an elite sporting environment.
The former junior NSW AFL prodigy switched gears, becoming an elite-level triathlete where he represented Australia.
In a team that is littered with top-end talent, Lloyd is the antithesis of what the Giants have built.
Look at every line, and there’s a high draft pick or a big-name recruit that has been lured.
In spite of all of that, you won’t meet a more popular player.
“He’s popular because of what he has had to overcome,” said McVeigh.
“You don’t hear a lot out of him, he turns up to training and does everything right. He doesn’t complain, he’s quiet, he works hard, he’s diligent with his rehab and he has been rewarded with some games of late.”
While McVeigh’s role in rejuvenating Lloyd’s career deserves recognition, he doesn’t want the credit.
He’d prefer to focus on the effort that the hard-working tradesman has put in to get here.
“I don’t want to be pumped up because he has done all the work. He thought the opportunity had past him, but he applied himself in the right manner when the next chance was upon him.
“It’s a great example to young men that have not been drafted and weren’t mentally in the right mindset to apply themselves as a 17 or 18-year-old. It’s a good lesson for all our players around the country.
“It’s taken a long period of time, but for him to break into arguably the best list in the country is a massive achievement, having said that, the hard work has to continue. He can’t drop off because this game will eat you up if you do.”