As a lifelong Western Bulldogs fan, 2016 was a banner year for Patrick Lipinski.
Less than two months after his beloved Dogs won their first premiership in 62 years, Lipinski had a childhood dream fulfilled when the team drafted him with their second pick.
A year and a half on and four games into his AFL career, it hasn’t taken him long to adjust to life at Whitten Oval.
But there were a few moments in the early going that left the youngster pinching himself.
“At the start it was pretty surreal meeting some of your idols,” Lipinski told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“But after settling in a little bit you realise that they’re all just normal people. I remember meeting Liam Picken and he just said, ‘G’day, I’m Liam,’ but most Doggies fans would just think of him as ‘Picko.'”
After debuting in the final round of last season, Lipinski looks to have cemented a place in the Bulldogs’ line-up with some impressive performances over the past few weeks.
He was called up to the senior side in Round 5 and has kicked a major in every game since, with his three-goal haul against Carlton catching the attention of the football public.
And while the young Bulldogs are starting to build into some form, Lipinski is still just trying to adjust to football at the highest level.
“The more you play the more you feel comfortable, and the more your teammates feel comfortable kicking to you and trusting you,” the 19-year-old explained.
Before he was getting used to running out in the red, white and blue every weekend, Lipinski was growing up in the Melbourne suburb of Eltham, the same area that produced Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli.
There must be something in the water in Melbourne’s north-east, as Lipinski grew up alongside another future AFL player, St Kilda defender Nick Coffield.
“Coff and I played junior footy together, went to school together and we’re still in touch now,” Lipinski explained.
While both he and Coffield are thrilled to be in the AFL, they had briefly dared to dream of an even better outcome.
“We were really hoping he’d somehow get drafted to the Doggies, but he was taken one spot before our first pick,” he said.
“He was a Doggies supporter as well, but he’s happy at St Kilda. He’s doing well there and it looks like he’s going to have a long career.”
The Bulldogs and Saints will meet in Round 20 this season, so the two childhood friends will have to wait a while until their first potential showdown.
For two young men who have always been on the same side it would be a totally new experience, but one they would relish.
“We’ve talked about that a few times, how cool it would be if we got to play on each other — I’ve never played against him — so that would be pretty awesome.”
Until then, Lipinski and his teammates will be looking to build on their current two-game winning streak and make a push towards the top eight.
The Bulldogs have consistently fielded the youngest side in the competition, with an average age younger than 23 years old across last weekend’s line-up.
While that has led to some growing pains across the board, Lipinski is welcoming the chance to play alongside his fellow recent draftees.
“It’s been pretty cool being able to play with some of my good mates who are the first and second year boys, like Timmy English, Aaron Naughton and Ed Richards.” he said.
And with the side starting to round into some form, it’s those younger players that should give Bulldogs fans plenty of hope for what’s to come.
But still being only 19 years old and with just four senior games under his belt, Lipinski doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
As far as this season is concerned, he’s set some simple goals.
“For the team, we’d obviously love to make finals. We got off to a slow start but we’re starting to build some momentum, so hopefully we can keep stringing wins together and climb up the ladder,” he said.
In terms of personal objectives, he’s keeping them pretty straightforward as well.
“It was a goal of mine to get into the side early in the season and just do my best to hold my spot. If I can do that and continue to improve along the way that would be ideal.”
With six goals already to his name and a pair of good wins, it’s hard to see Lipinski leaving the senior side any time soon.
And if his rapid improvement continues, he could be one of the faces of the Bulldogs sooner rather than later.