This article was originally published on August 8.
Taken with pick 21 in the 2016 draft, Will Hayward has made an immediate impact in his rookie season. He sat down with AFLPlayers.com.au after a three-goal game against the Cats in Round 20.
The season has been up down, but things are turning now. How have you adjusted to life in Sydney?
I’ve adjusted really well. We obviously started the season slowly, but that probably helped me to get my opportunity because of the injuries we faced. I’m learning new things every day and the boys at the club have been so helpful. They’re really good at teaching and showing the young blokes the ropes.
How were you on draft night when your name was called to the Swans? How were you feeling knowing that you were moving from Adelaide to Sydney?
I distinctly remember how nervous I was, sitting there at the table at the Hordern Pavilion, not knowing whether my name would be called or not. I had mixed emotions because I had no idea who was going to take me. I was left in the dark a bit, but when my name was called out to the Swans I could finally sleep easy because an enormous weight was taken off my shoulders. I was pumped that it was Sydney, being one of the best cities in Australia. Mum and dad were really happy for me, too.
Have your parents made the move to Sydney?
They’re still in Adelaide with my brother Harry who is studying law. He’s more of the book smart person! They’ve come up a few times and I’m sure I’ll visit in the off-season as much as I can. I’ve settled in really well here and am enjoying my time.
You got drafted with Oliver Florent. He’s obviously Victorian, but you knew him a bit beforehand?
Yeah. We were in the same group at the draft combine, and even though I didn’t know him that well, he was still a familiar face. On draft day we were sitting next to each other at the AFLPA’s introductory lunch and Nick Smith came and spoke to the draftees. Him coming and giving a talk while Oli and I sat next to each other was a pretty crazy coincidence. It’s funny that we’re all at the same club together now.
Which players have you lent on for support, and who has provided the most guidance?
Everyone has been helpful. The senior boys have been unreal! Luke Parker is my mentor so I get along with him really well, and he helps me out quite a bit. They’re all so approachable and I feel like I can reach out to any of them for advice.
So that culture that everyone raves about in Sydney is all that it’s drummed up to be?
I didn’t really know what to expect, but when I was drafted by the Swans that’s all I was hearing from everyone. I didn’t know what it meant but then when I got up here it just clicked. There’s never a dull moment, no one is ever left on their own. We’re all in it together and I couldn’t speak highly enough of the place.
What was the mood like when the team started at 0-6? Was there a feeling that everything would be fine once some players came back, or was there genuine concern?
I think it was a bit of both. There were a few losses that we really kicked ourselves about and felt that we should have won them. But when we got that first win over Brisbane it set the scene. We got back to what works for us and having a few players back helped also. It was like a flick of the switch where we went back to what we knew.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve seen you being referred to as one of John Longmire’s favourites in a few interviews…
I don’t know where this rumour has started! I think Paps is trying to stir me up a bit. I don’t think it’s true…
So you have heard the rumour before?
Against Geelong on Friday it was brought up, but I think the boys just do it to stir me up.
What’s Luke Parker like as a mentor? Do you guys watch film together?
Yeah, absolutely! I was going through some vision with Brett Kirk and Parksy let me know when I was on the right path and explained how some little movements I made helped me to get a few extra metres on my opponent. He’ll always jump in on game day before we run out and he’ll say something to me to get my confidence up. In saying that, so do most people at the club.
I read on the Swans website a little interview you did called the ‘Pocket Profile.’ I was wondering whether some of your answers weren’t completed seriously… were you having some fun with those?
I remember doing it, but I can’t remember what my answers were though…
You said that your favourite sporting hero was Iman Shumpert. Is that correct?
Haha! There is truth to that. One of my mates back home and I just love his hairstyle and think that he goes about things in a funny way. I enjoy watching him.
He’s obviously an NBA player, but he doesn’t exactly have the largest profile…
Yeah, exactly. I’m sure most people would select LeBron or Steph Curry or someone like that.
It also said that your favourite movie star was Jonah Hill. Is that correct?
That is absolutely correct! I’m a huge Jonah Hill fan.
The last thing I saw that caught my eye was your taste in TV shows… This is probably where I started to believe that the answers might not have been the most honest because you listed your favourite TV show as Hawaii Five-0?
Hahaha! That is correct! The recent version, though. Just to make that clear.
There were quite a few North Adelaide guys like yourself drafted in 2016. Do you stay in touch with the likes of Brandan Parfitt and share your rookie experiences?
Yeah. I played my first game against Parf on Friday and we had a good chat after the game. He’s really happy in Geelong. I spoke to Jack Graham not long ago about how he’s finding Richmond. We all try and keep in touch as much as we can but given we’re in different parts of the country it’s not easy.
Were there any moments on Friday night where you and Brandan crossed paths and bumped or sledged?
We went against each other on the wing at one stage. It was a spur of the moment thing where I had to quickly jump on the wing for a second but nothing was said. Thinking back to that moment, I probably should have said something!
That was the second time you’ve kicked three goals and it felt that you were more involved. Was that your best performance out of the 14 games you’ve played?
Yeah, I think so. When I missed a few games with injury and then came back through the NEAFL I knew that I needed to start playing some good footy to get my confidence at a decent level. That Hawthorn game last week I was pretty filthy at myself because I didn’t have much of an impact. But the coaching staff showed some faith by playing me again against a top team so I was glad to play my role on Friday night.
How do you go about bouncing back from a performance that you weren’t happy with? Is it something as simple the coaching staff building confidence by keeping you in the team, or are you working harder on the track?
After every game we do our individual reviews with our line coaches, so I go in there with Brett Kirk and he’ll ask me how I went. I told him after the Hawks game that I was pretty flat because I lacked impact, but as soon as that review finishes we just put it behind us and focus on what we can control, like how I’m training and whether or not I play seniors or reserves is how I react. Kirky is really good with keeping you grounded and keeping your head in the right place.
You took a pretty special mark on Friday night…
One of the things Horse and Kirky have been trying to get into me is to have the confidence to go for my marks and jump, which I wasn’t doing in recent weeks. I had that in the front of my mind and I probably got lucky.
Who would you compare yourself to when it comes to how you play? Did you have an idol growing up or someone you’d like to emulate?
In my draft year that was a common question I faced. I like to compare myself to a bit of a Jack Gunston-type — a third tall who uses his athleticism. In saying that, I’ll just see what happens and how my career pans out. I’d like to eventually go into the midfield and have an impact through there, but I’m very happy at the moment playing forward.
Did you anticipate playing so many games in your first year, at such a strong club?
No, not at all. I didn’t really expect it, to be honest. Getting a debut early helped me a bit with the club getting all of those injuries, but I didn’t expect to have played 14 games in my first year.
I have to ask you what it’s like to play with Buddy…?
He’s really good around the club. When you first arrive at an AFL team as an outsider you expect it to be really daunting, but he was just like any other bloke. He came over and introduced himself to me and since then he has helped me a lot with my goal-kicking. Before training we play a few games together so he’s been great. He makes it seem as if he’s just another bloke around the club, even though he’s a star of the game. He helps the young guys a lot.
When he introduced himself did he say his name or did he not feel the need to?
Nah, he did! He said, ‘G’day mate, I’m Buddy,’ and I obviously knew that!
You grew up going for the Crows, didn’t you?
Yep, I was a big Crows fan!
And you’re playing them in two weeks… is that something that you pencil in the fixture and think about?
Yes, and no, I think. It’s going to be weird because I’m probably going to know every opposition player and their names because I watched them all growing up. It will be a good experience going back home and playing in Adelaide.
Will you get star-struck by a few guys like Tex Walker or Rory Sloane?
Absolutely. That happens to me every week when I line up against the stars of the game and shake their hands. It happens to me most times because I think to myself, ‘Wow, I’m on the MCG with Dustin Martin or someone like that.’ I’m still getting my head around it all and I’m sure it’ll happen again when I see Tex or Rory Sloane. It also happens on my team with the likes of Luke Parker, Buddy, Kurt Tippett and Josh Kennedy. All those big names at the club have made me need to pinch myself but it has all sunk in now.
Thanks for taking the time to have a chat, and good luck with the rest of your season.
No worries! Thank you.