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Young Swan’s story of perseverance and resilience

On the weekend against Hawthorn, Sydney’s Matthew Ling (pick No.14) became the last of the first 34 players selected in the 2017 Draft to make his AFL debut. The 20-year-old reflects on his journey for and highlights the welcome support he has received from the significant people in his life to get him to this point of his career. 

Last week in our team meeting, our coach John Longmire started speaking about some of the lessons from the book Good to Great.

The main messages were about the importance of perseverance and resilience, and then he started looking over at me which made my heart skip a beat and then I knew what was happening.

‘Horse’ (Longmire) told me that I was going to be making my AFL debut.

It was an awesome feeling that I was going to be playing my first game, especially having watched the careers my former Geelong Falcons teammates – Tom McCartin, James Worpel and Gryan Miers – have put together and waiting and waiting for that day to arrive.

For a while there, footy became frustrating.

My injuries kept piling up, a niggling toe injury was followed by a long-term Achilles injury, and there were some days I almost didn’t want to be at the club.

I had a hard time getting here, but with the support of my Mum, Gab, and Dad, Ron, my twin brother, Harry, my girlfriend Matisse, and everyone at the club, it made playing my first game even sweeter.

I always had great people around me who put in a lot of work to help me succeed, so seeing the smiles on their faces post-match was pretty special.

I’ve spent a lot of time with our strength and conditioning coach Mark ‘Killer’ Kilgallon and conditioning coach Mike Rennie this year trying to get my running technique right and just doing those little things to help me get there.

I was really nervous on the morning of the game.

By 10 o’clock we’ve usually started training, and reserves games are generally in the morning too, so having to wait to play later in the afternoon was a bit different.

When I first ran out on the ground it was amazing.

There weren’t many people there compared to normal capacity, but it was still the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of and they made plenty of noise.

I had Matisse there and it was lovely to see her during the lap after the win. She’s been so awesome for me – it’s great to have someone outside of footy who is so supportive.

My family had to watch on from home back in Geelong, but I always feel their support. They don’t ever put pressure on me, and they come up to Sydney when they can.

One time, they surprised me for my birthday by coming up and watching me play in Blacktown – that was an awesome moment.

During the season shutdown I went back home to Geelong.

It was nice to get back home and see my family, especially considering we can’t do that right now.

I was training alone initially, but it was great to have Tommy McCartin join me for the last few weeks and we really pushed each along and came back to the club as fit as we could be.

Tommy and I were both drafted to the club from the Geelong Falcons, we lived together, and he played very early on in his career. I just wanted to be out there with him.

Weirdly, his debut game was also in round eight, and also against Hawthorn!

We’ve got a very exciting group at the Swans and everyone’s very close.

On the weekend, it was awesome to get the first win with Elijah Taylor and Dyl Stephens.

Nick Smith has also been a great mentor for me.

He gives lots of tips about positioning and getting to the right spots early, and he’s helped me change my mindset to make me more accountable.

I used to think if my opponent got a quick shot on goal out of a pack it was just bad luck, but Nick’s helped me realise you can stop everything.

I’m studying outdoor recreation and ecotourism at the moment so that’s given me something to really focus on when footy wasn’t going the way I wanted it to be. I’m really interested in film photography as well and Matisse and I like to go to national parks as well.

Now that I’ve earnt my spot, I don’t want to give it up easily and I’ll be doing everything I can to string consecutive games together.

Can’t wait for this week.