For many players who are participants or graduates of the QBE Sydney Swans Academy, their dream is to play in the AFL.
Established in 2010, the Academy has nurtured and developed a number of elite AFL-level players but also made a significant contribution to the growth and strength of the code in NSW.
For Academy graduate Marc Sheather, the dream to play for the Sydney Swans was no different to many others.
Originally from the New South Wales Central Coast, Sheather joined the Swans Academy as a 12-year-old.
He played junior football with the Killarney Vale Bombers, before moving to Pennant Hills, the same path tread by former Sydney Swans captains Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh.
The Academy product grew up on the Central Coast and has understood firsthand, how valuable and critical the program has been in bringing his dream to reality.
“I grew up with footy on the Central Coast. My family was into sports a lot,” Sheather said.
“I came from a soccer background, which I played from ages 5 to 10 before taking up footy with some mates through school.
“I joined the Academy through the U12s and then obviously have been through the system for the last six years.”
The dream of being part of the Sydney Swans has been Sheather’s since he was a child.
Reflecting on a letter he wrote to his future self when he was in primary school, Sheather could have never imagined his dreams would come true.
“It was a Year 6 letter to my future self. It is something I can look back on, 10-15 years in the past, but I wrote that I wanted to play for the Sydney Swans,” Sheather said.
“At that time, it was a pipe dream.
“But with a bit of work, some help from the Academy and my parents, I finally got here which is unbelievable.”
The Academy has been beneficial in assisting Sheather in his journey thus far.
As it has many other graduates of the Academy.
At 15, Sheather was an inaugural recipient of the Sydney Swans Foundation’s Frank Burton Scholarship.
Frank Burton, a former employee of the Swans, club member for more than 30 years and a fanatical fan of the team, left a generous legacy to the Swans Foundation.
The Foundation, at Frank's request, has allocated part of the legacy to an annual scholarship to assist two Swans Academy players to further their football development.
The Sydney Swans Foundation provides significant funding to support the operational expenses of the QBE Sydney Swans Academy, helping the development of the next generation of AFL Sydney Swans players, as well as the Youth Girls program.
Sheather received the scholarship after nominations from general manager of the QBE Sydney Swans Academy, Chris Smith, and Academy head coach, Jared Crouch based on his exemplary attitude.
It is something that Sheather doesn’t take for granted, knowing how beneficial the Academy and the scholarship have been to his development.
“I had mum and dad drive me a lot from the Central Coast to Sydney, twice or three times a week,” Sheather said.
“Sometimes it could take a toll on my parents, or myself while I was in school, so the scholarship money just along with the benefits in general (new boots, new clothes), really helped with both my benefit of getting to training with the right apparel and in the right gear but also helping mum and dad out.”
Sheather signed a contract extension for a further two years in July of the 2021 season.
The two-year deal was a reward for his strong VFL form since joining the club’s list as a category B rookie in late 2020.
Sheather is a true utility in the sense that he can play both small and tall up either end, while also developing as a midfielder. He already cuts a strong figure and has handy athletic traits.
While he is yet to play a senior game, it will be a goal to join the likes of Isaac Heeney, Callum Mills, Nick Blakey, Sam Wicks, James Bell, Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell who have gone on to progress to the AFL from the Academy.
And while he continues to work on making his childhood dream a reality, he continues to do so with his trademark smile on his face.
“I think the most important thing was just to have fun with it,” Sheather said.
“I grew up loving footy, playing with my mates and that was the biggest benefit. We just had fun and as it got more serious through the Academy, I started to develop those skills but I just had fun with it.
“If you have fun, everything goes from there.”