An AFL club is a place of wonderful learning. And in so many different ways. Yet one of the very first lessons Will Hayward learned on his AFL journey had nothing to do with football.

It was not to jump to conclusions. And that first impressions can be misleading.

Because if he’d been right after his first meeting with the Swans he would not be set to play his 100th AFL game for the club in Friday night’s Marn Grook game against Richmond at the SCG.

It was about three months before the 2016 AFL Draft, when the then 17-year-old North Adelaide forward was just another name in the draft pool.

He met with Swans recruiting and list manager Kinnear Beatson and, in short, it didn’t go well. Or so he thought.

"I walked out of that meeting and I thought 'there's no chance I'm going there', because Kinnear gave me a bit of a spray and got into me a bit," Hayward recalled soon after he was drafted by the club.

But in fact it was a huge moment. A bit of tough love.

"He (Beatson) was just saying that I was unfit and in the AFL world it's not as easy as that. After that I got a personal trainer and he got me training for the combine. They (the Swans) probably helped me a lot in that sense. If they didn't say that I probably wouldn't have done that."

As legend has it, Hayward went pretty much straight from that meeting to source a personal trainer. Indirectly, that story got back to the Swans and according to Beatson it was “an extra tick”.

Hayward, who split his football in his draft year between the North Adelaide Under-18s and St Peter’s College, where he had schooled since grade three, worked tirelessly with the personal trainer to improve his endurance. He was determined to prove he was AFL material.

It wasn’t the first time fate intervened in the building of a union between Hayward and the Swans.

The year before, in Hayward’s bottom-age year of 2015, they had gone to watch a St Peter’s school game. Not to watch Hayward but someone else. But they liked what they saw from him as he started out on his rise to the AFL. He was on the radar.

After representing SA at the Australian Under-18 championships he was a standout at the Draft Combine, ranking top 10 in the 20m sprint and the vertical jump. In the SANFL Under 18 finals he kicked nine goals in the preliminary final and four goals in a grand final loss.

Beatson’s assessment was positive. “As a forward we liked his ability to get off his opponent, and he could really jump and mark it. He was a reasonably feisty kid … he wasn’t going to take any crap. We liked his character. He was an up-beat doer …  good energy in any environment … he’s not going to mope around … he’ll roll the sleeves up and get into it.”

AFL website draft expert Cal Twomey wrote 19 days before the draft that Hayward had “rocketed into top 15 contention”, offering a different skillset to other half forwards with his mobility, game sense and marking. He described the medium forward as an “interesting” prospect.

An extra factor at play was his age. Born 26 October 1998, he was one of the youngest players in the pool. As it played out, only five players younger were drafted – Harry Perryman (GWS), Shai Bolton (Richmond), Lewis Young (Western Bulldogs now Carlton), Josh Daicos (Collingwood) and Harry Morrison (Hawthorn).

So, when Hayward sat among the draft hopefuls at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion on the evening of 25 November 2016 he had no idea what was going to happen.

It said plenty about the difficulty recruiters had in putting a value on him and where he sat in the pecking order that every AFL club had interviewed him. He was something of a wild card.

When Twomey put together his highly-regarded Phantom Draft, trying to forecast who might go where, he slotted Hayward in at #16 to Port Adelaide.

It’s a meaningless task to compare forecast and outcome but it’s always fun and fascinating. It shows how quickly things can change, and what might have been.

Twomey, who has become quite the expert, got the first seven players perfectly in order - #1 Andrew McGrath (Essendon), #2 Tim Taranto (GWS), #3 Hugh McCluggage (Brisbane), #4 Ben Ainsworth (Gold Coast), #5 Will Setterfield (GWS), #6 Sam Petrevski-Seton (Carlton) and #7 Jack Scrimshaw (Gold Coast).

He had Will Brodie going to Fremantle at #8 and Griffin Logue to Gold Coast at #9 – they went in the opposite order – and Jack Bowes to Gold Coast at #10. Right again.

Then it got interesting. Twomey had Jy Simpkin going to the Swans at #11, Harry Perryman to GWS at #12, Oliver Florent to North Melbourne at #13, Jarrod Berry to West Coast #14 and Jordan Galluchi to Adelaide at #15. And then Hayward.

The Swans took Florent two spots earlier at #11, Perryman was right, leaving Simpkin for North at #13. At #14 West Coast took Daniel Venables, who had been slotted at #21 by Twomey. Galluchi was right.

It was pick #16. Crunch time for Hayward. But Port took Todd Marshall.

This left Berry to Brisbane at #17 before Port again overlooked Hayward at #18, preferring Sam Powell-Pepper. Tim English went to the Western Bulldogs at #19 as predicted.

Sydney had pick #20. They bid on GWS Academy player Isaac Cumming. GWS matched the bid. Sydney slid to #21 and put Hayward out of his misery. He was the first South Australian drafted.

“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,” he said shortly afterwards.

“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.”

If he had joined the dots Hayward might have worked out that the Swans were always keen on him. After his first meeting with Beatson he was invited to meet next with then Swans football manager now CEO Tom Harley. It was primarily because Harley, like Hayward, was a St Peter’s boy. But it wasn’t normal practice.

There was even a bit of a kama factor. Hayward was in the same group at the draft combine as Florent. And on draft day they found themselves sitting next to each other at the AFL’s introductory lunch. Who is one of the guest speakers? None other than Swans defender Nick Smith. Four months later they were teammates.

After Florent debuted alongside Smith in Round 1, 2017 Hayward did likewise a week later as the Swans played the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium in Round 2. It was also the debut of Nic Newman and Robbie Fox.

Hayward had 16 possessions, six tackles and a goal assist in a 23-point loss in which Sam Reid kicked six goals and Lance Franklin four goals. He was away.

As the journey of the AFL Class of 2016 unfolded Hayward was first to 50 goals – the 11th youngest in the AFL era – and 100 goals. He still leads his draft year in goals with 115 from North Melbourne’s Nick Larkey (101) and Cam Zurhaar (75).

He will be the eighth player from the 2016 draft to play 100 games. Geelong’s Tom Stewart, drafted at #40, was first last year followed by McCluggage. This year it has been Taranto, Simpkin and Geelong’s Brendan Parfitt (pick #26) in Round 2, Florent and McGrath in Round 7 and Powell-Pepper in Round 8.

Hayward will also be the 138th Swans player among a total of 1441 to top 100 games, representing 9.6% of the all-time list. He will be the 17th youngest, and at 23 years 213 days, will be younger than each of his current teammates except Luke Parker (22 years 287 days) and Isaac Heeney (23 years 97 days). He will be 70 days younger than Florent in his 100th game.

The youngest Swans 100-gamer is 246-game Team of the Century choice Mark Bayes, who was 22 years 170 days when he hit the ton in 1989.

Only 23 players in Swans history have kicked more goals at 100 games than Hayward. Leading the way is the club’s all-time leading goal-kicker Bob Pratt at 458 in 1935.

The fourth North Adelaide product to play with the Swans since the introduction of the draft in 1986, Hayward will be the second 100-gamer after George Hewett (120). Others to trade the red and white of the Roosters for the red and white of the Swans have been Michael Parsons (25 games) and Lewis Johnston (2 games).