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Youngsters blossom on cusp of 2019

Development camp: Day 2 Our first to third-year player visited the Sydney Academy of Sport and Recreation for a three-day development camp. Check out the highlights from day 2.

From Oliver Florent’s match-winning goal at the death against the Western Bulldogs to Ben Ronke’s seven-goal blitz under Friday night lights, season 2018 played host to a highlights reel jam-packed with youngsters starring on the big stage.

And Head of Development John Blakey believes 2019 will see a number of young Swans again rise to the occasion.

“You’ve seen Will Hayward and Oliver Florent play some good footy at AFL level – and they’ve only been here for a couple of years,” Blakey told Swans Media.

“We’ve seen Mills and Heeney come through, so there’s young talent there that’s very exciting. And then you have our recent Draft picks, so we think we’re in a good position to move forward again in 2019.”

Five Swans made their AFL debuts in 2018 in Ronke (Round 6), Tom McCartin (Round 8), Ryley Stoddart (Round 10), Colin O’Riordan (Round 17) and Darcy Cameron (Round 18).

Ronke booted seven goals against Hawthorn at the MCG in Round 8 to claim an AFL Rising Star nomination, while Florent – who made his senior debut in 2017 – collected a nomination of his own after starring against Carlton at the SCG in Round 11.

McCartin and Stoddart both earned call-ups to the big time in their first seasons in red and white, with McCartin going on to play 15 AFL games and Stoddart grabbing two wins from his two games.

Nick Blakey, James Rowbottom, Justin McInerney and Zac Foot signed with the Swans at November’s AFL Draft, before Durak Tucker, Harry Reynolds and Sam Wicks inked deals as rookies.

And Head of Development Blakey says the club does everything it can to help the newcomers pick the lock on the AFL as soon as possible.

“We’ve just been away at a development camp with our first- to third-year players and we actually had a session where we spoke about getting an AFL game in your first year,” Blakey said.

“We also spoke about the hardships of different guys that haven’t cracked it yet that have been at the club for three years. We try to educate them as best as we can to give them the knowledge that if they put in the work and their form warrants it that they’ll certainly be able to get a game.

“But sometimes through injury or circumstance that doesn’t always work out, so there are hardships as well. We try to give them a balanced view of what to expect and certainly from those discussions they know they can lean on their teammates and coaches.”

While evergreen 319-game veteran Jarrad McVeigh is grinding through his 17th pre-season as an AFL footballer, Hayward and Florent are pushing through their third and Rowbottom and Foot their first.

And Blakey says the youngsters’ energy lifts the squad.

“The young guys that come through add the excitement,” Blakey said.

“Heeney is all of a sudden becoming a big name in his first four or five years at the club, we expect Mills to do the same, the way Papley and Ronke play the game is very exciting, Will Hayward has kicked 50-plus goals in his first two years, so he’s very exciting. So those younger fellas definitely add plenty of excitement and energy to the group.”