Kyle Martin is a born and bred QBE Sydney Swans Academy player.
He first tried out for the Academy almost a decade ago, when he was nine years old.
It’s so long ago that Martin says he can hardly remember it.
But Academy general manager Chris Smith hasn’t forgotten the sight of the super-keen little redhead who rocked up to the trials a year before he was actually eligible.
“Kyle came to the very first open trials we ever conducted, back in 2010, when he was in the under 10 age group,’’ Smith recalls.
“He was obviously talented but he was too young, so he had to sit and wait for a whole year until he could join the Academy’s U11 squad.
“I think of him as a pure Academy boy who’s been in it from day one, and right from that day it’s been very obvious that he wanted to get the best out of himself.’’
Those years of training have come to fruition. During the past two months he’s been one of the standout players for the Academy ‘s undefeated under 18 team in the new NAB League interstate competition, playing elite Victorian teams for the first time.
Martin has been a key part of the Academy’s defensive unit during the four games played, with the fifth and final match this Sunday against the Geelong Falcons at Trevor Barker Oval in the Melbourne suburb of Sandringham.
The Swans Academy goes into the match as the only undefeated team in the competition.
“Kyle has been a real rock for us in a half-back role,’’ Smith says. “He’s got great kicking skills, he’s very clean with his ball handling and he makes good decisions. And he always puts the team first and is really well liked.’’
Martin says the Academy’s defenders have formed a strong bond. “The sides we’ve played so far have been very highly skilled, but we knew we could do well if we played our best,’’ Martin says.
“It all comes down to teamwork, and a lot of us have played together in the Academy since we were 11 or 12 years old. I’ve been here ever since I can really remember.
“Now we’re at the other end of our time in the Academy, in the 18s together, we really wanted to make a statement and absolutely show other teams what we’ve got. We’re a really tight group.’’
Martin started playing junior footy with the Pittwater Tigers on Sydney’s northern beaches when he was eight years old.
“I was playing soccer but a mate asked me to come and play so I gave it a go,’’ he says.
“I fell in love with AFL footy. I loved the intensity of it, the pressure, the tackling and the physicality.’’
His parents had little experience with the sport – his dad is from England and his mum is from northern NSW. “It was a really different thing for our family, I’m the first one to ever play.’’
But that didn’t stop him roping in his dad for hours and hours of kick-to-kick in the park.
“I’ve tried to do extra kicking ever since I was young, so dad has done that with me,’’ says Martin, who finished school last year and is now studying exercise and sports science at uni.
“I’m not the biggest player on the field, so I decided to focus on being really elite at something. I’ve tried to perfect my kicking so I could beat opponents with my foot skills.’’
When he’s not playing for the Academy, Martin lines up for his home team, the Manly Wolves. He began playing in the open age Sydney AFL Premier Division when he was 16 and says that has helped to build his confidence.
Last year he was joined at Manly by another young Academy star, Hamish Ellem, who moved to Sydney from the north coast of NSW to further his footy.
“Hamish and I have come through the Academy system together and are very close mates. When I heard he was moving to Sydney I made sure he became part of our little tribe here at Manly,’’ Martin says.
That doesn’t stop him giving Ellem plenty of lip on the footy field.
Academy under 18 captain Sam Thorne has heard it all.
“Kyle is very funny. He expects a lot from his teammates, he’s very vocal on the field and he doesn’t hide his emotions,’’ Thorne reveals.
“He can be very honest and Hamish is a big target. When he misses a goal, Kyle lets him know!’’
Martin and Ellem spend a lot of time together, and after this NAB League series, they’ll both be hoping they’re selected in the Allies team (made up of players from NSW, NT, Queensland and Tasmania) to play in the AFL National under 18 Championships in July.
But first things first, with a big match to come against the Falcons this Sunday.
“We really want to finish on a high note. We know the Falcons will be tough but we want to go through undefeated and we believe we can do it,’’ Martin says.
Academy head coach Jared Crouch is encouraging Swans fans in Melbourne to head along and watch the team play against the Falcons on Sunday.
NAB League under 18
Geelong Falcons v QBE Sydney Swans Academy
Sunday May 5, 12pm
Trevor Barker Oval, Sandringham