QBE Sydney Swans Academy member Josh Rayner packed a lot into the last few months of 2018.
On Grand Final day last year, while most of his mates were at home in Sydney preparing for their upcoming HSC exams, Rayner was running onto the MCG to play in the Under-17 All Stars match.
The All Stars game, played before Collingwood took on West Coast in front of 100,000 people, involved 48 of the most talented teenagers from across the country considered the top prospects for the AFL Draft later this year.
Rayner lined up for 'Team Riewoldt' and played at centre half-back, performing well against the best young forwards in his age group.
“The experience was unreal,’’ Rayner said. “We had a four-day camp in Melbourne first. It was good to get away because it was a pretty busy time at school with study.
“Running out was pretty special, coming up the race onto the MCG on Grand Final day.’’
But a day after Rayner lived every young footballer’s dream, he was back in Sydney preparing for his year 12 exams and trying to make up for lost time away from his desk.
“You can’t move the (scheduled) times with footy, so I had to work around that,’’ Rayner said.
“I think study is important so you have to be smart about your time. You know you’ve got less time than others to study and that is a disadvantage. So you’ve got to make it up in other ways, and whether that is getting up early or staying up a bit late, you just have to find the time.’’
The HSC exams started three weeks later, in mid-October. Rayner, who studied maths, English, physics, economics and religion at St Pius X in Chatswood, put his head down.
And when the results came out in December, all his hard work had paid off – he scored 99.45, putting him in the top one per cent of students in the country.
“At the start of the year I would never have predicted that mark, but I wanted to see what would happen if I put in the work, to see if it would pay off and I’m pretty happy,’’ Rayner said before training at the Swans Academy.
“The teachers were all really helpful, I wouldn’t have got anywhere without them, so a big thanks to the school.’’
His advice is simple for other aspiring Academy players doing year 12 this year.
“I knew I had to do the work, there were no shortcuts to it. It all comes down to time management and making up the time when you can,’’ Rayner, 18, says.
Academy General Manager Chris Smith says Rayner is a good example to other young players.
“Josh was able to achieve highly at footy and at school because he used his time wisely. I believe that the boys who are busier are generally more organised and efficient with their time, and they get things done.’’
Rayner will go to Sydney Uni part-time this year, studying economics and commerce.
“And I want to focus more on footy this year, being my under-18s year. I want to try to have a big year and put some good games in,’’ Rayner said.
He’ll play for the Swans Academy in the Under-18 Academy Series and then for the Allies in the National Under-18 Championships.
And along the way there are likely to be games as a top-up player for the Swans in the NEAFL, before he puts his name forward for the AFL Draft in November.
It’s going to be another big year.