A genuine pride for the QBE Sydney Swans Academy is driving Isaac Heeney and close mate James Bell ahead of a momentous afternoon in their football journeys.
Heeney will celebrate his 100th senior match and Bell his AFL debut as Sydney meets Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on Saturday.
Heeney progressed from the Swans Academy and onto the club’s AFL list in November 2014, with Bell following as a rookie at the end of 2017.
And while Heeney has since blossomed into a star of the AFL, Bell is a long-time NEAFL stand-out and is determined to remain a powerful force at the top level.
Academy pride is fuelling the young duo ahead of Saturday’s special match.
“It’s amazing to be able to say we’re Swans Academy graduates,” Heeney said.
“We both came through the Academy and also played other sports growing up, and if it wasn’t for the Academy we probably wouldn’t be playing together on the weekend. The Academy has been amazing, and they gave us that pathway to pursue our dream.”
A host of Academy products will face the Power in Heeney, Bell, Callum Mills and Nick Blakey, all of whom promise to enjoy fruitful careers in red and white.
Sydney fielded a record five Academy graduates in Round 19, 2017, which saw Heeney, Mills, Sam Naismith, Dan Robinson and Jordan Foote meet Hawthorn at the MCG.
But this week is all about milestone man Heeney and debutant Bell, whose bond extends well beyond the footy field.
“We spend a lot of time together,” Heeney said.
“We go fishing, we go swimming and we go surfing, so we have the same hobbies off the field.”
Bell is averaging 20.8 touches and 5.4 tackles per game in the NEAFL this season.
Sydney fell in a 14-point defeat to GWS in the second-tier competition in last Saturday’s AFL curtain-raiser, but Bell was a stand-out in a losing cause, posting a Swans-high 28 disposals and nine tackles.
Heeney says Bell is primed for his AFL debut.
“He’s a really talented player,” Heeney said.
“He’s skilful and he’s quick and he’s hard – and that’s what’s got him a game. He’s become really hard over the last couple of months in the NEAFL, and he’s been playing some really consistent footy.
“If his head’s up and he’s confident he’ll be running amok on Saturday.”