The Sydney Swans will blood their fourth debutant in three weeks, with Matthew Ling set to put injury troubles behind him and run out for his first game this weekend.
Ling was hyped as a lightning-quick and highly-skilled defender in his 2017 draft year, and the Swans pounced when he was still available at their first pick at No.14.
But since arriving at the club, the left footer has suffered from serious toe and Achilles injuries that kept him sidelined for most of his initial two years in Sydney – he was only able to play 16 NEAFL games across the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The way Ling found out he would be running out on the SCG for his debut this Saturday is an indication of what he has been through since being drafted, and the respect he has earned at the Swans.
“I got into the team meeting, and Horse [John Longmire] was just talking about a Zoom meeting he’d had about resilience. And then he said I was going play,” Ling recalled.
“I came in expecting to train hard and play in my first year.
“That didn’t work out, but it’s probably held me in good stead, built a level of resilience and showed me what it actually takes to get in the team and play some games.
“It was very difficult, but it has paid off now.”
Despite his body not letting Ling show his pace, clean hands and silky ball-use on the field as much as he’d like, he was able to contribute to the club in other ways.
The St Mary’s and Geelong Falcons product is known for bringing plenty of energy and positivity with him each day, even during a tough two years, and worked closely with the development coaches.
This meant sitting in the coaches box on match days for the reserves and delivering messages to players out on the field when needed, an experience Ling said he will draw from now that it’s his turn to be out on the park.
“You get a different perspective watching from the coaches’ box,” he said.
“When you get to watch it up high, it’s actually pretty good to see the game in a different way. I enjoyed it.”
The 21-year-old will make his debut in a youthful Swans side that has six other players aged 21 or under named for the game against Hawthorn, as well as young gun Ollie Florent who turned 22 this week.
The players Ling is most excited to run out with on Saturday is a sign of the changing of the guard taking place at the Swans.
Instead of the usual names like Franklin and Kennedy, who are sidelined though injury, Ling said having close friends James Bell and Callum Mills, as well as former housemates Tom McCartin and Jordan Dawson, lining up in red and white with him will make the day even more special.
The 184cm Ling expects to play a small defender role against Hawthorn on Saturday, which could see him spending time on an established star like Chad Wingard and a speedy forward playing their second game for the Hawks in Darren Minchington.
Either way, Ling said his focus for game one is “just to compete”. But expect to see more than that from the resilient, running defender.