A first taste of AFL victory will live long in the memory for any player, but for it to come with a tense finish against an old rival makes it extra special.
That was what Dylan Stephens – and a couple of his teammates – went through when Sydney defeated Hawthorn by seven points at the SCG last weekend.
The 183cm left footer was playing in his third senior game since joining the Swans in the off-season, after being taken with their first pick at No.5 in the 2019 AFL Draft.
“It was great to get the win. And for me, it was my first win, so it was a great experience.
“I was on the bench at the time, and we all just sprinted out on the ground. Elijah [Taylor] had his chance with a set shot after the game, he missed it but we just got straight to him.
“It was an amazing feeling. And going around to the crowd afterwards, they were obviously very happy. It was a good feeling, and hopefully many more to come.”
Stephens enjoyed the moments after the match almost as much as the thrill as the siren sounded, when the playing group, and coaching and support staff, were still buzzing when they got back to their changeroom.
“It was pretty evident, the difference, in the group and the vibe afterwards, between a win and a loss. So it was really good to experience that,” he said.
“The vibe around the club around at the moment is very good.”
The victory over the Hawks was also a first win for exciting forward Elijah Taylor, in his second game, and of course for debutant defender Matthew Ling.
Stephens was happy to share the customary Gatorade shower after playing in a first win with some teammates, but it is an experience he’ll now look forward to dishing out in the future.
“It was very sticky, and my clothes and shorts didn’t smell too good afterwards,” he said with a smile.
Stephens comes across as laid-back and level-headed, and the way he remembered the tense finish against the Hawks – when the margin was reduced to one goal with a couple of minutes remaining – suggests he takes that attitude out on the field with him.
“I felt like we had it under control. I was very confident, especially within the backs,” the speedy midfielder said.
“To see what Dane Rampe did, even with his [injured] hand, I just had full confidence in those guys.
“I’d like to think that a lot of us younger boys stepped up to the plate in the pressure situations too.”
The highly-talented midfielder joined the Swans after a standout final season as a junior, including the 2019 Under 18 Championships when he starred with an average of 23.8 touches and earned All-Australian selection.
The 19-year-old also proved himself in the SANFL last year, when he looked at home even against more mature bodies in 13 games for Norwood, when he averaged 18.1 disposals and 3.4 inside 50s.
As a prolific ball-winning junior, Stephens played a mix of outside and inside midfield, but with a younger, lighter frame he has started his AFL career mostly out on a wing.
“I’m a wingman, at the moment. But hopefully, when I can put on a bit of size, I can get my opportunity to play a bit more inside, which is my preferred position,” Stephens said.
It is a familiar path for many young midfielders, and Stephens has been able to see the benefits of that journey for his teammate Oliver Florent, who was drafted three years earlier at pick 11.
“Someone I play similar to is Ollie Florent, so I’ve been watching how he goes about it, and watching his vision with [assistant coach] Jarrad McVeigh,” he said.
“The last three years he’s been at the club he’s been a wingman, and then this year you’ve seen him come into an inside role and excel at doing that, and that’s exactly the plan for me too.
“At the moment, I’m sort of just playing my role. I feel like I haven’t been able to show my running attributes and my kicking as much as I would’ve liked to. But I guess that happens in the early stages of your career.”
Stephens will be hoping for a second taste of AFL victory when Sydney play St Kilda at the Gabba on Saturday.