If there’s anyone who has the experience and expertise to speak on this season’s crop of first-year players, it’s defender Callum Mills.
Mills was once in their position, trying to cut a path and his teeth at the top level after landing at the Sydney Swans via the third selection in the 2015 National Draft.
The recipient of the AFL’s and Club’s rising star awards, the 20-year-old enjoyed a fantastic season showcasing his courage across half-back every week since his first-round debut.
With now two very consistent years in the system, adding another 20+ games to his career tally in 2017, Mills was impressed with this season’s equivalents especially Will Hayward and Ollie Florent.
The duo exceeded their own expectations to combine for 26 games and play a significant role in the Swans’ success.
“The first-year players were incredible,” Mills said.
“They’re like sponges, they take everything on board the senior players have given them and it paid dividends.
“Will had a great year; Ollie had a great year.
“Even the players the fans haven’t seen in the reserves have been really thriving in that environment which has been really good.”
It was another year of development and growth for Mills, in the QBE Sydney Swans Academy graduate’s own words.
In fact that’s how he’ll be treating every year for as long as he’s in an AFL jumper.
He’s become a permanent fixture in defence and with no plans to move … yet.
“It’s such a different year to your first year, obviously, because you’ve been in the system and have a couple of games under your belt,” Mills added.
“You’re forever learning, you’re never content with where you’re footy is at, and that’s how I look at it.
“It was great to play (in defence) again, we have great synergy down there.
“It’s just a shame we didn’t finish the way wanted to.”
Mills averaged nearly 18 disposals this season, plus two intercept marks and three rebound-50s per game.