By: JESS WEBSTER
Round 12 Rising Star Nominee: Connor Byrne
Giants Academy member Connor Byrne has bounced back from the disappointment of missing out on Allies selection to earn a NEAFL Rising Star nomination in just his third match.
The Wagga product moved back home this year after attending boarding school in Ballarat, where he played 17 games for the Rebels in the TAC Cup last year.
Byrne represented NSW/ACT at the National Under-18 Division 2 Championships earlier this year, but was unlucky to miss out on the Allies squad to contest the Division 1 competition against the bigger states.
He made his NEAFL debut last year and was playing just his third game on Saturday when he collected 22 disposals for the Giants in their 53-point win over Canberra in his home town of Wagga.
Byrne, who turned 18 last week, said the disappointment has only made him more determined to work harder in the hopes of making his AFL dreams a reality.
“It was a short term goal to make the Allies. Obviously I was very disappointed playing in the nationals and it not working out,” he said.
“I’ve had a bit of a sook, but you’ve got to adjust and focus on the back end of the year, having a good last few months in the NEAFL and give myself the best chance for the future.
“Some people can fade away but I feel it gives me that motivation to keep going and prove them wrong.
“That (AFL) is the dream. I love the game, I love everything involved with it, and it would be massive to achieve it.”
A super fit and clever midfielder, Byrne played the majority of last season as a small defender for the Rebels, but is most suited as an inside midfielder, with the added bonus of switching to a wing or half-forward position at NEAFL level.
Byrne said it was a big buzz to play at Robertson Oval on Saturday in a Giants side filled with quality players.
“I haven’t played many games at home this year so it was good to get back to play on ‘Robbo’ and have a couple of family members in the crowd,” he said.
“All the Giants boys are pretty good at making you feel comfortable. But you do have to pinch yourself a couple of times, especially on the weekend with quality players like Rhys Palmer and those players. It’s a pretty good experience to play with those boys.
“The voice is the biggest thing. I think in the NEAFL you need to demand the ball a lot louder than you normally would in under-18s to get the footy. It’s pretty quick, but it’s good footy.”
It is shaping to be a big finish to the NEAFL season for Byrne and the Giants, who moved back in to the top four after their win over the Demons.
Giants Academy manager, Jason Saddington, said Byrne’s work ethic will put him in good stead.
“He is just one of those really good on-ball players, who is strong in the clearances but works hard to get some outside ball aswell. It’s good he is able to show some versatility,” he said.
“He will play a lot of NEAFL football from here on in. He is a player we still look at as a potential draftee at the end of this year, even though he didn’t make the Allies squad.
“The NEAFL provides that pathway for him now to push ahead towards the draft. It’s fantastic he still gets that opportunity to play a high level of football.”
The Rising Star is awarded to the most promising young talent in the NEAFL competition.
Nominees must be under the age of 21 and played less than 20 senior games (excluding games as AFL top-up players) at the start of the 2016 season.
Keep track of all the 2016 nominees and watch their individual highlights on our dedicated Rising Star page here.
Don't forget to download our free NEAFL App, featuring live Champion Data stats, player bios and more! Available now from the Google Play and Apple stores.
Have your say! Follow the NEAFL on Twitter (@neaflofficial), Instagram (@neaflofficial) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/neaflofficial).