By JESS WEBSTER
Photo: TJ Yelds/NEAFL.
Two years ago, Ryan Hebron watched a number of fellow teammates become AFL draftees and thought to himself, why can’t that be me?
The St Ives junior had been identified by the Sydney Swans Academy only a few months into his first season at age 13, and had represented NSW/ACT Rams at national level in both under-16s and under-18s level.
While he was touted as a potential AFL Draft prospect, Hebron never really believed he could make it.
It wasn’t until he became eligible for the AFL Draft for the first time where a wave of disappointment spurred him into changing his mindset.
“It’s hard to say if I was ever close to being drafted,” he said. “The academy said I was a draft prospect, but I don’t really know.
“But I was disappointed (not be selected). I probably regretted not actually thinking I was good enough back then, until it got to the draft and I realised how close I was seeing other teammates being picked up.”
But a missed opportunity wouldn’t hold Hebron back. Rather, he has come along in leaps and bounds in the two years since to put himself back on the AFL Draft radar in 2017.
Hebron joined the Sydney Swans’ NEAFL Development Squad last year as an under-19 academy member.
He played in 18 matches – including the NEAFL Grand Final loss to the GIANTS – and featured among the Swans’ best players six times.
It was then where Hebron’s belief in himself began to grow.
“I did pre-season and trained with the Swans, and I realised that I am quick enough to go with these guys,” he said.
“I’ve got the ability to run with them and compete. Just being involved in the program showed me that I’ve got the ability to go with them, I just need to work on a few areas of my game to take it to the next level.
“I don’t really look at one player to model myself on, but since I spent so much time in the academy, people like (Swans Academy manager) Chris Smith and (coach) Jared Crouch and others have really helped me develop.
“They have so much football knowledge and it was great learning from them.”
Hebron, now 20, switched to Sydney University this year where he is part of the a new-look defence, including former Swans Academy members Darcy Baron-Hay and Nathan Cooper.
The trio all earned NEAFL representative honours. Hebron was named in the best players for his performance against Tasmania, which proved to be another important step in his development.
Hebron said the opportunity to play consistently in the NEAFL for the past two seasons, particularly against AFL players, has benefited his football greatly.
His latest effort, playing a shut-down role on Sydney Swans forward James Rose, earned Hebron the Round 13 NEAFL Rising Star nomination.
“That (playing on AFL players) is the biggest test you can get,” he said.
“You get the most out of playing on an AFL player because each contest is harder, and they keep you honest for the whole game.”
While Hebron can’t put in to words how much it would mean to reach the elite level, there is no doubt left in his mind that he is willing to give it all he’s got.
“I definitely believe in myself more now. I’ve played with a lot more confidence this year,” he said.
“I’ve been trying to work on the offensive part of my game, just taking the game on more and backing my leg speed and my kicking, and having a more balanced performance.
“I’m just focusing on taking my game to the next level. Hopefully that will lead to a NEAFL premiership, and to be lucky enough to get picked up by an AFL club.”
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 Academy players) at the start of the 2017 season.
Keep track of all our 2017 nominees here.
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