By NEAFL MEDIA
Bailey Stewart is a classic example of hard work paying off, and Swans Academy manager Chris Smith believes he is the perfect fit for the AFL.
The 19-year-old inside midfielder earned this week’s Tribal Sport NEAFL Rising Star nomination after 20 disposals and two goals against Brisbane – arguably his best NEAFL performance to date.
The fruits of his labour are beginning to shine through on the field, particularly this year as part of the Swans’ Under-19 squad.
A regular at the top of the Sydney Academy’s endurance tests, Stewart is one player who seems to get better with age.
It’s this potential that has Smith excited about the youngster’s future.
“He is definitely the most dedicated and the most disciplined and the most committed – all those things have put him right up in the academy pecking order,” Smith told neafl.com.au.
“He’s definitely a standout in that respect. He sets a great example because of that to the rest of the group.
“He is one of those boys that you know you’re always going to get enormous commitment from him week-in, week-out. From my perspective, it’s a very admirable attribute to have in a young player – just knowing that they are committed and have a degree of dedication to achieve.”
A talent soccer player at junior level, Stewart captained New South Wales in both futsal and outdoor soccer before switching permanently to Australian football when he was snapped up by the Swans Academy.
He’s missed out on Allies selection the past two years, but Stewart remains determined to reach the highest level, no matter how long it takes.
“I could have gone better last year (in the National Under-18 Championships) but didn’t think I was good enough to make allies. I might just be a late bloomer,” Stewart said.
“I was very happy to stay on in the Under-19 squad and have that extra year at the club.
“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable at NEAFL level now. I just want to gain as much experience as I can and see where it takes me.”
Playing NEAFL football week-in, week-out is of great benefit for Stewart, and Smith believes it won’t be long before the eyes of the AFL world start to turn his way.
“Whether it be a draft pick or a rookie spot, I think AFL clubs would now be starting to look pretty closely at him because you need those mature bodied players who are resilient and hard working,” he said.
“You just know that he is going to be one of those listed players you know who’s going to be there week-in, week-out performing.
“I definitely think he can make it to the AFL level if he continues to play the role that he’s playing – that pressure, that tackling, the ability to get as many contests as possible.”
For a New South Wales kid who grew up not knowing what AFL was, Stewart can not see a future without it.
“I didn’t really know what AFL was growing up in NSW. I started playing club AFL when I was just from kicking a soccer ball at the park and we saw an AFL game on and I thought I’d give it a crack,” he said.
“I then quit soccer after because I enjoyed AFL more and the Swans Academy picked me up.
“I learned everything, not just skills-wise, but the academy is really good at teaching you professionalism.
“AFL is certainly my goal. Hopefully if I keep working hard I can get there one day.”
The Tribal Sport NEAFL 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 2018 season.
Keep track of all out 2018 nominees here.
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