Toby McMullin landed on the Sandringham Dragons' NAB League list in February this year unsure what to expect but excited by the challenge.
The talented Melbourne-based forward from Port Fairy is now bound for the National Championships in late June after being named in Vic Country's final under 18 squad on Friday.
It comes off the back of an impressive three-goal performance in the recent Vic Country versus Vic Metro trial match, as well as strong form in the APS football season for Melbourne Grammar where he is in year 12.
He said he was pleasantly surprised with his performance in the trial match.
"I was a bit nervous coming into the game to be honest, I didn't know many of the boys but overall it was a really fun day," he told The Standard.
"Luckily the ball went my way and I was happy to kick three goals and contribute."
Forward pressure and providing a spark are the elements of the game McMullin prides himself on.
"I was more pleased to play my role and provide forward pressure - I don't know how many tackles I laid but I was pleased with that," he said.
"It's just as important as kicking goals - defensive pressure is what sets up the opportunities at goal, especially from a team point of view it leads to your teammates kicking goals."
The year 12 student predominantly lives in Melbourne with football and school commitments but has a family house in Port Fairy, with his mum growing up on a farm outside of Hamilton before his grandparents retired there over two decades ago. Dad Ian played 49 AFL games for Collingwood and Essendon in the late 1980s and early 90s, kicking 55 goals across nine seasons.
Listed by Hampden league club Port Fairy - where he has played a game of senior footy this season against South Warrnambool and a handful of under 18 matches in 2021 - the small forward is entrenched within the community having also played years of junior and senior cricket with the club.
"Whenever I'm not playing footy or have school commitments I'm in Port Fairy," he said.
"I love getting down there with the family whenever I can really."
Taking his opportunities and staying grounded throughout his draft year and VCE studies is the primary focus for the 17-year-old who has had to work hard to put his name up in lights.
"Year 12 is like no other year, there's large work commitments and balancing that around with footy is tough but I've got a really strong support network around me with mum and dad and two older brothers," he said.
"They've been great support for me.
"Playing in the AFL is something that's a dream of mine and it's hard not to think about at times, but I've just got to focus on what I can control.
"It's been a bit different for me, I wasn't in the NAB League system until February. I've worked my way up with APS footy, so whenever I get an opportunity I'll look to take it."
McMullin said the talent within this season's AFL draft pool was exciting.
"The draft pool is really good I reckon - I feel like this will be a draft that'll go deep, there's a lot of quality players there and I'm thankful to play footy with and alongside them," he said.
"It's good to get to know them personally too but there's a lot of talent out on the field."
As he now gears up for his Vic Country debut on Sunday June 26 against South Australia he said he'll look to maintain the consistency and hopefully catch the eye of AFL recruiters.
"I'm trying to play consistently, I've been flashy at times, not gone in and out of games as such but I'm just trying to put together four quarter performances," he said.
"I want to get my craft right as a half-forward flanker - I want to work on my leading patterns and see what I can work on so I can execute on game day."
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