AFTER kicking eight goals in the cross-suburb primary school football showdown for Beaumaris against Beaumaris North, it became clear the 12-year-old footballer had all the potential.
He then dominated all his junior footy for the Beaumaris Sharks, and after an impressive 2016 season as a bottom-age player in the TAC Cup, combined with a call-up to the AFL AIS Academy, Hayden McLean was almost certain to realise his AFL dream, and was even touted as a possible first-round selection.
He was unsurprisingly named captain of the Sandringham Dragons for the 2017 season, which was followed by a Vic Metro berth at the Under 18 National Championships.
In culmination of the season, the key-forward booted four goals in the Under 18 All-Stars match- the AFL Grand Final curtain raiser- as well as taking six marks.
If you were to ask anyone in McLean’s home suburb of Beaumaris, his name was deemed a certainty to be read out on draft night.
But it wasn’t.
And what many thought would be a night of celebration, soon became one of the hardest nights in the teenager’s life.
“[It] felt like the world had caved in and felt like everything I had done to get the chance was all a waste, the right-footer reflected.
“It took me a week or two to finally start to get over it.”
But rather than dwell on his misfortunes, McLean started to use the snubbing as motivation.
“I knew that inside I didn’t want to give up, and that I would use this as a source of motivation for the pre-season ahead and try to prove them all wrong.” he said.
Set to line-up for the Sandringham Zebras in the VFL this year, McLean’s role will likely involve playing as a key-forward, and supporting in the ruck when required.
A keen St Kilda supporter growing up, his childhood idols won’t surprise.
“I loved the way Fraser Gehrig would play with such passion and aggression and as a key forward you need that, he said.
“I also loved the way Nick Riewoldt would play and how he would out-work his opponent and have an impact as a high forward and as a leader.”
Playing against men in the VFL is set to offer McLean a new challenge, who is looking to follow in the footsteps of the West Coast Eagles mature-draftee Hamish Brayshaw.
“Hamish didn’t get drafted in his top age year either, but he put his head down and got drafted the following year, McLean admired.
“I have been feeding off his experiences to try and help me with my year.”
Studying psychology and forensic science at Swinburne, the man hailing from St Bedes- given his talent- seems every chance to become the next Michael Barlow or Hamish Brayshaw, who both starred in the VFL after initially missing out in their draft years.
Keep an eye on the 196cm-tall in 2018, as he looks to prove his doubters wrong.
By Owen Leonard