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Elite junior learning from the best

Luke Mason  January 22, 2013 9:41 AM

Tom Boyd poses for a photo on the sprung floor at the Westpac Centre last Friday.

Tom Boyd poses for a photo on the sprung floor at the Westpac Centre last Friday.

You probably can’t go past Scott Pendlebury and the way he goes about it. You watch him train and he doesn’t look like he’s even trying, he’s an amazing player.
For most teenagers, even footballing prodigies, a week rubbing shoulders with the likes of Swan, Pendlebury and Maxwell at the Westpac Centre would leave them starry-eyed and unable to concentrate the task at hand.

But Tom Boyd is not like most teenagers.

The 17-year-old is a member of the AIS-AFL Academy, which is a program that began in 1997 to help provide high quality training and education to footballers at junior level.

For Boyd, a product of TAC Cup club Eastern Rangers, the week was a chance to absorb lessons from the 47 players and 10 coaches on Collingwood’s books.

“I did about 60-70 per cent of training depending on what they were doing and then joined in with all the weights and the extras with boxing, cycling and all that sort of stuff,” Boyd explained after his final training session last Friday.

“Then I just hung around mainly with the first year program trying to pick up a few things and just trying to get much out of it as I can.”

Remarkably mature and considered in his approach for a man yet to finish secondary school, Boyd was glowing in his assessment of the playing list and their attitude to training.

“Most of them are really accepting and you kind of forget seeing them on TV that they’re just normal guys. They’ve been great; they’ve looked after me.

“You probably can’t go past Scott Pendlebury and the way he goes about it. You watch him train and he doesn’t look like he’s even trying, he’s an amazing player.

“He’s here early doing his icing and all that kind of stuff before anyone else. He just goes about himself in a way that is pretty impressive.”

Boyd said his lasting impression was the attention to detail required by the elite players, not to mention the challenge of starting each day mentally refreshed and ready to perform.

“It’s just the little things, especially.

“With the players being like they are now with everyone being so good and so professional, the gap between the best and the guys who are super elite is tiny.

“Also the grind, day in day out, turning up and putting your best foot forward is definitely going to be a challenge but these guys obviously love what they do.

“Why wouldn’t they? It’s probably the best job you could possibly have.”

One area of the game that remains far more advanced at AFL level than at any other is tactics.

Although Boyd has spent several years in the TAC Cup system and has represented Vic Metro at the AFL Under-18 Championships, the tactics implemented at Collingwood are understandably above and beyond anything else he has experienced so far.

But that said, Boyd was still able to keep his new findings in perspective.

“I think the thing it reiterates when I come here is that, as much game plan and structures that you need, you still need to do the basic fundamentals of footy. Kick well, compete and work hard.

“I think they’re probably the things that have been reiterated for me.”

His five-day stint at the Westpac Centre might be over but Boyd still has several landmarks to reach before he achieves his ultimate goal – selection at the 2013 National Draft in November.

“The practice games start in late January with the Eastern Rangers, then we have a trial match just before the TAC Cup season starts against the Collingwood VFL side at the MCG which is obviously a big thing that I really want to play well in.

“Being a Victorian we don’t really get exposed to playing senior footy as much as the WA and SA boys do so that’s probably my big goal at the moment to play well in that.

“We then head to Europe with the AIS and then I’ll be getting back into the TAC Cup season around May when the Championships start. That’s obviously the most important event on our calendar this year for a lot of guys who have to be drafted.

“Then we go back into club and TAC Cup finals hopefully if we can get there.”

With so much on his plate, Boyd can be excused for looking a little further ahead and dreaming of that one day in November.

But he says it’s hardly a distraction. In fact, it serves as the opposite.

“I think you’ve always got to see where you’re going. Hopefully the draft’s the goal and keeps you motivated as long as you realise that you’re not there yet and you’ve got things that you’ve got to do before you get there,” he says.

“It depends. Looking ahead can be a bad thing but for me it just reminds me of where I want to go and helps motivate me each day.”

Now equipped with a week of elite level experience under his belt, Boyd is determined not to let his recently acquired knowledge go to waste.

“I think it just puts where I’m at with my football and where I’m at with my professionalism into perspective when you compare it to guys who are at the elite level.

“Obviously I’m not as strong as the guys yet, I’m not as quick and my body’s still going to take time to develop but hopefully I’ve shown glimpses that one day I’ll hopefully be able to play at this level.”