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NAB AFL Rising Star round 18: Allen Christensen

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AS INTEREST in the NAB AFL Draft intensifies each year, there is more pressure on draftees to make an instant impact.

But Geelong midfielder Allen Christensen says he has benefited enormously by spending his first season with the Cats' VFL team.

Christensen finished fourth in the VFL team's best and fairest before finally making his AFL debut against Fremantle in round two this year.

He says he is happy he served his apprenticeship at VFL level.

"It definitely helped me in terms of development and learning the way Geelong plays in the VFL," Christensen said.

"I had all the older boys looking out for me, and most of us younger boys are starting to develop AFL bodies. By the time we came into the senior side, we knew how to play that system."

Christensen is the round 18 nomination for the NAB AFL Rising Star, joining Geelong teammates Mitch Duncan (round three) and Daniel Menzel (round 13) as 2011 nominations.

It is a remarkable achievement for a club that has consistently been one of the strongest in the AFL for the past five years to be able to introduce such a talented crop of young players.

Christensen says a big reason for the youth injection has been the arrival of senior coach Chris Scott.

"We're a pretty close group of young players and we're pretty excited about the future. We're really focused on making an impact right now. We knew in the pre-season we would have a clean slate and we could go out and really try to impresss 'Scotty'," he said.

"Every single one of us had a really good pre-season. We all got stronger and fitter, and I think that has shown by the way that all the '09 draft have played. It's going along really nicely."

Christensen is a genuine local, having played junior football for Lara and the Geelong Falcons TAC Cup team, and says he knows how fortunate he was to be drafted by his local team in an increasingly national competition.

"I was very lucky I got through to pick 40 and got to stay home. I can't take that for granted, but I am probably one of the lucky ones who are drafted who got to stay home. A lot of people have to move away," he said.

He said he has been absorbing as much information as possible from Geelong's star-studded midfield, with James Kelly taking particular interest in Christensen's progress.

"'Kel' gives me heaps of advice about where I'm positioning myself and how to go about playing defensively. He is probably one who really looks out for me," he said.

That support extended to a mini-campaign by Kelly and other Geelong players on Twitter to get Christensen a Rising Star nomination.

He says that support did not go unnoticed.

"I was pretty chuffed by the way 'Lingy' (Cameron Ling) and 'Kel' tweeted about it. I guess one of the main things you want as a young bloke is to get the respect of the older players," he said.

"It was good to see that, and if I'm playing the way they want me to play and they think I deserve something like that, then it's more about what they are saying than getting the actual nomination."

While things are going smoothly for Christensen at the moment, he is far from complacent, and remains all too aware how coveted a spot in the senior Geelong team can be.

"It's really exciting. I know I've got a long way to go. It's really hard to hold your spot in a team like Geelong," he said.

"I've just got to keep working hard and keep training hard. It's not just about what you do on the field, it's what you do off it. Hopefully I can hold my spot."