Lloyd Perris won the Cameron Ling Medal last year
That's what our program is all about – to have a dream, live the dream (and) do the hard work that's required
AS A footballer, Cameron Ling used to pride himself on four key values: being selfless, competitive, honest and disciplined.
Now, as the three-time Geelong premiership player enters his second year of retirement, he's an example being closely followed by some of the best young players in the country.
Ling's career ended with the last goal of 2011, a left-foot snap around his body that curled through to seal the Cats' Grand Final win over Collingwood. But it started back in 1997, when Ling was a member of the first AIS-AFL Academy intake.
He captained the team in an under-17s International Rules match against Ireland in 1998 before arriving at Geelong in 1999.
Last year, the level one AIS-AFL Academy introduced the Cameron Ling Medal, awarded to the player – and voted by the squad – who best typifies the qualities Ling represented throughout his 246-game career.
Ahead of the squad's 10-day New Zealand tour, which begins on Friday, Ling addressed the players, who are aiming at being drafted next year in 2014. He spoke of his career, his success, his struggles, his teammates, and his story. All of it was underpinned by the same things.
"He's really lived all of those values," national talent manager Kevin Sheehan said.
"He was subjected to a lot of things at the start of his career, from missing out on being drafted in the first year to changing the type of player he was when he first arrived at Geelong.
"He obviously went on to be an elite player of the competition and that's what our program is all about – to have a dream, live the dream, do the hard work that's required, and then at 30 look back and say 'I gave it my best shot'. He's the best example of that."
Each of the 30 Academy squad members is assigned a personality trait such as pride, passion, confidence and courage. They are asked to think about the trait whenever the squad comes together, and provide a 3-2-1 voting system on the players who best represent their quality.
It will be presented on the final evening of the tour. Emphasising the fact the medal is not solely focused on football, Lloyd Perris was the winner last year, despite being unable to train or play in the match against the New Zealand Hawks while recovering from a knee reconstruction.
This year's match, against New Zealand on January 26 at Wellington Stadium, is just one aspect of a trip with bigger goals.
"We're going across to promote the game, to have a high performance training camp, and to proudly represent Australia in these boys' chosen sport," Sheehan said.
Follow Callum Twomey on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.