GOLD Coast unleashed Jaeger O'Meara on the competition this year, and in Jack Martin, they have another – possibly better – version to let loose in 2014.
Martin played his 10th and final game in the NEAFL for the Suns reserves last Saturday, and has now been put on ice to begin his preparations for round one next year.
It's an identical path to the one taken by O'Meara in 2012, and the bad news for Suns' opponents is that Martin has arguably prepared better than this year's Rising Star award favourite.
The Suns have so much confidence in Martin they extended his contract to the end of 2017 before watching him play a senior game.
The career paths of the teenage West Australian prodigies are eerily similar.
O'Meara and Martin:
- played their first senior footy in Geraldton;
- played on each other in a Grand Final three years ago;
- were drafted by the Suns in GWS 17-year-old mini-drafts;
- have been compared to greats like Chris Judd and Gary Ablett before playing a game;
- have prepared for their AFL debut by spending a year out of the spotlight in the NEAFL for the Suns.
While O'Meara played just six games last year before undergoing groin surgery mid-season, Martin has seen out a carefully devised 10-match program and excelled on the field.
His reserves coach Shaun Hart says Martin has delivered everything the club has asked of him.
The 18-year-old has played all over the ground and often been tagged by more senior opponents, but it hasn't stopped him being in the best three in most games.
Martin has shown a complete football arsenal in 10 games. He has won his own contested ball, used it exquisitely on both sides of his body, taken multiple marks while running with the flight of the ball in his defensive 50, and even jumped on teammate Matthew Warnock's shoulders for a soaring pack mark a few weeks ago.
Jack Martin with his MVP award for Western Australia at the end of the 2012 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships. Picture: AFL Media
A shy, quietly spoken young man, Martin takes no notice of all the fuss.
He is quick to deflect any praise in the direction of the the Suns, saying everyone from the coaching staff to his first roommate Jarrod Harbrow had helped him feel comfortable in his new environment.
His dad spent some time with him early in the year, but Martin is now comfortably settled on the Gold Coast, living with his girlfriend.
"I've had my pressures throughout the years but I know how to cope with it. I let my footy do the talking," Martin says simply.
"There's always going to be expectations but I don't let that get to my head. I just keep playing good footy and improving week in and week out."
And that's pretty much what happened this season. Early on he was playing one or two matches in the NEAFL, then missing one or two to recover.
Then Martin confessed to coaching director Malcolm Blight he felt heavy and slow when returning to the fray after sitting out matches.
It was no surprise that when he strung three matches together to finish his season, he was flying and felt his best.
Hart said Martin had equalled O'Meara's impact on the NEAFL, although it was hard to project if he'd do the same at AFL level.
"One comparable thing with these two guys is their attention to detail in terms of their work rate and spread in offence and defence," Hart said.
"It's a highlight of what makes these guys something special and something to look out for in years to come."
Martin has spoken to O'Meara extensively about his first season and what to expect.
They played alongside each other in the NAB Cup – where Martin was given permission to play by the AFL despite being underage – but O'Meara told his mate that things stepped up once the premiership matches began.
Jack Martin played for the Suns during the 2013 NAB Cup. Picture: AFL Media
"I spoke to him after his first game, how he found it. He said it was harder, a lot more running and bigger bodies," Martin said.
"I love watching Jaeger go out there every weekend, and hopefully I can follow in his footsteps. To see him run out every week and to see the way he's gone about it week in and week out, hopefully I can follow the same path as him.
"We played against each other a few years ago in country footy and we've both ended up at the Suns and I'm happy to be playing with him."
Martin is 185cm and has a wiry strength about him that rarely sees him pushed off the ball.
He came to the club at 71kg, has got up to 74kg with the additional weights and hopes to reach 76kg before the start of next season.
He said watching Ablett prepare had been an eye-opener.
"Everything he does is just so professional, his attention to detail.
"He couldn’t get any better the way he looks after his body. The way he performs every weekend, there's no secret to that, he's just so professional.
"I love watching him, love training with him and he's an awesome bloke as well."
Hart says while many young players don't have a grip on reality linked to where they are as footballers and when they deserve to be playing senior football, Martin and O'Meara were proving the complete opposite.
"That's what thrills me about guys like this. They are seriously talented players and they work extremely hard for everything they get," Hart said.
"They've got a grounded reality both on their talent and the need to do everything for the team before they worry about getting their own footy."
So when Martin utters that his goal for next year is to play round one, but "if not, I'll just keep trying hard, keep improving to make sure my body's right", you know he means it.
But something tells you, he'll be playing a lot more than round one.
Michael Whiting is a reporter for AFL Media. You can follow him on Twitter: @AFL_mikewhiting