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Freshly minted Demon Aaron vandenBerg an instant hit

Hird's concern, Goodes politics and more Matt Thompson with Friday Footy Feed
Aaron Vandenberg of the Demons in action during the 2015 AFL Round 08 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs at the MCG, Melbourne on May 24, 2015. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Aaron vandeBerg's strong frame and appetite for the contest has held him in good stead in his debut season
Playing for four years against men has certainly put me in good stead against guys in the AFL
Aaron vandenBerg

AARON vandenBerg can hardly believe his luck. 

The 23-year-old has not missed a game in his debut season, with the midfielder becoming a permanent member of Melbourne's side in 2015.

"Every day I'm pinching myself," vandenBerg told AFL.com.au. "I'm really relishing the opportunity and making sure it happens for a long time." 

As he awaits the biggest game of his short career, a clash against Collingwood in front of an expected crowd of 60,000 at the MCG on Monday, vandenBerg thinks back to last year and cannot quite comprehend the whirlwind journey he has been on.

This time last year vandenBerg was running around for Ainslie in the NEAFL, while holding down a day job at the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra. 

It was an enjoyable existence but it didn't not compare to being a full-time footballer.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my job at the Mint, but I'm not going to go back to it if I don't have to," he said. 

vandenBerg's weight of numbers in the NEAFL eventually forced Melbourne recruiter Jason Taylor's hand, after he had kept the Tathra product on his radar for years.

As a 22-year-old, vandenBerg averaged 32 possessions per game in 2014, including a 56-touch performance against Eastlake.

He also won back-to-back best and fairests for Ainslie.

Taylor and his recruiting staff selected vandenBerg with pick No.2 in last year's NAB AFL Rookie Draft, knowing he would be out of action until after the Christmas break due to off-season shoulder surgery.

vandenBerg joined the main group in January, played his way into Paul Roos' preferred NAB Challenge side and then grasped his opportunity in round one against Gold Coast.

He hasn't looked back and the 188cm, 90kg midfielder has earned plenty of admirers for his never-say die attitude to tackling and his ability to win contested ball – both staples of coach Paul Roos' game plan.

vandenBerg leads the Demons for tackles made (50) and is ranked third at the club for contested possessions per game (8.9) behind Nathan Jones and Daniel Cross. 

He believes the experience of competing against mature bodies in the NEAFL has made him more conditioned to going head-to-head with experienced AFL stars.

"I have no doubt that playing for four years against men has certainly put me in good stead against guys in the AFL," vandenBerg said.

"The men I was playing against weren't at the elite level that these guys are, but it has definitely helped me in my transition." 

Far from a complete package, one skill he knows he must improve on is hitting targets more consistently.

vandenBerg is operating at 57.4 per cent disposal efficiency in 2015, well below the AFL average of 72.7 per cent. 

"Once I get used to the intensity around the football and the quickness of the game, my ball use will be better," he said.