AT THE start of this season, Ben McKay didn't think he was good enough to play for the Gippsland Power let alone have his name called as an AFL draftee.
McKay, alongside his twin brother Harry, played for Warragul at local level in Victoria's southeast last year and both won an invitation to train with the Power during the pre-season.
But Ben felt like he had only gained a call-up because of Harry, and didn't think he belonged at that level. After months of self-doubt, he pulled out of the Power's program in February.
But after watching Harry play for Vic Country at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships and then stringing together some strong performances for Warragul's senior team, Ben's self-belief grew and he had another shot at being a TAC Cup player.
He's glad he did. He played 10 games in the back-half of the year, caught the eye of scouts as a tall and developing prospect and was invited to test at the draft combine last month.
Versatility is important at AFL level and McKay has shown an ability to play well at both ends of the ground.
Some of his best form has been as a tall and commanding centre-half back, but he has also played some really promising games deep in attack. That included an impressive four-goal haul in the final round of the TAC Cup home and away season.
McKay possesses a natural competitive spirit: he enjoys the rough and tumble, crashing into packs and using his big frame to push opponents out of the way. At 199cm and 95kg, few others can match McKay in a wrestling contest.
McKay is smart at ground level but his overhead marking is his standout quality. There's also plenty of development left in him, particularly given his later entry into the talent pathway.
McKay runs pretty well and recorded solid times at the NAB AFL Draft Combine, but will need to improve his agility to make sure he can keep up with forwards on the lead or get around defenders when being used in attack. He recorded a 9.05-second agility score, which was among the slowest times of this year's crop.
Part of that adjustment will come by entering an AFL system, because at the moment McKay is relatively unexposed to the elite environment.
Recruiters have asked him plenty about his decision to step away from footy at the start of the season and then return midway through, but he has convinced many he is a more mature prospect now than before and is prepared for what lies ahead.
In McKay's breakout game against the Oakleigh Chargers in round 13, he played like Jake Carlisle. He marked everything that came his way (including five contested marks in the wet) and was dominant in the air. Like the new Saint, he can also shift forward when called upon and both carry the nickname 'Buckets' for their marking prowess.
McKay's late rise up the draft boards should see him selected somewhere in the second round, likely in the 20-40 range on draft night. A number of clubs like what he showed in the second half of the season since breaking onto the scene.
McKay is one of this year's true draft bolters. He has come from nowhere to push himself into contention as a top-30 pick with a rock-solid second half of the season. Aggressive, strong and with a natural appetite for the contest, McKay has plenty of AFL traits.