FREMANTLE youngster Connor Blakely says his debut against Port Adelaide last season was a massive 'eye-opener' as to what is required to compete at AFL level.
Blakely played just one game in his first season after being drafted with pick No.34 in the 2014 NAB AFL draft.
He performed well in the WAFL throughout the season but only got his chance for the Dockers in round 23 against Port Adelaide when more than half the senior side was rested ahead of the finals series.
Blakely, 19, said that one opportunity had taught him so much about what was needed to be an elite AFL midfielder.
"It was just a big step up," Blakely said.
"I tried to do as well as I could. I think a couple of times I got caught with the ball.
"But I think it was just a big eye-opener of how big and strong AFL players are but I'm hungry for more.
"After that Port game I realised I need to get stronger, fitter and just make quicker decisions."
Blakely gathered 12 possessions in the 69-point loss after averaging 24 disposals across 17 games for Peel Thunder in the WAFL last season.
He is now focused on improving his strength over the ball.
"Playing in the WAFL there are a lot of strong guys but across the board there's a lot of strong people in the AFL," Blakely said.
"So working on your strength is something that is very important as a second-year player because you're not going to be able to match it with guys like (Travis) Boak that are five, six, seven, eight-year players in the comp."
Blakely said he had added two kilos to his frame this summer but also felt fitter than he did during his first pre-season at AFL level.
He said fellow youngsters Lachie Weller, Ed Langdon and Ethan Hughes were itching for an opportunity in the NAB Challenge after getting a taste of senior football last season.
But Blakely said he was well aware of how difficult it is to break into the vastly experienced and talented Fremantle midfield.
"It is a bit daunting but I guess everyone starts somewhere," Blakely said.
"Nat Fyfe was a first or second-year player at one time.
"We're looking to be a bit more of a versatile team this year so I'm looking to go to half-forward and in the midfield as well.
"So there's spots available for everyone in the team.
"There's definitely high competition for spots but there's also opportunity there if you take it, train hard, hopefully get a go in the NAB Challenge and then who knows what will happen."
The Dockers begin their NAB Challenge campaign against Richmond at Rushton Park in Mandurah on February 19.