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Three kicks enough for 'coach's pet' Rising Star

Will Hayward kicked three goals from three kicks against the Blues - AFL,Rising Star,Will Hayward,Sydney Swans
Will Hayward kicked three goals from three kicks against the Blues

THE BLAME lies with Tom Papley. 

Papley, the second-year Sydney agitator, outed rookie teammate Will Hayward in a post-game interview as coach John Longmire's favourite player. 

The term "coach's pet" was even thrown around.

Hayward finds the storyline amusing – insisting he doesn't spend every spare moment in Longmire's office, and mainly deals with development coach Nick Davis and forwards coach Brett Kirk.

"I don't know where that started, but 'Pap' said it in a post-match interview and that blew it up a bit," Hayward told AFL.com.au with a chuckle. 

"(Our relationship) is pretty much the same as every other player." 

Either way, Hayward is doing something right.

The skinny kid from North Adelaide, taken at No.21 overall in last year's NAB AFL Draft and whose pre-season was delayed by plantar fasciitis in his right foot, has played 17 of the Swans' 22 games. 

Hayward had a front-row seat to the 'Buddy Show' on Saturday night, with Lance Franklin booting 10.2 from 25 disposals in Sydney's dismantling of Carlton. There weren't many scraps, but Hayward's three kicks delivered maximum points. 

The 18-year-old had one word for Franklin's outburst – "special" – and praised how accommodating the former superstar Hawk was towards him.

The reward from the weekend was two-fold: the Swans booked a home elimination final, and Hayward is the round 23 NAB AFL Rising Star nominee.

"It feels good and it was pretty surprising, given I had three kicks this week, but it’s nice to receive the nomination," he said. 

"But it's not really about that for me, with obviously having a pretty slow start to the year, then to be where we are now. I definitely have moments where I pinch myself, especially considering the likes of the people I play with – we've got a team full of stars." 

 

Hayward's Sydney education began before he even joined the club.

He was starting to generate significant draft hype by the time last year's NAB AFL Under-18 Championships ended, but that didn't stop master recruiter Kinnear Beatson giving him a serve.

The exact words only Hayward and Beatson will ever know, but "naïve" was one of them after the teenager revealed he did little else outside of team training. 

"He just told me I needed to work harder and that it was not going to come easy in the AFL," Hayward recalled. "He probably saved me a bit and gave me the kick I needed."

Hayward was "itching" to start full training by the time the Swans doctors gave him the all-clear in January, and he made most posts a winner since. 

Longmire, as we all know, is suitably impressed.

"We were really happy to get Will in the draft. Looking at the vision during his draft year, we thought he was a real competitor and had great speed," Longmire said. 

"That’s exactly what we saw from the first moment he trained with the team after a delayed pre-season … he’s a great athlete, a real competitor, a terrific mark and has a fantastic temperament for AFL football. 

"He’s really easy to coach, he takes and receives feedback really well, and acts on it – he’s had a wonderful first year."

Hayward admits his swift rise has taken him by surprise, considering he barely believed his coaches at North Adelaide (David Bean) and St Peter's College (Darren Trevena) when they told him he was good enough to reach the AFL. 

The rangy 185cm forward remains so humble he refuses to believe his finals spot is locked up, but has spent a moment thinking about what it would mean to be involved in September. 

"There are still a few selection meetings that have to come up, but I'm sure whoever gets picked, it will be a very special time for them," Hayward said. 

"If I'm lucky enough to play, it'd be a dream come true."

NAB AFL Rising Star hub: news, nominees and past winners

How does the Rising Star Award work and who is eligible?