Suns players celebrate their win over Hawthorn and (inset) Will Graham, Jed Walter and Ethan Read with friends after the game. Pictures: AFL Photos / Gold Coast FC

THE sight of 300 youngsters swarming Jed Walter, Ethan Read and Will Graham following Saturday night's win over Hawthorn would warm the hearts of anyone associated with Australian Football in Queensland.

Playing for the first time in the AFL on their home ground at Carrara, the trio of Gold Coast Academy graduates had plenty of support on the other side of the fence.

That support came from Palm Beach Currumbin High School students, where Graham and Walter finished last year, St Andrews Lutheran College, where Read attended, and Palm Beach Currumbin Football Club where they all played.

It was the intersection of footy fans and new fans coming to watch their mates and possible stars of the future with the AFL's 17th club.

On Sunday, those same Suns will run out against another northern states team, Sydney, which has also been blessed with great success through its Academy program.

If both teams are selected as expected, there will be nine players who have come through their respective Academy programs playing on the SCG.


And if Jake Rogers earns a debut to replace the injured Malcolm Rosas jnr (hamstring), it could be 10, but that's a story for later in the week.

The influx of homegrown talent is a far cry from as recently as four years ago, when the teams played in the abbreviated 2020 season and combined for just three Academy players – Callum Mills, Nick Blakey and Jack Bowes (Isaac Heeney was injured).

While the number of players is impressive on its own – and part of the reason the AFL expanded into Queensland and New South Wales – the quality is head-turning.

Although Mills will be injured this time around, many of the Swans' prime movers have come from their own backyard.

Heeney is in early conversations for the Brownlow Medal. Blakey has had a blistering start to the season off half-back. Errol Gulden has not slowed down off his first All-Australian campaign, and Braeden Campbell is right at home in defence.

Isaac Heeney celebrates a goal during round four, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Gold Coast's crop might not be as established, but they have looked right at home since Damien Hardwick cut them loose in the past few weeks.

Key position players Walter and Read both kicked two goals in the win over Hawthorn, as did wingman Sam Clohesy, who spent three years in the Academy before moving to Melbourne.

Graham's physicality has been on show in both of his outings, with 14 vice-like tackles against Hawthorn particularly impressive.

Will Graham tackles Finn Maginness during the match between Gold Coast and Hawthorn at People First Stadium in R5, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

And then there's unsung Bodhi Uwland in the back pocket, a player Hardwick has likened to himself in his own playing days.

Some, or perhaps most, of the Academy graduates running around on Sunday afternoon might have found their way to the AFL in any scenario, but the showcase of talent to come from both clubs is exactly what they would have envisaged when setting up the pathway so many years ago.