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Spring-heeled Swan earns Rising Star nod for match-winning effort

Nick Blakey is this week's NAB AFL Rising Star - AFL,Sydney Swans,Nick Blakey,Rising Star
Nick Blakey is this week's NAB AFL Rising Star

NICK Blakey had to lift, and he knew it.

Sydney was just eight points clear of Hawthorn at the SCG on Friday night when Blakey made his way to the Swans' three-quarter time huddle.

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By his own admission, the 19-year-old key forward had been "very quiet".

Coupled with the fact the Swans had just lost superstar spearhead Lance Franklin to another hamstring injury after he'd contributed half of his team's eight goals, Blakey was desperate to give more of himself to the cause in a critical clash.

The mature attitude he took to the situation belied his status as the youngest player on the field.

"With 'Bud' (Franklin) out, I put it on myself to stand up in the last quarter," Blakey told AFL.com.au after being named the round 14 NAB AFL Rising Star.

Just four minutes into the final term Blakey stood up both figuratively and metaphorically, rising above a pack to take a spectacular mark, the best grab of his career to date and one that has earned a nomination for the JLT Mark of the Year.

"(Big marks) are hard to take at AFL level with all the good defenders around, so it was nice to take one. I just jumped and managed to bring it down," he said simply.

Three minutes earlier, teammate Callum Sinclair had pushed the margin to 14 points, so Blakey's cool conversion from 40 metres with his trusty left foot provided some breathing space.

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He wasn't done there. With eight minutes left Blakey took another strong mark and nailed a close-range shot that iced the game.

He had indeed made good on his vow to "stand up", admirably doing so in some big moments to help the Swans to a victory that keeps them in the hunt for a top-right berth.

"It was great to get on the end of a few in the last quarter and kick a couple of goals. I just got to better, smarter spots than I had in the first three quarters. I found myself in dangerous positions and was able to capitalise," he said.

Last year the son of John Blakey, the Swans coaching director and head of development, had the choice of three AFL clubs: his native Sydney where he was a member of the Swans' development academy) and both Brisbane and North Melbourne because of his father's distinguished playing career.

The Swans were the logical choice given he and his family were entrenched in the harbour city and he'd always barracked for Sydney and had dreamed of playing alongside some of his heroes, including Franklin.

So impressed were the Swans with Blakey that in January they signed him to a two-year contract extension that ties him to the club until the end of 2022.

He has missed just one AFL game this season, a surprise even to him given he had only a limited pre-season after overcoming an ankle injury sustained late in the 2018 season.

"I definitely didn't think I'd play as much senior football as I have. If someone told me in pre-season that I'd play 12 games (in the first 13) I would've said, 'You're dreaming,'" Blakey said.

"The club has trusted me and backed me in, and they've instilled faith and confidence in me. The Swans have a good record of playing young boys and having them play key roles."

The hard-running left-footer presented a strong case to selectors by kicking three goals in a pre-season scratch match against Greater Western Sydney, before appearing in the Swans' two JLT Community Series games.

Despite his modified preparation, Blakey made his AFL debut in the season-opener against the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium, kicking the Swans' second goal and setting up another for Franklin in a 17-point loss.

He was dropped for the round five clash with Richmond at the same venue but returned the next week and has kept his spot ever since.

"I wasn't getting a lot of the ball and the coaches just said, 'Go back to the twos and get your hands on the footy and run around without any pressure and see what happens.' I got some confidence out of that," he said.

He has been held goalless in just three of his 12 outings, and has tallied 11 goals in total.

Playing alongside Franklin has been the realisation of a fantasy.

"Bud's been my favourite player ever since he moved to the Swans, so it's pretty surreal and pretty cool to be playing in the same forward line with him. He's teaching me so much, and so are the other senior guys," he said.

Franklin's absence has some experts suggesting Blakey might already be equipped to help fill the breach. The youngster is excited by the prospect but also realistic.

"We'd all love Bud to be playing but it gives the younger boys a chance to hopefully step up and play roles and hit the scoreboard," he said.

"Internally at the club there's been no added pressure on me – no one's said I'm the one who needs to stand up. We just know that a number of boys will have to stand up. Whether it's me, Tommy McCartin, Sam Reid, all us young forwards believe we can do it."