JUSTIN McInerney was playing without pressure.

Halfway through his bottom-age year, the teenager was dominating in the comforts of the Yarra Junior Football League with Banyule. At that stage, it was all he could hope to imagine.

At 17, McInerney wasn't on the radar of AFL clubs. He wasn't on the radar of the Northern Knights, either. Remarkably, he wasn't even playing for Marcellin's first XVIII in school footy.

That's until Russell Gardner intervened.

A former recruiter with the Brisbane Lions, Gardner was working casually as a talent ID scout with the Knights when he spotted McInerney tearing up a local league game.

He phoned Rhy Gieschen, the talent manager at the Knights, to pass on what he'd seen.

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"I remember we were playing Bendigo that day and Russell rang me and said he'd just seen this kid playing for Banyule," Gieschen told AFL.com.au.

"He absolutely starred. Russell didn't know why he wasn't in our system … I remember he actually said he could become an AFL player one day."

Barely 18 months later, he is.

Claimed with pick No.44 in last month's NAB AFL Draft, McInerney completed his journey from relative obscurity to the big time when he was recruited to Sydney.

"I wasn't even looking at the thought of being drafted back then," McInerney told AFL.com.au.

"Even at the start of the year, I just wanted to get on the Knights' list and get a few consecutive games under my belt at TAC Cup level.

"As the year went on, it became a bit more of a reality. It's just been a massive whirlwind."

Having been spotted by Gardner and given his chance at the Knights in their development squad, McInerney immediately caught the eye of Gieschen and the club's staff.

He had grown to 187cm, possessed fantastic speed and great endurance, could use the ball effectively and had quite the leap for someone who played predominantly in the middle.

The next step for Gieschen was to plead with Marcellin to give him his chance.

"After a couple of weeks of training, I asked him why he wasn't playing in the firsts at school," Gieschen said.

"He wasn't quite sure, so I rang Ryan Edwards – the coach – because we get along really well. They'd won three premierships in a row and they had a really good team that year.

"He's got so many kids to look out for, because he runs all of the footy programs at Marcellin, so he just said he didn't know too much about him.

"He brought him into his squad and he played really well for the last two or three games of the year. I actually remember after he played in the Grand Final, I had about three or four texts from recruiters asking who this kid was and where he'd come from."

Sydney was the team to pounce.

However, although McInerney knew the Swans held an interest in him, he wasn't sure where they would be picking. They had an abundance of selections, but would bounce around in the order depending on where a bid fell for Academy prospect Nick Blakey.

Ultimately, canny trading ensured they could match a bid for Blakey at pick No.10, while retaining a selection in the second round and two picks in the third round.

It made the afternoon difficult to follow for Sydney fans – and for McInerney.

"I knew they had some interest in me, but I wasn't certain they would pick me up," he said.

"At the time they drafted me, I actually wasn't paying attention. I knew they had a pick around then, but I was just sitting on my phone. Then, all of a sudden, my name got called out.

"It was a bit of a shock, to be honest. I thought maybe in the 60s or after that, but then pick No.44 … I'm pretty lucky."

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If McInerney was feeling fortunate to simply be drafted, to head to Sydney was a bonus.

The Swans have a fantastic track record turning hidden gems into certified stars of the competition, something Gieschen was keen to emphasise to McInerney.

"When both Kinnear Beatson and Simon Dalrymple rate a player that highly, you know he's probably going to turn out to be a pretty good player," Gieschen said.

"Those guys are two of the best there's ever been in the recruiting game. I actually said to him on the phone that when those two guys rate you that highly and they take you … it's going to be pretty handy going into the future.

"With their system and their set-up over there, I think he'll excel."

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McInerney agrees. While there are always players who would rather remain in their home state, there's nowhere else he'd rather spend his formative years in an AFL system.

"I'm not really sure how to word it, it's just where I want to be," McInerney said.

"The fitness people, the coaches … everyone's down to earth and everyone's been really welcoming. Hopefully they'll develop me and hopefully I can get a game.

"It's just really great to be here. I can't wait to keep going after Christmas and see how it all goes."