JACK Graham grew up supporting Adelaide and idolising star Crows midfielder Rory Sloane. On Saturday, the teenager shut down Sloane in a Grand Final and was a key player in Richmond's breakthrough premiership.
To say the 19-year-old was beaming post-match would be an understatement. "I can't believe it," he said.
Graham will now enter Grand Final folklore after kicking three goals from 16 disposals for the Tigers in their 48-point win over the Crows on Saturday, in what was only Graham's fifth AFL match.
But his performance is even more meritorious given the role he played for his side. After Sloane kicked two early goals and was getting away from the Tigers, they sent Graham to stand Sloane and shut him down in the second quarter.
Graham felt a little odd about doing that job, but knew he had to give it everything he had.
"You don't want to be a prick of a thing, but I needed to do my role for the team and shut him down. I respect him so much as a player," he said.
"I was mainly pushing him under [the ball]. I'm not a really physical guy, I didn't want to bash him because I respect him so much so I just wanted to annoy him a little bit.
"Maybe I did [get under his skin] a bit but he's a great athlete and an amazing player who I've modelled my game off for the last three or four years. To be next to him was amazing."
Graham's goals came at key times. He put the Tigers ahead with a set shot late in the second term (they never surrendered the lead thereafter), and then he booted the first goal of the third term after slipping forward to win a free kick.
His third major came later that quarter from another set shot from an angle, and he was widely seen as one of the most influential players in the game. He won one vote in the Norm Smith Medal voting and his role won plaudits from inside the victorious and delirious Tiger rooms after the match.
Graham's success is also a win for Richmond's recruiting team, having selected the big-bodied midfielder with pick No.53 at last year's NAB AFL Draft.
Clubs overlooked Graham – despite winning the Larke Medal as the best player in the under-18 carnival after a barnstorming championships for South Australia last year – with concerns over his running capacity and kicking.
Some also believed he might have already reached a ceiling in his game, given his brute strength and force was such a key part of his junior game.
"You read the drafts that people send out and you have a look and think 'Oh yeah, I might go there or here' but you never know in a draft. I'm just lucky the Tigers gave me an opportunity at pick 53 with them," he said.
His first season at the club has had a fairytale ending, but it didn't start so smoothly. A broken ankle early in the season delayed his AFL debut until round 22, but he hadn't given up on having an influence in his first year at the club.
"I was a bit rusty in my first year having had the injuries and all of that, but I always believed in myself that if I could play good footy I'd manage to crack into the side. And I did that at the right time. I definitely had a bit of doubt in my mind but I had full trust in the physios and they got me back out there," he said.
"A couple of consistent games in the VFL got me the AFL call-up and it's been a ride since."
An amazing one at that. Graham is yet to lose a game in Richmond colours – he's 5-0 – and saved his best performance yet for his grandest day yet. It will be hard to top.
"The boys have been getting into me, saying I've won more premierships than games lost, and played in more finals wins than home and away season wins," he said.
"It hasn't all sunk in just yet. It's an amazing feeling and I can't wait to celebrate with everyone – friends, family, everyone through the club. I couldn't have expected anything like this."