LIAM Kolar is redefining the term 'draft bolter'.
Not only is the versatile and skilful Northern Knights prospect shooting up the draft boards of several AFL clubs, he's doing so having played barely any football at all.
Just 18 months ago, Kolar was playing in the twos with St Mary's juniors in the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It wasn't much further beyond that when the athletically gifted youngster hadn't even picked up an oval-shaped ball to begin with.
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Kolar had always preferred soccer. And if it wasn't for a few high school mates persuading him to have a kick at lunch, the idea of making the switch to footy would have never crossed his mind.
But so quickly did he take to a football, Kolar has gone from those playful schoolyard kickarounds with his friends to the radar of AFL clubs seemingly in a flash.
Identified at an early age by former Northern Knights talent manager Rhy Gieschen, Kolar was swiftly moved into the St Mary's Colts side just a few years after first taking up the game.
Just as rapidly, he was drafted into the Northern Knights' squad midway through his bottom-age season. There, he was handed three consecutive NAB League games to finish their 2019 campaign.
The call-up was a surprise for Kolar. After all, it wasn't long ago when the youngster was splitting his time relatively evenly between St Mary's and Diamond Valley United, a junior soccer club based in Greensborough.
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"For my first year of footy, I still prioritised soccer," Kolar told AFL.com.au.
"I'd go to all of my soccer games and if I had time, I'd also play footy. The year after it was the other way around and I'd prioritise footy. After that, I decided I enjoyed the atmosphere and the competitiveness of footy a bit more.
"I think it suited my attributes a bit more than soccer. I was a centre-back and I was always a bit of a sweeper. That helped me with footy, because when you're playing centre-back you can really see the whole game.
"It's just easier to learn the game from the back. That learning curve in soccer has definitely helped my footy."
Given his speedy rise into the Knights' squad, Kolar's handful of NAB League appearances last year left AFL recruiters wanting to see more of the versatile 195cm youngster in his top-age season.
But if he was still an unknown quantity of sorts to some, his performance in a Knights practice match earlier this year – highlighted by a running goal from beyond 50m after collecting the ball inside the centre circle – made many others take notice.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Footy across Victoria was cancelled, and with it went any chance of clubs securing more tape on one of the NAB AFL Draft's most intriguing young prospects.
"To be fair, at the start it was quite disappointing and quite frustrating," Kolar said.
"But for myself, I kind of like to be more positive and keep a positive mindset with it. I was hoping and wishing that football would come back, so I kept working towards that goal.
"It obviously never ended up coming back, but the invitation to the Combine flicked another switch for me to get to the next level and improve myself a little bit more."
Interest in Kolar has remained strong throughout the shutdown period. It's understood a number of clubs will consider calling his name as early as the second-round of next month's draft, with his NAB AFL Draft Combine results doing his chances of getting recruited no harm.
A junior national athletics carnival winner in 800m and 1500m events, as well as being a talented cross-country runner, Kolar finished top-three in both the 2km time trial (6.02 mins) and 20m sprint (2.870 secs) in last month's Vic Metro Combine testing.
An ability to play anywhere across the field will also raise his draft stocks. Perhaps best suited to a wing, where he can maximise his endurance base, the Knights had also planned to use Kolar's size in a 'Jack Gunston-type role' in the forward line this season.
Of course, the pandemic put those plans on hold. But they haven't put on hold Kolar's ambition to get his name on an AFL list this December.
"I think I've come quite a long way since being introduced to footy," Kolar said.
"It's pretty surreal that there might be the opportunity to get drafted, but I still feel like I don't really want to get my hopes up. There is only a very limited amount of evidence of myself out there.
"But I feel like through the little amounts of football that I've played, and through the Combine, I've shown what I'm capable of. I've got those attributes and they know what they'll be getting from me, the hard work and the dedication and the commitment."