THE 2019 Mid-Season Draft was a "sliding doors moment" for Will Snelling, who had thrown his hat into the ring with a why-not attitude but spent draft-night training with no expectations.
Recently delisted by Port Adelaide after one game in three seasons and enjoying a new life of full-time university and part-time SANFL football, he had heard from one AFL club in the lead-up and told his coach at West Adelaide he didn't expect to be going anywhere.
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Teammates had gathered on the boundary that night in May to watch the draft on a phone in anticipation of fellow West Adelaide midfielder John Noble finding an AFL home.
But seven picks before Noble's name was called by Collingwood at No.14, Essendon selected Snelling and gave the level-headed 23-year-old a second AFL chance he has grabbed with both hands.
"It was a bit of a sliding doors moment," Snelling told AFL.com.au ahead of this year's Mid-Season Draft next Wednesday.
"It was the first Mid-Season Draft in however many years, and I'd just come out of the system.
"It all lined up really well and I managed to hit some form, so a lot of things were going right.
"The following year there was no Mid-Season Draft at all, given what happened with 2020 and the pandemic, so the stars all aligned that year."
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Essendon list boss Adrian Dodoro had put in a brief phone call in the lead-up to tell Snelling he was going well, but that was the only correspondence he received.
Suddenly the Bombers were on the phone again asking how quickly he could get on a plane to Melbourne. They wanted him to play in the VFL that weekend.
The health and medical science student scrambled to tell his lecturers he was relocating to Melbourne, and then broke the news to his boss at a café where he worked as a part-time barista.
"When are you back or your next shift?" he asked Snelling, having the foresight to grasp that a mid-season opportunity can be short-lived.
"I said, 'Mate it might be a bit of a long-term thing. I might need to get one of my mates to cover for me'.
"But he was supportive. We had a chat and I said I might not be in for my next three or four."
Snelling is still making coffee, but it's as the in-house barista at Essendon, where he has played 31 of a possible 34 games since making his debut in round 18, 2019.
So how did the former Power midfielder, who felt "dead in the water" in his last season at the Power, make the most of a unique opportunity, knowing it could have all been over in a matter of months?
Diving head-first into the experience was the key.
"The coaches said to me, 'you got picked up for a reason, you're only here for a few months, so just play with freedom'. Ever since I've just taken that perspective," Snelling said.
"I play with less fear of the consequences and just taking the opportunity. It's working for me so far.
"At least if it didn't work out I wouldn't have left any stone unturned, rather than going half pace and not committing to either.
"I knew if it worked out that would be great, but if it didn’t then three months later I'd be back in Adelaide doing uni again."
The challenge for mature players picked up in the Mid-Season Draft is they will almost always have roots down, working or studying and building a life in which football is only part of the puzzle.
Many player managers have a strong view that 18-month contracts should be offered to players taken in the Mid-Season Draft.
A compromise would be the option of six-month contracts if a player was drafted by a club in their home state, and 18-months if they needed to relocate.
There are players from the 2019 intake who left the AFL disgruntled after uprooting their lives only to be delisted six months later.
Former Fremantle midfielder Josh Deluca was taken by Carlton with the first pick in 2019 Draft and played 10 games but was not offered an extension.
Cody Hirst, who has nominated for this year's Mid-Season Draft, arrived at Sydney with pick No.16 and was likewise cut at the end of the 2019 season.
Players can this year nominate 18-month contract terms as a condition of being selected in the Mid-Season Draft.
In Deluca's case, a standard 18-month contract might have been enough time for him to cement his place at Carlton, but he has since landed on his feet with VFL club Box Hill and set himself up in Victoria.
Snelling finished the 2019 season as part of the Essendon team that travelled to Optus Stadium for an elimination final against West Coast, falling 55 points short.
There were no guarantees for him at that point, but after completing medical assessments and exit meetings he was quickly extended and drove home to South Australia with clarity for 2020.
He finished ninth in the Bombers' best and fairest last season and is quietly putting together an excellent 2021, racking up a career-best 25 disposals in round 10.
Only Collingwood's Noble (32 games), Western Bulldogs Ryan Gardner (15) and dual Richmond premiership player Marlion Pickett (30) remain, with Snelling keeping tabs on how all have progressed.
His advice to those players selected next Wednesday is to take the same approach he had and "dive right in". As Pickett's experience proved, you never know what could happen.
2019 MID-SEASON DRAFT
1. Josh Deluca (Carlton)
A WAFL star with Subiaco and former Fremantle midfielder, Deluca played 10 games in 2019 and was surprisingly delisted. He remained in Victoria and is playing with VFL club Box Hill.
2. Mitch Riordan (Gold Coast)
The inside midfielder was extended at the Suns for 2020 but didn't make his debut before being delisted at the end of last season.
3. Kyle Dunkley (Melbourne)
After five games in 2019, the younger brother of Bulldog Josh was extended for 2020 but was unable to add to his tally. He was delisted at the end of last season and is now playing with Essendon's VFL team.
4. Michael Knoll (Sydney)
The 205cm ruckman made the transition from US college basketball to the AFL but injuries prevented him playing a senior game. He signed with SANFL club Norwood for 2021.
5. Lachlan Hosie (North Melbourne)
After 21 goals in eight SANFL games, Hosie was plucked by the Kangaroos and played five games in 2020 before he was delisted. He returned to SA to play with Glenelg in 2021.
6. Ryan Gardner (Western Bulldogs)
Established in coach Luke Beveridge's backline last season, Gardner suffered an AC joint injury earlier this season and is on the sidelines. Remains on the Bulldogs' rookie list.
7. Will Snelling (Essendon)
The former Port Adelaide midfielder keeps improving as a high forward at Essendon and is established in the Bombers' best 22. Signed a one-year extension for 2021 and is going from strength to strength.
8. Jack Mayo (St Kilda)
The mobile forward arrived at St Kilda as a development player and was kept on for 2020 after 10 games for Sandringham. Was unable to play a senior game and returned to the WAFL in 2021 to play with Claremont.
9. Cameron Sutcliffe (Port Adelaide)
After 104 games with Fremantle, the defender was picked up by the Power and played five games in 2019 as a tagger. He added four in 2020 before being delisted and is now a leader in Port's SANFL team.
10. Passed – Hawthorn
11. Dillon O'Reilly (Fremantle)
The son of former Docker Stephen O'Reilly earned an extension for 2020 but did not play a senior game. He landed back at East Fremantle in 2021 and has spent time at both ends of the ground.
12. Passed – Adelaide
13. Marlion Pickett (Richmond)
One of the game's most romantic and incredible stories. The WAFL star won a premiership in his first season, becoming the first League player to make his debut in a Grand Final since 1952. Added a second premiership medal in 2020.
14. John Noble (Collingwood)
Another success story, the midfielder has played 32 games since debuting in round 17, 2019, playing in the Magpies' past two finals campaign. Entrenched in the team and averaging 20 disposals this season.
15. Passed – Gold Coast
16. Cody Hirst (Sydney)
A hard luck story, Hirst was at the forefront of recruiters' minds for 2020 when he was impressing in the NAB League but the Swans pounced early. He didn't debut and was cut at the end of 2019. The running machine signed with Carlton's VFL team and has nominated for the 2021 Mid-Season Draft.
17. Passed – Western Bulldogs
18. Passed – Essendon