IN FOOTY, timing can be everything.

But for Murray Bushrangers forward Cam McLeod, timing has also proved an obstacle.

With just under three weeks to go until this year's NAB AFL Draft, McLeod – once considered a strong chance to have his name called as one of the country's best over-age prospects – now remains in the dark as to whether he will find an AFL home.

Timing, as it turns out, hasn't been on his side.

The 192cm lead-up forward started the season on fire. He kicked eight goals from his first four Murray Bushrangers games and enjoyed standout displays against the Bendigo Pioneers and the Oakleigh Chargers to shoot onto the radar of AFL scouts.

Cameron McLeod kicks for goal during the NAB League match between the Murray Bushrangers and the Tasmania Devils at Highgate Recreation Reserve on July 10, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Having turned 19 in May, he was eligible to be selected in the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft and had interviews with 10 clubs in the days leading up to the big night. He missed his chance, narrowly, but the feedback was consistent.

"The clubs who were interested in me just wanted to see a bit more of me …  the back-half of the year would've been perfect for that," McLeod told AFL.com.au.

Hailing from the small country town of Albury, right on the border of Victoria, McLeod is technically based in New South Wales. In the days after the mid-season draft, he was out of lockdown and ready to show AFL clubs exactly what they had asked for.

However, at the time, Victoria had just been plunged back into lockdown. All NAB League fixtures had subsequently been put on hold and the frustration from a stop-start couple of years re-emerged.

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Fast-forward a matter of weeks and Victoria returned to normal life. Games were back on and recruiters were back on the road. The only problem? Now, this time, New South Wales was in lockdown and McLeod was unable to cross the border to play.

Cameron McLeod during a NAB League clash between the Murray Bushrangers and the Tasmania Devils at Highgate Recreation Reserve on July 10, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"It's been a constant battle of being on the wrong side of the border at the wrong time, that's what it's been like this year," McLeod said.

"It's been tough. You can't really do much about it. There have been times throughout the year where New South Wales was fine but due to COVID in Victoria we couldn't play in a Victorian competition.

"There were other times, too, when Sydney and everything went crazy with COVID and we couldn't travel across the border. We had to train by ourselves and do all of that, hoping that the rules would change."

McLeod would play just four more times for the year, with continuity hard to come by.

Cameron McLeod celebrates a goal with Jhett Cooper during the NAB League match between the Geelong Falcons and the Murray Bushrangers on April 11, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

COVID lockdowns and gaps in the NAB League season meant he didn't play for 28 days on either side of the mid-season draft. He played his next two games in a matter of six days, before another 22-day break before his final outing for the season.

It hampered his rhythm and consistency. Although a performance that included three goals from 15 disposals against the Northern Knights back in July was a timely reminder of his potential, he remains concerned it won't be enough.

"It's obviously been really frustrating," McLeod said.

"Even last year, when I was turning 18 and in my draft year, I had it completely washed out with COVID. I thought I'd finally get my chance to have a good crack at it this year, but COVID has just kept popping up.

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"It's been hard to keep a positive mindset about it. You hope that you might get a run at it and you might get at least a month where you can have a few good games in a row, but we just didn't get that." 

COVID lockdowns, border restrictions and a cancelled NAB League campaign in 2020 meant that McLeod played just one game – a trial match for Greater Western Sydney's Academy side – in what was supposed to be his draft year.

This year, his 'over-age' season as a 19-year-old, has hardly been any better. If anything, it has meant that McLeod has been presented with more complicated COVID hurdles to overcome.

"There was a time with COVID rules where only junior sport was allowed to be played. But, technically, it was only for those 18 and under and everyone over that couldn't play. Because I'd just turned 19, I missed out on some local games," he said.

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With all fixtured Allies matches cancelled due to sporadic lockdowns around the country, McLeod even applied unsuccessfully to travel to Melbourne and play for Vic Country in its two trial games against Vic Metro.

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It's been unlucky setback after unlucky setback. But there is an upside to McLeod's story, as indeed there is to his potential at half-forward should he ultimately earn his place on an AFL list during either the national or the rookie draft later this month.

He has been mentored this season by ex-GWS, Richmond and Gold Coast midfielder Anthony Miles, who is the senior coach at his local side the Albury Tigers, while 249-game Western Bulldogs and Melbourne great Daniel Cross is also involved at the club.

They've kept his spirits high, while helping to bring out the best in him as a footballer through his athleticism and creativeness in attack. While the road has been long, the dream of playing for an AFL club remains alive.

"It would just be awesome," McLeod said.

"It would be a dream come true. I've always had it in the back of my mind that I could one day play AFL. It wasn't until this year that this dream started to come to a realisation, that it might happen.

"I can't really put it into words, what it would mean to get an opportunity. It would be amazing."