FROM just hoping to get a game to being a near-certain pick in the top five of the NAB AFL Draft, it's been a meteoric rise for Mac Andrew in 2021.
The athletic, 200cm ruck-forward is tipped to head to Gold Coast with the Suns' first pick in Wednesday night's first round of the draft after starting the year as a potential Melbourne player through the club's Next Generation Academy.
However, a rule change ahead of the start of the season meant that clubs could no longer match bids for NGA players that came in the top 20 of the draft.
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Andrew's form throughout the season has put him firmly at the pointy end of this year's draft but he told AFL.com.au's Draft Countdown on Wednesday that his goals at the start of the year were far more modest.
"I was just hoping to make the (Dandenong) Stingrays squad and then hopefully play round one and just keep my spot through the whole year, and then hopefully get a trial for Country and try to play in the Championships, and then just try to do well enough for Melbourne to look at me and hopefully go there," Andrew said.
"Pretty early on my goals kind of changed after getting added to the (NAB AFL) Academy, I just kind of had a different view on how I could go for the rest of the year."
His manager, Julian Petracca from Hemisphere Management Group, said it became clear early in the 2021 campaign that Andrew was going to blossom into something special.
"I recall in April when I rang (Melbourne recruiting boss) Jase Taylor and said 'there's this kid in the NGA, what do you think?' And he said, 'Oh, I'd be going to sign him ASAP'," Petracca recalled.
"From there, to Mac's credit, through hard work and the programs he's in at the Stingrays, Country, obviously making the Academy, he's just continued his development to the point where Jase and the recruiting team at Melbourne were trying to hide him but it was out, and the rest is history. He's had a fantastic year."
Andrew said he felt most comfortable in the ruck but, like most young talls, he recognised the need to be able to play other positions as his body filled out to meet the demands of playing in the middle.
"I played backline a bit through school footy and a bit through the juniors as well. I feel like I fit in pretty well down there, I feel like I read the play pretty well down back," he said.
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While Andrew is almost certain to be selected before the Demons get a chance to match a bid for him, he said he was thankful for the club's support through the Next Generation Academy over the past five years.
"We've been doing monthly sessions out at AAMI Park and Casey Fields and through the summer they used to let me into the club out at Casey to do training and gym work there," he said.
"This year, I didn't really get to do as much as I would have liked to at the club. I still got to go in for the one session with their seniors, which was pretty good. Just giving me a little insight into what they do at an AFL club and just how chilled and relaxed they were, which was pretty good.
"But 100 per cent, I wouldn't be the player I am today without their help. They supported me through the whole journey and really haven't held me back."