EASTER Monday used to look very different for Dylan Moore.
Only a handful of years ago he would race at the Stawell Gift, before packing up the car to make the three-hour drive back to Wantirna with his family. The diehard Hawthorn supporter would listen to the traditional blockbuster on the radio on the way home to end the long weekend.
Before Moore emerged as a footballer late in his teens, he was an athlete first. He won a Victoria steeplechase title as a kid and was a star middle distance runner, winning the 1600m event at Stawell in 2016, taking home $1000 to ease the pain of the Hawks losing to the Cats that day.
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The 22-year-old still has the sash from Stawell at home, but this Easter Monday was even better for the small forward. Moore kicked two goals before Geelong had registered a single disposal, added a third before quarter-time and finished with an equal career-high four goals to go with 19 disposals, nine score involvements and six tackles – four inside 50 – at the MCG.
"I hardly went to an Easter Monday game because I was at Stawell. All I remember from Easter Monday is driving back from Stawell and listening to the radio. It was always a thriller. To actually now be here and play it is surreal," Moore told AFL.com.au from inside Hawthorn's rooms on Monday night.
New Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell knows the rivalry with Geelong as intimately as most having lived and breathed it as a player. Not many expected the Hawks to prevail on Monday – especially after last week's huge loss to St Kilda – and they won plenty of admirers for the manner they fought back late when it looked like the more experienced Cats would put them away, moving to 3-2 in the process.
"He was just proud of us. We didn’t bring the effort last week and the pressure this week was what we wanted to bring; we just wanted to fight to the death and eventually did that and got the win, which was pretty amazing," Moore said.
"Sam is pretty funny post-game: he gives us 24 hours to either be really happy or really sad. This week he said be happy for the next 24 hours and then put that to bed and we'll move on to next week."
Moore has established himself as part of a new wave of small forwards taking the competition by storm right now, alongside the likes of Rising Star contender Josh Rachele, Saint Jack Higgins and flamboyant Western Bulldogs livewire Cody Weightman, who all starred across Easter.
The Caulfield Grammar product has 11 goals on the board in 2022, adding his four majors yesterday to three sets of two to start the season, following up a breakout season in 2021 that ignited his career.
When Moore was ranked as an elite general forward by Champion Data on the eve of the season, entering the same bracket as Toby Greene, Isaac Heeney, Robbie Gray, Luke Breust and Liam Ryan, he didn’t escape the attention of Port Adelaide great Kane Cornes and those inside the four walls of the football club.
"The boys actually gave me a bit of shit because Kane Cornes said 'Who is Dylan Moore? He is not elite'. The boys gave me a bit of shit about that.
"It did motivate me a little bit to prove people wrong. I don’t know if I'm in that elite category – there are still a lot of very good small forwards out there – but I guess it put a chip on my shoulder a little bit to prove some people wrong."
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Moore has been proving people wrong, including those at Hawthorn, for some time now. Before playing 25 of the past 27 games in the brown and gold, Moore was almost read his last rites in the hub ahead of the final game of the 2020 season.
Hawks list manager Mark McKenzie and then senior coach Alastair Clarkson had virtually made up their mind on Moore. His time at Waverley Park was over. But then Moore produced a career-saving performance against Gold Coast, collecting 25 disposals and a goal to earn another chance on the rookie list. That decision is stacking up pretty well right now.
"It was hard because I was a Hawthorn supporter growing up and all I wanted to do was play for Hawthorn. Going to that game I thought potentially my career at Hawthorn could end," he said.
"I just had the mindset going into that game to run as hard as I can. If this was going to be my last game of AFL for Hawthorn then I've got to make it worthwhile. I think Isaac Smith left and that gave me the extra spot. I took a lot out of that game.
"I felt that was the first game I really played that high half-forward role as well. I was probably playing a bit more of a pressure forward which isn’t quite my forte. I'm a bit more of a hard-working type, get up the ground type. I think the coaches thought 'his work rate is good, he can get up the ground higher'. Going into the pre-season it was all about how can I work my arse off and get up and down the ground, and now I'm able to do that."
Moore is now reaping the rewards of taking his game and his confidence to a new level across 2021, where he has become a regular senior player for the first time, kicking 27 goals from 20 appearances to make the most of his lifeline at Waverley Park.
"Last year was really good for me just to get the confidence that I can play consistent AFL footy. It was the first year I was actually consistently playing in the AFL team," he said.
"Going into pre-season it was more about how I can elevate my game now to the next level. I've used Jack Gunston and Luke Breust quite a lot to help me. I felt like I've learnt my game and my role and now it's how can I master that. This year hopefully I can continue to master my game."
Moore is no longer listening to the radio on Easter Monday. They are talking about him and his exploits inside 50. And they might be for some time to come.