Kye Turner at Melbourne training in 2023. Picture: Melbourne FC

KYE TURNER was on a train heading into work at the Duke of Wellington, only a few stops from Flinders Street Station, when his phone started ringing last November. It was a random number, so he let it go through to the keeper. Lucky the caller left a message because that voicemail has changed the direction of his life.

The call was from Melbourne's national recruiting manager, Jason Taylor, who was wanting to meet the mobile defender for a coffee ahead of the NAB AFL and Rookie Drafts. 

Turner had never spoken to a recruiter before. He had spent 2022 playing for Old Haileybury in the B-Grade VAFA competition, where he helped the Bloods win the infamous Grand Final in the mud. And while he'd played well enough to be picked twice for Frankston late in the VFL season, Turner hadn't contemplated life at the next level.

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After getting off the train in the heart of the city, Turner walked nervously towards the iconic Melbourne pub where he poured beers, waiting for the courage to dial Taylor's number. 

That call wouldn't lead to a conventional route to the AFL, but it did pave the way to the Demons. Taylor organised a time to come and meet Turner and his parents at home, along with Melbourne list manager Tim Lamb and recruiters Kelly O'Donnell and Todd Patterson. 

Kye Turner after it was announced he had landed a spot on Melbourne's list on February 15. 2023. Picture: Melbourne FC

The Demons contemplated selecting him in the Rookie Draft but decided it would be best to trial Turner during the pre-season supplemental period, before making a decision. Melbourne had one spot up for grabs and also looked at former Port Adelaide rookie Trent Burgoyne, before that spot became Turner's last Wednesday. 

"That voicemail was the first contact I'd ever had from any AFL club. I was pretty surprised to be honest because I didn't know I had any interest. The whole rest of the train ride I was absolutely shitting myself. What was I going to say? What’s he going to say? I was genuinely shitting my pants on the train," Turner told

"On the walk over to work I responded to the call and Jason expressed his interest in catching up for a coffee and meeting me. I was pretty blown away. It was pretty surprising, given I wasn't from the normal pathway. It was completely unexpected. I'd heard a few things that maybe someone was coming to watch, but the next step to catch up and want to get to know me completely blew me away."

Kye Turner in action during Melbourne's intra-club match on February 20, 2023. Picture: Melbourne FC

Turner emerged on Melbourne's radar late last season in an unlikely place. Recruiters usually spend their weekends at NAB League or school games, spread thin across the country searching for talent. They don't usually head to local leagues to watch a prospect who has slipped through the cracks, especially one in division two. 

This time last year, Turner was a ruckman who rested forward, one who wasn't sure where he was going to play in 2022. The Haileybury College product won the under-19 best and fairest for Beaumaris in 2021 after heading back to his local club following one appearance for the Sandringham Dragons during a COVID-impacted and injury-hit season. 

Former Melbourne defender Daniel Ward was coaching Old Haileybury and eventually persuaded Turner to join some of his old school mates. He had a new role in mind, and from the moment Turner went down back in a practice match, he has never looked back. 

By the business end of the VAFA season, Taylor received a tip from an old friend and was told to research this relatively unknown gun defender who used to play soccer and was now holding down the fort for Old Haileybury – a team where Taylor was an assistant coach many moons ago – in just his first season of senior football. 

Kye Turner (No.12) in action for Old Haileybury. Picture:

Taylor did his due diligence then watched him play against Fitzroy in the first final at Coburg and was more than impressed by his speed, intent and athleticism. That led to another Melbourne recruiter watching him the following week against Beaumaris. They both then watched him play in the Grand Final win over University Blues on an Elsternwick Park surface that was so shambolic the A-grade decider was relocated at short notice. The reports all married up. They had found a diamond in the rough.

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"Two years ago at Dragons as a top-ager, I was playing forward and not really getting a game. I was just playing Beaumaris under 19s in the ruck and would rest forward a bit. [Former Sandringham Dragons coach, now Gold Coast VFL coach] Jackson Kornberg in a random session asked if I wanted to go down back. I started training there and then two weeks later played my first game at the Dragons down back. Covid hit and cancelled the year. That was the year done - I only played the one game," Turner said of his rise. 

"I made the switch to Old Haileybury last year, started playing senior footy down back and was going pretty well down there. They were a very good team; we ended up winning the Grand Final in B-grade. Then I got the call from Frankston to join their list halfway through the year. Danny Ryan called me. I was in the Frankston academy from the start of the year, training once a month. I got the call up after playing some good local footy, made my way into the team and did pretty well there."

While no other AFL clubs reached out and Melbourne chose to use its final pick in the Rookie Draft on another bolter – Ollie Sestan from Mansfield – Turner started training with the Demons on day one of the pre-season last December. 

The 194cm backman was up against it from the start. Melbourne had also invited former Port Adelaide rookie Trent Burgoyne to trial for a lifeline and the Demons didn't really need another key defender, given they have Steven May, Jake Lever, Harry Petty, Adam Tomlinson and Daniel Turner on the list. 

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But after impressing over the course of the summer at Casey Fields and Gosch's Paddock, showing the diligence to recover from a hamstring setback, Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin announced the decision in front of the playing group hours before the pre-season supplemental selection period deadline. 

"I found out Wednesday morning in the huddle with 'Goody' and all the boys. It was an incredibly exciting moment for me; I felt pretty overwhelmed; it was very exciting," he said. 

"It was a tough week because at any stage they could have given me the flick and I would have had to go off looking for a job. I had a few inklings as time went on that maybe it could go my way, but I didn't want to get too up or too down about things. I wanted to stay cool, calm and collected and remain positive. I gave it everything, so I had no regrets. It worked out well in the end."

Turner told the Duke of Wellington that he wasn't going to be available for any shifts during December and January, maybe even February. They kept him on the roster and kept in touch. But they now know the kid that combined a business course at Monash University with local footy at Old Haileybury isn't coming back to pour beers.