Years of hard work were rewarded for Keilor’s Jayden Laverde at the weekend.
The 19-year-old made his AFL debut for Essendon against Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.
Laverde took to the field in front of a crowd of more than 38,000, clearly the biggest of his career.
He wasted no time making himself at home, securing six possessions and four tackles in his side’s nine-point win.
Speaking before the match, Laverde described the news he would make his debut as a dream come true.
“I’m as happy as I can be,” he said. “We were in the group meeting and Hirdy [Essendon senior coach James Hird] said I would be playing my first game.
“I was pretty shocked at the start – I was rapt, though. I guess it’s what I really play footy for.”
Laverde was selected in last year’s national draft by the Bombers at pick number 20.
For the first half of the season he has plied his trade in the VFL where he quickly established himself as a young star on the rise.
He kicked two goals and had 18 disposals in his second VFL game. Subsequently, he was twice named among the Bombers’ best players and he booted five goals for the season.
While many Essendon fans were screaming for him to be selected earlier in the year, Laverde had no issues with his extended stay in the VFL.
He said the fact the Bombers had a stand-alone VFL side had helped his development.
“It’s about earning your games rather than being given a game,” he said.
“That’s something big at this club. So I guess I’ve had a few good weeks and hopefully I can take that into this week’s game. We get the opportunity each week to go out with some quality players. When players come back down to VFL level we get a lot of knowledge from them about how they play.”
Having made his debut, Laverde has no plans to slow down in his development and is looking to lay the foundations for a successful AFL career.
He’s already eyeing a more permanent role in the midfield in coming seasons. “Eventually, I want to be able to move into the midfield and then go up forward and make a bit of a difference,” he said. “That’s what I want to work towards in the coming years.”
Should he maintain his spot in the senior side, Laverde will get a taste of Friday night football this week when the Bombers take on North Melbourne.
Laverde was part of a star-studded Western Jets 2014 squad, many of whom are making a name for themselves at AFL level.
Liam Duggan, Corey Ellis, Connor Menadue, Dillon Viojo-Rainbow and Brenton Payne were all selected inthe draft – the best haul in the Jets’ history.