(L to R) Sydney Swans AFL players Kurt Tippett, Sam Reid and Jake Lloyd take part in a training session in Sydney on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. The Swans will play against the North Melbourne Kangaroos in the preliminary final in Sydney on Friday night.
(L to R) Sydney Swans AFL players Kurt Tippett, Sam Reid and Jake Lloyd take part in a training session in Sydney on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. The Swans will play against the North Melbourne Kangaroos in the preliminary final in Sydney on Friday night. AAP Image - Paul Miller)

Lloyd at his peak for a shot at a premiership

Ryan P/getty imagesierse

THEY say winning a premiership is like reaching the top of a mountain.

Sydney's Jake Lloyd, then, may know the feeling of such accomplishment should his Swans topple Hawthorn in tomorrow's grand final.

For years, the kid from Horsham in western Victoria would run up and down Mount Arapiles in the Wimmera - a 10km roundtrip - twice a week as part of a training regimen that would make the pre-season at an AFL club seem like a Sunday stroll.

From the age of 13, Lloyd was put through his paces by his dad Tony, a former Essendon reserves player, and family friend Jimmy Wright, an ex-NRL club conditioner, who would often get him up before dawn to start their rigorous fitness sessions either on the mountain or 'The Shed'.

It was like Boot Camp, without ever getting to go home, and was all part of conditioning young Lloyd's mind and body for the rigours of professional sport.

Only for a while there, professional sport wasn't holding up its part of the bargain.

Lloyd was overlooked in both the 2011 and 2012 national drafts, before the Swans finally took a punt on the skinny midfielder with the incredible work ethic by rookie-listing him before the 2013 season.

"It did hurt," he told APN this week of his consecutive draft snubs. "But it put a bit more fire in my belly to work even harder and have a crack at actually playing AFL football.

"To be here now is such a reward for not just me, but my family as well. They've given up a lot of time for me over the years."

Lloyd spent last season in the NEAFL with the Swans reserves before his senior debut 2014.

"Since coming to the club I just wanted to play a game of senior football, and try and show that I belong here at the highest level," he said.

"I got that opportunity in round five and ... I guess I've been able to grab it with both hands.

"It's a dream come true really to know I'll be playing in a grand final on the weekend."

Lloyd is one of eight Swans who will run out tomorrow after stepping up from the rookie list, the others being Nick Smith, Heath Grundy, Dane Rampe, Harry Cunningham, Mike Pyke, Kieren Jack, and Craig Bird.

While Sydney regularly hears a chorus of disapproval over its cost of living allowance - and being able to afford Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett's multi-million dollar deals - it must be given credit for its development program which is second to none.

Luke Parker (at pick 40), Nick Malceski (64), and Sam Reid (38) were also lower-draft selections.

"Guys like myself that, I guess, have come in the harder way, cherish the opportunities," Lloyd said.

As well as its off-field guidance headed by senior coach John Longmire, there's the on-field one too that can not be underestimated. In particular Adam Goodes.

"He was originally from Horsham too ... it made the transition for me a lot easier," says Lloyd, who will likely play a defensive midfield role on Hawk wingman Isaac Smith tomorrow.

"They (the senior players) just give us younger guys a lot of confidence, and really want us to get the best out of ourselves."

Unsung Heroes

SWANS

HARRY CUNNINGHAM
Overlooked by GWS after honing his skills at the Giants academy, the Wagga youngster has been revelation after debuting in 2013, keeping North champion Brent Harvey quiet in the prelim final.

JAKE LLOYD (Pictured)
Has suffered just two defeats since coming into the side after the Swans had lost three of their first four games, and is aiming for a sixth-straight premiership - four with Horsham and one with Sydney in the NEAFL.

GARY ROHAN
Once described by Geelong Falcons manager Michael Turner as "the most exciting player I've ever seen" - and he'd seen the likes of Luke Hodge, Travis Boak and Patrick Dangerfield. Has got his run back after breaking his leg in 2012.

DANE RAMPE
Featured in this column last week. Grew up down the road from the SCG, but spent three years in VFL, and two pre-seasons with the Bulldogs, before returning home and getting spotted by Paul Roos.

HAWKS

MATT SPANGHER
Played 36 games over eight seasons before career-high 14 in 2014. Has been at three premiership-winning clubs - West Coast (2006), Sydney (2012) and Hawthorn (2013) - but will play in first grand final.

TAYLOR DURYEA
The kid from Corowa, NSW, spent three years playing in the VFL before finally debuting in 2013 and then taking over from Brent Guerra in the back pocket this year.

WILL LANGFORD
The son of Hawk champion Chris Langford earned his spot the hard way, rookie-listed as a NSW scholarship holder in 2011. A terrier, he was one of the Hawks' best in the prelim with 29 touches, including a game-high 19 contested in his 19th game.

PAUL PUOPOLO
Spent three years in the SANFL as a lockdown small Defender, before getting a crack with Hawthorn as a mature-aged recruit in 2011 and playing forward. Second in tackles (105) and fifth for goals (21) at the club this season.



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