By JARROD POTTER
EVERY AFL player takes a different path to their debut – as two Dandenong Stingrays alumni, Darren Minchington and Taylor Garner, discovered last week.
Darren Minchington, 19, from Dromana, had a tougher route – selected by St Kilda as their 65th pick in the 2012 AFL rookie draft.
Battling a hip injury that kept him sidelined for most of last season, Minchington put in the hard hours in rehabilitation and finally got his chance to start his AFL career on Friday August 9.
“I’ve had a few injuries for the last 16 months, so it was a lot of hard work in rehab and it’s all started to pay off,” Minchington said.
“When it happened, I tried to knuckle down and work as hard as I could and it’s all that hard work that’s paid off.”
Running down the race at Etihad Stadium last Friday, to face Hawthorn nonetheless, was daunting for the former Stingray, but walking out with a spate of Saints champions buoyed Minchington’s spirits.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking, but it was good that I finally got it,” Minchington said.
“I had butterflies when I was walking out but I was just trying to contain my nerves, get through the banner – and the senior boys were telling me to soak it up.
“Just running out with the likes of Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna, Nick Dal Santo – heading out there with those people was a massive thrill.”
With eight disposals and a goal on debut under his belt, Minchington hopes to hold his spot for the remainder of the year and push towards a permanent place in 2014.
“Hopefully play the remainder of the season – three more games – which would be very, very nice – other than that just cement my spot, get some respect from my team-mates and gain some confidence for next year,” Minchington said.
Minchington wanted to thank his parents – Kaye and Allan – for their support and especially for “driving me for all those places for all those years”.
The path for Endeavour Hills utility Garner, 19, from Endeavour Hills, was a little more direct as he became the 977th man to don the blue and white vertical stripes for the North Melbourne Kangaroos.
Pick 15 in last year’s national draft, the young utility had to eke out 11 matches in the VFL for the North Ballarat Rebels before getting his chance to debut.
Starting as the substitute, he was activated in the fourth quarter, picking up a handball in the Kangaroos’ nine-point loss to the Crows.
Kangaroos’ development coach Josh Drummond said Garner’s intensity at the football would serve him well for years to come as a Shinboner.
“His consistent form at VFL level warranted his selection on the weekend and we feel he is someone who can have a real impact in the short term and long term for North.”