When Paddy Parnell arrived at the Murray Bushrangers in 2019 at 170 centimetres and 50 kilograms, many thought he was a long shot to be AFL material.
Fast forward two years and the talented defender is on Adelaide's list after taking the NAB League by storm for the Murray Bushrangers.
He's been able to share the experience with close friend and teammate Daniel Turner, who went to Melbourne with the final selection in the AFL mid-season rookie draft on Wednesday night.
Parnell couldn't have believed in his wildest dreams he'd be in this position, but he's ready for his biggest challenge yet.
"At the start of the year I was just looking forward to playing for the year at Murray (Bushrangers) and playing some local footy with Albury," he said.
"I guess I found some form at the right time and now I'm at an AFL club.
"I'm not placing too much expectation on myself. I just want to play with a bit of freedom and hopefully play some good footy this year."
Parnell was school captain at Xavier High last year and was also a promising cricketer with St Patrick's, but chose to focus on football around two years ago.
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"I was actually going to play cricket next season because I wasn't going to be with Murray, so I would have had a bit more time and less travel, but I won't be doing that now I suppose," he laughed.
Parnell and Turner have known each other since they were six and played junior football together at St Patrick's before lining up at Albury and the Murray Bushrangers.
The pair both made the under-12 NSW state team and won Albury Wodonga Junior Football League premierships in 2018 (under-16s) and 2014 (under-12s), alongside Cam McLeod, who was also in draft contention this week.
Turner admitted he thought his chance had gone when clubs before Melbourne in the draft order began to pass, but he was ultimately taken with the final selection.
"It was a bit of a shock. The previous picks were passed and I thought it might have been the end of it, so I was really nervous at the end," he said.
"Once my name came out I was speechless, I didn't know what to do."
Brenden Maclean coached the pair at St Patrick's and knew they had something special from a young age.
"If you said something to them, they'd listen and do it. At no stage did their egos get ahold of them and they'd stop," he said.
"Paddy came out and won a league medal in under-12s and they had to restrict him to two bounces because if he could have had more he would have ran the whole field numerous times.
"I remember when Paddy was 13 in the under-14s, I had get him out of the middle because he wasn't as big as the other guys and I thought he was going to get punished because he goes that hard.
"I had to put him out on the wing for a while, but when I wanted to win a game, I'd put him back in.
"Dan was more of a forward and a midfielder for us. They always tried to match up on him, but they never could.
"Dan really shot up with his height, and with his footy smarts, it pushed him from not being an on-baller to a centre half-back because he reads the so play so well.
"I was always a little bit disappointed Dan never made those teams because when you look at his times, he's not really standing out, but he could win the ball.
"If you put him on the footy field, he would shine."
Incredibly, Turner was overlooked by the Murray Bushrangers as a 17-year-old in 2019, but didn't let it define him and came back to the club ready to fire in 2020.
Unfortunately the 2020 NAB League season was wiped out by COVID, but Turner went to another gear to start this year with impressive performances for the Bushies, Albury and in the Young Guns Game.
"I was looking forward to just playing Murray all year and aiming for the draft at the end of the year, but it came at an earlier stage and I couldn't be happier," he said.
"I just put my head down and tried to get back in there. I wanted to at least make the Bushies and see what happened.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet. Things can just change in the blink of an eye, it's crazy."
Murray Bushrangers coach Mark Brown was thrilled for the pair who have continued to work hard under challenging circumstances in recent times.
"We're absolutely rapt when any of the boys get taken, in particular these two," Brown said.
"Dan trialled as a 17-year-old and trialled quite well, but there were some question marks around his ability to cover the ground and play with the required speed to play at NAB League level, so he missed out.
"To his credit, he went home and worked really hard and got himself super fit and super lean and came back and set the NAB League alight.
"It's a huge effort as an 18-year-old and then a 19-year-old as his 18-year-old year was wiped. For him to be able to do what he did as a 19-year-old without having seen any real NAB League footy as a bottom-ager was huge."
Brown said Parnell was quick to make an impact when he arrived.
"We've always maintained if you're good enough, you're big enough," Brown said.
"As soon as he walked through the door his fundamentals just slapped you in the face. He's such a rounded footballer.
"It's great to see Paddy get an opportunity and it's great for all those kids who aren't 195 centimetres and 90 kilograms.
"He's proof that if your football fundamentals are really sound, there will be a place in our game for you."
Parnell arrived in Adelaide on Thursday and will play in the Crows' SANFL side on the weekend if he meets all the COVID requirements.
"I want to play football for a living, so moving interstate is part of it and I'm looking forward to it," he said.
"I'm not placing too much expectation on myself. I just want to play with a bit of freedom and hopefully play some good footy this year.
"It's still a bit surreal."
Turner is set to relocate to Melbourne on Friday and will train with the club for the first time on Saturday.
"I've had a lot of contact with them. All the coaching staff have got onto me about moving down there and most of the players have welcomed me to the club," he said.
"It has a good feeling to it and they've got a really good culture down there.
"I'm keen to get down there and get stuck into it."
Former Murray Bushranger Sam Durham was drafted to Essendon, Howlong and North Wangaratta recruit Ashley Johnson went to Collingwood, while Connor West, son of Wodonga premiership player Robbie West, was taken by West Coast, the same club his father played for in the 1990s.
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