Phoenix Gothard has described the 'daunting' moment he walked into his first interview with an AFL club at the national combine.
The Albury High School student spent last weekend in Melbourne testing and talking to clubs who may pick him up in next month's draft following his breakout season with the Murray Bushrangers.
Gothard, 18, only recently decided to prioritise football over cricket following a promising junior career which saw him captain the Riverina in the Bradman Cup.
But his big decision has been vindicated with the Albury Tigers youngster now hoping to hear his name called out on draft night.
Gothard explained how the combine tested him mentally as well as physically.
"Initially, it's quite confronting," he said.
"In the first interview I had at the Combine, I walked into the room and there were about 12 people in there including head coaches.
"It's quite daunting, early on, but once you have a few, you get the hang of it and you realise they're just normal people doing their jobs.
"Walking into meetings and seeing the likes of Damien Hardwick, Robbie Gray and Jarryd Roughead, it's quite confronting at first because you've grown up watching them and suddenly you're talking to them like a normal bloke.
"Those experiences are awesome and something I'll cherish forever."
Gothard's call-up to play for the Allies at the AFL National Championships was his highlight of an action-packed year but he also reflected honestly on some moments which hadn't gone so well.
"I finished off the back end of the year quite poorly," Gothard admitted.
"My mid-year was half-decent but once I got to the end of the year I felt like, at times, I was focusing on not playing bad rather than enjoying it.
"I ended up playing quite poorly so I wasn't too happy but from the position I was in this time last year to now, I'm stoked.
"You can learn so much from it and the times when things are going tough, you learn more than when things are going well for you.
"Having that experience of not playing those great games can develop your character and you as a player.
"My brother, though the whole year, has been super supportive.
"He focuses a lot on the mental side of life so I turn to him either when times are tough or when I'm feeling happy, just for a quick chat.
"We talk a lot about life and the mental side of it and then he helps me through those tough challenges and holds me accountable when I'm getting out of hand or thinking about external things.
"He's been great for me."
Gothard tied for second place in the standing vertical jump at the combine, reaching 78cm, while the speedy small forward was ranked seventh for the 20m sprint after clocking 2.963 seconds.
"I was relatively happy," Gothard said.
"I hold quite high expectations for myself so I felt I could have done a lot more, but I enjoyed the testing side of things.
"You see the players who are going super well featured in the media throughout the year, so it's pretty cool to share the experience with them and see how they go about it and their professionalism.
"To see all the Allies boys once again was awesome because I haven't seen them since the national carnival finished so to come back and talk to them about what's been happening was really good."
Gothard, who has just started a fortnight of HSC exams, kicked nine goals in 10 matches for the Bushies this year and also played five senior games of Ovens and Murray football for Albury.
But with the season done and club interviews concluded, it's now a waiting game to find out if he'll get his opportunity as an AFL player in 2024.
"You can't control what you can't control," Gothard reflected.
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"I'm sure the period after exams will be quite scary and I'll be super nervous but I'm just happy to go through the process.
"From the position I was in last year, to now, it's something I could never have imagined.
"I always had the belief in myself that I could go places if I put my mind to it but if you'd told me I would come this far in such a short space of time, I would have laughed at you."
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