Michael Hartley is a prime example of the upside to Essendon’s darkest chapter.
Hartley was taken with pick No.68 in last year’s AFL draft, having briefly contemplated pursuing a NFL punting career after an injury-riddled stint on Collingwood’s rookie list.
Hartley arrived with high hopes of making his senior debut at some point in 2016.
But season-long bans handed out to 12 Essendon players have helped fast-track his development, unearthing a serious talent.
The key defender has played seven games but already minded the likes of Lance Franklin, Tom Hawkins, Jarrad Waite and Jesse Hogan.
Hartley kept Hawkins goal-less for the first time since round 21 of the 2014 season.
Trying to stop Franklin at the SCG was also special for the 22-year-old, who hails from western Sydney.
“I always wanted to play on Tomahawk and Buddy. That was pretty much my dream,” Hartley told AAP.
“To play on Buddy at home in front of my whole family was pretty cool. Having six goals kicked on me wasn’t too much fun but I learned a lot.”
Franklin’s haul should be put in context.
Hartley actually won plenty of plaudits for his job, the Swans won by 81 points and the ball was pinging into the forward line at a relentless rate.
Even Franklin was forthcoming with praise.
“As soon as the siren went I was on my haunches. I was pretty cooked. He jogged off and got around his mates then turned around and ran back to me,” Hartley recalled.
“He just said ‘keep your head up man, you did well’.
“That made me feel pretty good.”
It’s the sort of experience that every young defender dreams of and will hold Hartley in good stead for 2017 and beyond.
It doesn’t get any easier for Hartley on Sunday, when Essendon face a St Kilda side led by iconic forward Nick Riewoldt.
“Potentially I could be on him .. it’ll be exciting whoever it is, I’m just loving every game,” Hartley said.
Hartley speaks with the sort of genuine glee that had been understandably hard to find at the club throughout their recent supplements saga.
Fellow defenders James Gwilt and Mark Baguley have helped Hartley settle at the Bombers, after recurring injuries to both shoulders ruined his AFL dream at Collingwood.
“I worked pretty hard and it’s great to get a chance after my shoulder injuries,” he said.