It's a Thursday morning at 6am when Will Kelly's alarm clock awakens him from his slumber.
Most teenagers would hit the snooze button, but the Port Macquarie Magpies midfielder is about to face a long day that includes a 12-hour road trip from Port Macquarie to Sydney and back.
There are no complaints because he's done it before and it has to be done.
Kelly has been included in the Sydney Swans summer benchmarking program which gives him the chance to press for inclusion in the Swans under-18 team for 2023.
He played two games for the Swans under-17 academy in 2022 and impressed there too. The benchmarking program he's been invited to is the next step on the path to achieving his dream in the AFL.
Dad Troy picks up the 17-year-old from MacKillop College just before midday before their heads hit the pillow just after midnight, pending a good run with traffic.
"I feel very fortunate to be where I am because this selection will determine who goes into next year's Swans Academy team," Will said.
"When I was 13 and 14 I always thought about it and wondered how far I'd go with the academy, so now I'm very grateful to get this sort of opportunity.
"I've worked hard to get to where I am now."
After the first session on November 24, the talented youngster will make the weekly trip another three times before Christmas.
He knows he won't have the same training and development opportunities as the other 30 players who have been included in the program.
Commitment to the cause is the underlying factor.
"I'm never struggling for motivation and dreaming big. I'll do my best and see how we go," he said.
While other players have the added incentives of club teammates to train with, Will has had to do the hard yards by himself.
He's included three runs every week as well as up to four weights sessions into his training program since the AFL North Coast season finished in September.
It's part of the reason why he was happy with his six-and-a-half-minute two-kilometre time trial result at the first benchmark session.
"I haven't stopped since the season finished and that's definitely helped me get to the fitness level I am now and my skills are up to standard as well," he said.
"If I stay motivated and keep improving it will all fall into place I think."
The Benchmark program runs until the end of the year before the Swans Academy selects male and female teams at both the under-16 and under-18 age groups to compete in the prestigious NAB League competitions.
The NAB League has traditionally been the pinnacle underage competition that AFL and AFLW recruiters tap into to identify potential draft selections.
Swans Academy Coaching Director Leon Cameron has been impressed by the North Coast contingent which includes Coffs Harbour's Beau Guthrie and Bellingen's Amaia Wain.
"The regional players make a huge weekly effort to come to Sydney on a weeknight for a period of at least four consecutive weeks," Cameron said.
"We know they have the commitment to succeed, and they wouldn't be here if they didn't have the talent, so I'm looking forward to watching them progress throughout this program."
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