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By Matt Fotia

The Eastern Football Netball League community extends its congratulations to Forest Hill JFC and Vermont JFC product Connor Downie on being drafted to the Hawthorn Hawks at last night’s AFL Draft.

The Hawks were given the opportunity to match North Melbourne’s bid for Downie due to his involvement in their Next Generation Academy and duly took the explosive left footer at Pick 35.

Next Generation Academy’s (NGA’s) were designed to incentivise clubs to invest in talent from minority or non-traditional football backgrounds and with his Chinese heritage (his mother moved from China when she was 24) Downie fit the criteria.

Downie, noted for his outside run and penetrating kick, voiced his desire to become a poster boy for the game in China when speaking to The Age’s Daniel Cherny last week.

Over the past year I’ve sort of thought about it a lot and if I get the chance to be drafted I want to sort of make it one of my goals to share the game overseas and be an ambassador for footy in China, and hopefully encourage more Chinese people to play AFL.”

Downie’s leadership skills are another one of his many desirable attributes.

He was named captain of the Eastern Ranges side for season 2020 following an impressive bottom age campaign, which saw him average 16.4 disposals and 3.8 inside 50’s per game across his 14 appearances.

He was also one of very few bottom agers picked in an extremely strong Victorian Metro Under 18 side at last year’s National Championships.

Downie’s EFNL journey began when he joined the Forest Hill Under Nine side in 2011 and he enjoyed six seasons and 77 games with the junior Zebras, before moving to Vermont where he finished his junior years.

Connor played for both the EFNL Under 14’s (2016) and Under 15’s (2017) in the AFL Victoria Metro Championships, finishing with seven games across the two years.

He was named in best on all but one occasion.

You would struggle to find someone who isn’t elated for Downie and his family according to Eastern Ranges Talent Operations Lead Zak Kennedy.

“Connor was voted in by his peers as captain because he’s someone who not only leads by example, but he gets around to every player in the club and makes time for everyone,” Kennedy said.

“The guys that he plays with and against respect him a lot and I think you could speak to anyone in our program and they wouldn’t be able to praise him enough.”

Some newcomers to the AFL are often caught off guard by the level of training and commitment required to make it in the professional game, but Kennedy is certain Downie will be prepared for the challenges, given the lengths he went too each and every week during his time at Eastern Ranges.

“He (Downie) is the hardest worker we’ve had at the club since he started in the Patton Squad (Under 16’s),”

“His family don’t own a car, so he would catch the bus, the train or walk to training and without fail he would always be the first one at training and the last to leave,”

‘When we do inductions for our new age groups/players, we’ll point to what Connor did and say – that’s what you need to do to get to the next level.”

Whilst Kennedy does not profess to be an expert on the matter, he believes Downie could fill the void left by premiership wingman Isaac Smith for the Hawks.

“We think he’s someone who could slot straight in, especially with Isaac Smith going because he suits that wing/half back role with his booming kick and ability to break the lines.”

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