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Hard yards pay off for Hayes

Hayes and Young receive their guernseys Will Hayes and Lachie Young both received their guernsey's, presented by their parents, ahead of their debuts this weekend.

Will Hayes needed a few minutes to let the news sink in.

In November, his dream of playing AFL football moved one step closer, when he was drafted by the Western Bulldogs.

On Thursday, that dream finally became reality, after years of toiling away at VFL level.

An AFL debut.

Hayes had no idea it was coming. 

Senior coach Luke Beveridge told the 23-year-old – and teammate Lachie Young – after training in front of their teammates, that they would run out in red, white and blue at AFL level for the first time against Carlton on Sunday afternoon.

It was a moment he described as ‘very overwhelming’. 

“The first thing I did was hop in the hot tub after training,” Hayes told

“I just wanted to relax and take it all in. After getting congratulated by everyone, I sort of just needed some time to let it sink in. Then I called Mum and Dad, and text my girlfriend.

At first it was definitely shock, I couldn’t believe it had happened, I couldn’t believe I’d finally been picked. 

“The way the boys got me around me, and the camaraderie that everyone showed and their happiness, was just awesome.”

Hayes’ story is one of dedication and persistence. 

The 23-year-old’s AFL opportunity comes after years of developing his game at VFL level, which culminated in VFL Team of the Year selection and winning Footscray’s VFL best and fairest last season.

He credits former Footscray coaches Chris Maple, Steve Grace and Ash Hansen, and development coach Jordan Russell – all still key figures at VU Whitten Oval – as important people along his journey. 

“I’ve had an amazing group of people around me the whole way, and I have no doubt that’s why I’ve got here,” Hayes said. 

“Five years in the VFL, you’ve got to have that belief you will get there.

“I definitely had days where I thought I would and days where I thought I wouldn’t, but the flame never diminished. It got bigger and smaller, but it was always there.”

And while the crowd will be bigger than any footy game he’s played before, Hayes won’t be treating it any differently. 

He’s determined to enjoy it, and to contribute to the Bulldogs’ cause in any way he can. 

“I’ll try just to stick to the process I know very well, that I’ve been able to built over that foundation of 88 VFL games that I’ve played,” Hayes said. 

“I’ll stick to what I know got me picked, and the football I’m going to play. I’ll take it all in when it happens, but I’ll be focusing on the football more than anything else.”