HIS rapid rise through football ranks is a much-admired tale in AFL circles.
Hawk Isaac Smith will vie for a third premiership in four years.
Smith said this week’s AFL grand final was just as exciting and just as important as winning with Redan in the Ballarat Football League in 2009.
And just as exciting and important as winning a Victorian Football League premiership with North Ballarat Roosters a year later.
Only, stepping out with Hawthorn attracted a lot more attention.
“The mental preparation to the game is no different, except we’ll have a grand final parade and few more activities that we didn’t have in Ballarat,” Smith said.
“The game’s on a bigger scale and I’m now professional but it’s just as important to the people around the club, like Redan, who work hard all season to get us there.”
Smith said it seemed like yesterday when he was preparing for a grand final with Redan, but his quick progression to an AFL grand final did not seem surreal because he had focused hard to improve his game with Hawthorn the past two years.
The 23-year-old loved the culture at Hawthorn and felt very much a Hawk now.
Playing in a grand final on the MCG, however, was a boyhood dream he was about to live.
Smith grew up in Cootamundra, deep in New South Wales rugby territory, and always wanted to play AFL.
He joined Redan when he moved to Ballarat for university.
Technically, Saturday will mark Smith’s sixth grand final in eight years – he played in two for Wagga Tigers and one with Albury Tigers – but Ballarat was where he says he had great grounding.
Smith represented Vic Country at the Australian Country Football Championships in 2010 before transferring to the Roosters mid-season and the speedy left-footer really started to make AFL recruiters take note.
He relishes big games.
Well-versed in pressure matches and specialising in grand final fever, Smith says he does not get nervous.
“I get overly excited but nerves don’t really play a role,” Smith said.
“Being at Hawthorn, I’ve played some big games through the year.
“I’ve slowly learned where to channel my excitement, bide my time a little bit more and play it smarter.”
Speaking to The Courier yesterday, Smith was very much in work mode – the Hawks were still in the review process from their preliminary final win against Adelaide.
Smith trained yesterday, will get a hair-cut today, trains tomorrow before about 15,000 expected fans in between meetings, and the parade on Friday.
He admitted to sneaking a look at Redan’s grand final score before running out for the Hawks’ preliminary final on Saturday and realised his Lions were in trouble.
Winning on that same stage four years ago was something he would never forget.
“It was awesome winning with 21 of your best mates,” Smith said. “It was great fun, a great week after and I’ve got great friendships now that last a lifetime.”
Just like his rapid rise in the game, Smith was taking this week all in his stride and loving every moment.