THERE is more than one pathway to the AFL.
For former North Ballarat Rebels and St Patrick’s College graduate Justin Hardy, that chance may yet come via Central Districts in South Australia’s top state football competition.
Hardy, 24, will head to state screening in Adelaide this weekend ahead of the national draft in November, after he won the Ken Farmer Medal as the SANFL’s leading goalkicker this season with 58 goals.
The key forward was not drafted to an AFL club when he applied as an 18-year-old but said he did not give up the dream of playing AFL football.
“I still didn’t think I was out of it. Never stopped training as hard as I can train,” Hardy said yesterday.
“It is exciting but, because I’m older and more mature than last time, I am a bit more relaxed.
“When I was 18 and didn’t go anywhere I was devastated.
“But now I have my life sorted out a bit more and if it doesn’t happen it’s okay.”
Originally from Stawell, Hardy came through the North Ballarat Rebels before having one year at the Roosters.
He then went to Tasmania’s VFL team for a season before heading to SANFL powerhouse Central Districts, where he has become one of that league’s most imposing forwards.
“I played the first few years at Centrals as a backman and only kicked two goals in two years,” Hardy said.
“We had a few injuries at the start of the year and I went forward and also into the ruck to fill a gap.
“Everything came together for me.
“I got the invite to state screening a few months ago because there was interest from a couple of AFL clubs.
“Because I had changed addresses the letter got lost so I nearly missed out.
“I got a call up from (Central Districts) saying I needed to get onto it because I hadn’t filled in an application form.”
Centrals assistant coach Luke McCabe, who played 138 games with Hawthorn, said Hardy had some great attributes to play AFL football.
“At 196cm and 97kg, he is a good size, is very strong, athletic and has great endurance,” McCabe said.
“He’s improved quite a bit in last 12 months.
“He’d have to continue to improve at that rate to be an AFL footballer but I think he can do that.”