NOTHING could prepare Hawthorn forward Jack Gunston for the heat of his first AFL final.
Not even wise words he sought from his September-hardened teammates in the lead up to the big gamecould do justice to what he was about to experience.
The pressure on every kick, brutal nature of every contest and sound of over85,000 spectators at the MCG hit Gunston like a freight train at 7.50pm last night.
‘‘As soon as the ball went up for the first bounce, it was on,” Gunston told the Weekly in the rooms after the game.‘‘It was a hot 30 minutes in that first quarter.”
Gunston’s first foray in September was a resounding success.He finished with a tidy 16 touches, three marks and two handy goals from half forward on a night when the Hawks blitzed Collingwood by 38 points in the qualifying final.
Gunston says he was ‘‘definitely blowing’’ during a pulsating game, which was made all the more harder when Brendan Whitecross was carried off with a knee injury and the Hawks were forced to activate the sub.
‘‘To the boys credit, they dug deep with three on the bench,’’ Gunston said.‘‘To come away with a win like that was good.’’
Gunston, originally from Beaumaris,kick-started his careerin the TAC Cup with the Sandringham Dragons.
Football was already in the bloodline — his dad, Ray, was a VFA player with Brunswick in his heydayand spent time as a board member with Essendon.
Having showing tremendous potential as a teenager, Gunston was selected by the Adelaide Crows with pick 29 in the 2009 AFL National Draft.
After two years, 14 games and 20 goals with the Crows, Gunston succumbed to homesickness and desperately wanted away from the City of Churchesto return home to be closer to family and friends.
Against their wishes, the Crows facilitated a trade with the Hawks at the end of last season.
They were desperate to keep the talented forward, but Gunston had made up his mind to return to Melbourne and is comfortable that he made the right decision.
‘‘I’m just enjoying every minute being down here,’’ he said.‘‘The whole year has flown — it’s been that good.It’s a great bunch of blokes.’’
Gunston has added an extra dimension to an already young and unpredictable forward line.
The 20-year-old is a hard match-up at 193-centimetres and 81-kilograms, strong overhead, good on the lead and has averaged better than two goals a game this season.
While he is already playing a significant role for the premiership favourites, Gunston has plenty of development in the pipeline.
Being surrounded by superstar Lance Franklin, key forward Jarryd Roughead and team leaders Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell, he is sure it will help speed upthe process.
‘‘They’ve been great to me,’’ Gunston said.‘‘Straight away they injected me with the Hawthorn way of football and helped me fast track into the forward line.They are great role models for me.”
High flyer: Jack Gunston comes from behind to spoil Collingwood defender Harry O’Brien. Picture: Sebastian Costanzo/The Age.