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Overlooked by AFL clubs at 18 years of age, Luke Ryan was determined to not give up the hope of chasing his AFL dream.
Recruited from Coburg in the VFL, Ryan was taken as a mature-age rookie by Fremantle at pick 66 in the 2016 National Draft at the age of 20.
The AFL has seen a boom of mature-age recruits in recent years, such as Geelong’s Tim Kelly, North Melbourne’s Ben Brown and Brisbane’s Dayne Zorko.
Ryan feels players that come in to the AFL system more experienced than their 18-year-old counterparts helps them make an impact straight away.
“I think it helps a fair bit playing against bigger bodies and other AFL players back at Coburg,” Ryan said.
“When you come into an AFL system, you get that edge and feel a bit of a step ahead of the others.
“When you miss out on a few chances, you can either give up or you can keep pushing hard to try and get drafted.
“I had good people around me pushing me to that next level and I’m reaping the rewards now.”
Ryan debuted in round 11 of 2017 against Collingwood at Subiaco Oval, and went on to win the Beacon Award as Freo’s most promising young player in his debut season.
A year later, Ryan emerged as one of the game’s leading intercept defenders in 2018, pulling in 52 intercept marks from his season total of 131 marks.
The 23-year-old has gone to another level this season, tallying 103 intercept possessions (an average of 9.4 intercepts per game) so far this year, the most in the AFL.
Ryan is pleased with the way his form and influence on the game has built year upon year.
“My body is maturing a bit more and getting a bit stronger and fitter,” Ryan said.
“I’m through to my third season and I’m feeling pretty fresh at the moment.
“I’m trying to put a few good games together and hopefully keep that up after the bye round.”
But Ryan is not alone as a mature-age recruit at Fremantle.
In the most recent National Draft both Lachie Schultz (pick 57) and Brett Bewley (pick 59) were recruited from Williamstown in the VFL by Freo.
Ryan applauded the early impact both Schultz and Bewley are having at Fremantle, crediting their hunger to learn and grow.
“They have been exceptional … and it’s really shown on the footy field,” Ryan said.
“The way they are going now, I’m pretty proud of the boys to be honest.
“They got drafted pretty much at the same age as me … and they stuck to it.
“Lachie played a few games and Brett has played two now, and they have settled in well.”
Ryan believes the current on-field success is an extension of the tight-knit bonds forged at the club over the past year.
“We’re a really tight group and we’ve gotten tighter over the last year,” Ryan said.
“We had a big change over the last three years with the playing group.
“The group is bonding and we’re doing stuff outside of footy.
“It’s really helping us and it’s showing on the footy field.”