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Following his heart

Marc McGowan afl.com.au  April 18, 2017 4:25 PM

BTV: Andrew McGrath Media Conference - April 18 Andrew McGrath spoke to the media.

There was never any doubt that Andrew McGrath was going to be drafted last year, but this silky prospect wanted more.

McGrath, 18, hungered to be the No.1 pick – and generally whatever he sets his mind to he achieves, as he did again when Essendon made him the dux of the 2016 draft class.

In doing so, the 178cm defender became the Bombers' first-ever top draft choice.

McGrath has played all four games, saving his best so far for Saturday night when he had 28 disposals, four tackles and five scoring involvements in a loss to the Crows.

"It's a massive honour, and towards the end of the year I really wanted to get that title of being the No.1 pick," the round four NAB AFL Rising Star nominee told AFL.com.au.

"I'm usually pretty competitive. I know it's just a number, but it was on my mind a little bit – I wanted to have that title and that responsibility. 

"I guess you want to have that pressure, you wouldn’t rather be anywhere else … so why be afraid of the pressure?"

McGrath has discussed his draft perch with Essendon clubmate Brendon Goddard, the 2002 No.1 selection, and followed in fellow ex-Brighton Grammar School student Jack Watts's 2008 footsteps.

Goddard's advice was simple: listen only to feedback within Bomberland and don't let outsiders impact on your feelings or performance.

St Kilda's Paddy McCartin, the prize of the 2014 draft, has been in the headlines since the Saints dropped him after a goalless round three effort.

The scrutiny hasn't gone unnoticed by McGrath.

"He hasn't really reached his potential yet, but I think the taller players take a bit more time and everybody needs to be a little more patient with Paddy," McGrath said. 

"He's obviously a great player and he's shown that in patches throughout his career so far, and I think we just need to give him time to develop and blossom.

"He's going to turn out to be a great AFL player – I'm sure of it."

McGrath, who moved to Australia from Canada with his family when he was five, made a compelling case last year to be considered the best teenager in the country.

The Sandringham Dragons star averaged 32 disposals in the TAC Cup, co-captained Victoria Metro and won its MVP en route to the under-18 Division One title, and won All Australian honours.

He was also Brighton Grammar's school captain and football vice-captain under Robert Shaw, a former VFL/AFL footballer and coach.

But football wasn't McGrath's certain future until three years ago, when the triple national champion hurdler ended a promising track-and-field career.

"My parents always said to pick the one where my heart lies, because I'll try harder and want to be more successful in that field," he said.

"I wrestled with it for months and it was really hard in the end. I had doubts and regrets even a bit early, but it's all worked out now and I'm happy with the decision."

McGrath is revelling in the "new vibe" at Tullamarine.

He will always be connected to it as the reward at the end of those tough times, but is most focused on the future and the club's ability to do "something special".

For the moment, McGrath still appreciates living with his parents at their East Brighton home and enjoying the perks of being an 18-year-old kid.

"It's a bit of a trek out to training each day, but the advantages outweigh the drive – I love being at home," he said.

"It makes everything a bit easier; just having my family there and everything that's important to me – I can escape footy a little bit and switch off, which is nice sometimes." 

The NAB AFL Academy graduate joins Port Adelaide's Sam Powell-Pepper, Hawthorn's Ryan Burton and Geelong's Brandan Parfitt as Rising Star nominees this season.