All eyes were on former Geelong premiership ruckman Brad Ottens as he stood alone in the middle of the Cats’ warm up area in the hours before Geelong’s final game of the home and away game of the 2023 season.
In his hands was a dark coloured box, and in it was an oversized Cats guernsey with the number six on the back.
Despite Geelong being officially out of finals contention for the first time since 2015, the mood in the room was high. Almost buoyant.
A big, in more ways than one, reason for the heightened mood was the young man standing opposite him.
The relationship between young ruck Toby Conway and his legendary mentor was strong, and everyone in the room understood the significance of Ottens handing over the famous number six to his protégé ahead of his debut.
“I’m absolutely rapt to be handing this over to you tonight,” Ottens said.
“I think it’s clear that in your short time here, you have earned the love and respect of everyone purely because you are a fantastic young man.”
Within five minutes, the 206cm 20-year-old had floated across centre half forward and cut off a Bulldog forward thrust. The poise and confidence of someone so young was unmistakable.
In the third quarter, a running Gryan Miers had offloaded a handball that fell short, but that was not a problem for Conway, who reached down to his ankles, scooped it up with one hand, and hit a running Sam Menegola.
Oh, and he spent the night matched up with arguably the best ruckman in the competition, Tim English.
It may have been a brief snapshot of a player who is still very early in his career, but as he gears up for the 2024 AFL season, the ceiling is undeniably high.
Another Geelong premiership ruckman that has worked closely with Conway is Rhys Stanley who said he has high hopes for the big former Geelong Falcon.
“When he came in, we saw glimpses of what he could do and he's a big boy, so rucking against him each session has been good," Stanley said last week.
“We get to work on certain strengths that each other has, we're trying to nullify what the opposition is doing, so it helps him and it helps myself so it's been good working with him.
Flashback to that chilly August night at GMHBA Stadium, it’s fair to say Otten’s final words before handing over the Hoops, reflected the sentiment of all Cats people both inside and outside the club regarding the popular Conway.
“I think the love and respect that we’ve all got for you is only going to grow when we see you run out and do everything you can to help the team win every time you pull this jumper on.
“We’re all so proud of you and I can’t wait to see you just go and do your thing.”