OPPORTUNITIES don’t come much better for first-round AFL draftees.
When the league abruptly went into lockdown in late March, Cooper Stephens suddenly became the one-on-one training partner of club captain Joel Selwood.
Cooper would be the envy of many aspiring young players across the league, finding himself with the chance to learn from a 296-game, three-time Premiership player.
It’s not a fact that has missed the pick 16 in last year's National Draft.
“It’s been awesome, you can’t really pick a better role model or person to pick the brain of,” Stephens says.
“I trained with him probably six or seven times throughout the eight weeks, so it was really good.”
Stephens knows he has a lot to learn from his captain and has grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“Position wise we’re very similar so kind of that inside midfielder, so learning from his techniques and running patterns and also the way you can manipulate and impact games at certain times as a captain is really inspirational.
"Especially the other boys with Paddy (Dangerfield) and Mitch Duncan in the midfield as well… the experience and knowledge that I can gain through them without even playing an AFL game has been really good.
Selwood for his part enjoyed the youthful energy Stephens brings to the training track.
“He’s a great runner so he was there to be my bunny a bit. I just had to keep trying to catch him,” Selwood says.
“For me it was just trying to work on little things that will help his game, short kicking I think will be crucial with the position that he plays and the role that he plays.
"Clean hands and working on what’s going to happen in the game now, so talking through when you’re playing on players in particular parts of the ground, how you would best play them (is important too).”
Selwood is more than happy to pass on his wealth of knowledge, having been offered the same experience as he learned the ropes as an eager young Cat.
“When I got to the footy club we learned off the older guys back then that the way to find respect is to help each other on the way through, that’s basically where it’s come from,” he says.
“I’ve played with a hell of a lot of good players… now it’s my turn to do that along with the rest of the guys here so the footy club’s in a better place when we leave it."
Stephens is a player earmarked to help lead that next generation of Cats, taken with one of Geelong’s two prized first-round selections in the 2019 National Draft.
Selwood sees plenty of strong qualities in Stephens’ character that will help him make the adjustments required to play at the top level of the sport.
“Cooper is a self-motivator which I really like. He’ll get up and want to get to work. He reaches out which is really important, it can’t be just a one-way thing,” he says.
“He’s a great listener, a thinker of the game and he’s got a bug to be the best possible player he can be.
“He’s really easy to work with, I love the way he loves the game.”
Stephens could be loving the game at AFL level sooner rather than later if you ask his captain.
“I think that he’s more ready than he probably thinks he is to step up to that AFL level,” Selwood says.
“We’ll need him at some stage throughout the year so preparing him to feel as comfortable as possible is the key right now.”
Stephens is ready to work hard to make that dream a reality.
“With the short turnarounds now, I don’t think anyone is going to be gifted a game so I’m just going to keep working hard and keep trying to learn as much as I can and increase my knowledge so just trying to earn that game is the goal.”