Shellharbour’s James Bell is looking to become just the third Illawarra player to play in the AFL after being drafted by the Swans on Monday.
A member of the Sydney Swans Academy, the 18-year-old was selected by the club as a Category B rookie alongside Coff’s Harbour’s Jake Brown.
While a number of Wollongong-bred players have featured on AFL club’s lists, just Arthur Chilcott and Aidan Riley have played a top-flight AFL game. Chilcott played 13 games for the Swans in 1984 and 1985, while Riley played 25 games for Adelaide and Melbourne from 2011 to 2015.
“It would mean everything to make my debut, just the hard work and sacrifices I’ve made to get there, it would be very rewarding,” Bell said. “I’ll start off in the reserves next year, but hopefully I’ll get a call up in the next couple of years and I’ll be able to work my way up.”
Bell is a skillful midfielder with an outstanding turn of speed, slick passing and kicking skills and is an aggressive tackler.
He started playing the sport regularly as a 13-year-old and quickly impressed junior coaches and selectors.
He joined the Swans Academy in 2013 and was selected for the NSW/ACT under 16 and under 18 teams. He made his Swans Reserves debut in 2016.
He has displayed talent across a number of sports from a young age and was linked to the Western Sydney Wanderers for a number of years. However, the Swans eventually gave him an ultimatum and he hasn’t looked back since choosing to pursue a career in the AFL.
“I was new to playing AFL and I liked the physicality of it. The Swans Academy nominated me for a Carbine Club scholarship and they gave me a heads up that I was coming to an age where I had to make a decision. But I knew what I wanted to do and that was to pursue an AFL career.”
Swans recruitment manager Kinnear Beatson said Bell’s hard work since making that decision earned him this selection.
“Jake and James are utility midfielders who both have good running capacities and have shown through their time with the Sydney Swans Academy their strong eagerness to learn and work hard,” Beatson said.
“For Bell, it’s a great reward for having made the difficult decision to give up soccer to pursue AFL and then relocating from Shellharbour – it’s great that he’s been rewarded for those sacrifices and decisions he’s had to make.”
In order to pursue his AFL dream, Bell moved up to Sydney at the beginning of this year and while he admits it was a big change, he’s glad he made the move.
“It was pretty hard, especially going to a different school for one year and not knowing anyone at all.” Bell said.
“But as soon as I started making friends and got settled in, I knew it was a really good move.”
There will be no time for celebration, however. Bell will join the team tomorrow for his first session of the Swans preseason.