MAIA WESTRUPP, a talented volleyballer and rugby and tennis player from Whakatane, New Zealand, had not touched a Sherrin until day one of a recent testing camp. Nobody even thought of the ''T'' factor when Melbourne signed him a week later.
Greater Western Sydney fleshed out its international rookie stocks by adding a midfielder from the Danish Vikings named Aksel Bang to its speculative global stocks, a punt that has already prompted a ''Sheedy Sheedy Bang Bang'' headline. Last week, Tadhg Kennelly was back home overseeing a Dublin training camp, searching for the next, well, Tadhg Kennelly.
These are now commonplace fields for the farming of shoots that might one day grow into AFL footballers. Another crop is also surfacing, of young men who, like Westrupp and Bang, not so long ago would not have contemplated a career in footy in their wildest dreams. The difference is, they've been right under our noses the whole time.
In Blacktown on Sunday, Dean Towers - a wing-heeled 22-year-old the Swans hope will launch rebounding attacks off half-back in the manner of a certain jigging Irishman - will debut in red and white. Melbourne's Dom Barry, Collingwood giant Brodie Grundy and second-year star on the rise Jeremy Cameron are other recent fast-forward footballers.
Talented youngsters have long excelled at multiple sports before throwing their lot in with footy, but to come to the game late and find yourself on an AFL list in a few short years is some progress. It's hard to imagine an English lad taking up football at 15 and being signed by Arsenal while still a teenager.
The AFL's talent identification guru, Kevin Sheehan, cautions that the vast majority of draftees still tread the traditional path, through under-age ranks and into the TAC Cup. But like the mature-aged wave of recent years, the late-starters are growing in number.
Sheehan says scouts are ''continually looking for those little gems we might not know are there, in our own backyard. It's tricky finding them if they're not playing.''