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Paton shuffles backwards to springboard forwards

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - JULY 05: Ben Paton of Vic Country in action during the 2017 AFL Under 18 Championships match between Vic Country and South Australia at Simonds Stadium on July 05, 2017 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
New Saint Ben Paton earned All-Australian selection after starring for Vic Country in the middle of the season.
I was really optimistic about this year and thought I’d been given a great opportunity (at the Murray Bushrangers) so I just worked hard all year.
Ben Paton

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Ben Paton had just been overlooked in the Draft and was contemplating a move to Melbourne to start university and play football for a VFL team.

A surprise offer to play at the Murray Bushrangers as a 19-year-old overage player put in motion a series of events that culminated in St Kilda selecting the boy from just outside Albury with their last pick in Friday night’s NAB AFL Draft.

Paton, 19, shifted from the midfield to defence at the start of 2017, where his eye-catching form as an intercepting defender attracted the eye of Vic Country selectors.

From there, his standout national carnival earned him All-Australian honours, elevating him up draft boards in the process and into the Saints' hands at pick No. 46.

“I was really optimistic about this year and thought I’d been given a great opportunity (at the Murray Bushrangers) so I just worked hard all year,” Paton told saints.com.au on Wednesday.

“A change of position helped me as well, going from the midfield to back.”

When the 2017 NAB AFL Draft finally arrived last weekend, Paton was with his parents at his home in Tallangatta South, which is south-east of Albury and Wodonga.

While he had met with the Saints a few times, and even had State Recruiting Manager Chris Toce out to the family farm, he had no idea that the club would call his name out.

“I’d met with the Saints a few times leading into the draft, so I knew they were sort of interested, but to get read out by St Kilda I’m over the moon,” he said.

Paton met his new teammates for the first time on Monday morning, but on Wednesday he was joined by a Murray Bushrangers teammate after the Saints selected Doulton Langlands with their only live pick in Monday afternoon’s NAB AFL Rookie Draft.

“Me and Doult are really good mates. We’d sort of talked about it before and said, ‘imagine if we ended up at the same club’. It’s unreal that it’s happened,” he said.

“He’s a really good player so I’m looking forward to him getting down here.”

So after all that, Paton finally lands in Melbourne, with the dream still alive.