Hugo Garcia hasn’t yet made a name for himself as a tagger during his brief time at AFL level, but the way he’s latched onto development coach and Saints great Lenny Hayes suggests he’s got that skillset in his wheelhouse.

The pick No. 50 from last year’s draft has been Hayes’ eager-to-learn shadow from the moment he first arrived at RSEA Park, accompanying the St Kilda and Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee at almost every turn to begin his AFL career on a promising note.

It’s a hard tag Hayes can’t shake. Certainly not that he wants to.

Look into the football department on any given day, and odds are that Garcia and Hayes will be side-by-side trawling through match and training vision. If they’re not at Hayes’ desk rewinding the tapes, the young Saint is picking the coach’s brains on the training track in his mission to incrementally improve.

“It’s pretty surreal when you first meet him. You know… it’s Lenny Hayes!” Garcia said with a chuckle.

“He’s a champion, but then you get to know him and he’s a really nice guy, really down to earth.”

Hugo Garcia tackles Ryan Byrnes at training as Lenny Hayes watches on. Photo: Felix Curtis.

A fervent Collingwood supporter in his youth, the then-five-year-old Garcia first witnessed Hayes’ brilliance in-person during the latter’s Norm Smith Medal-winning display in the drawn 2010 Grand Final.

It was a herculean performance in tandem with fellow coach Brendon Goddard that was one favourable bounce away from becoming St Kilda’s fabled second premiership. It’s since nestled into its own niche of club folklore, but Hayes’ heroics haven’t been forgotten.

That day, Hayes was agonisingly close to being the young Magpies fan’s ultimate tormentor. Fourteen years later, he’s become his greatest mentor.

The pair’s relationship in Saints colours began just days after Garcia was recruited from the Calder Cannons; a hopeful message from the earnest draftee asking to get a look inside the club ahead of schedule accepted by Hayes.

That curiosity from Garcia hasn’t waned now he’s inside the four walls of RSEA Park full-time.

“Because he was such a good player I’ve just tried to ask him as many questions as possible to get some knowledge from him,” Garcia said.

He’s one of the best midfielders of all-time and he’s helped me with my midfield craft and just small things that get yourself better and better every day.

- Hugo Garcia

Garcia’s persistence and urgency to put himself in the selection frame so early in his career has paid off in spades.

Making his debut in Round 5 against GWS as the substitute, the No. 34 had immediate impact when activated to accrue an impressive 11 touches and seven tackles in under a half of football.

Earning a full call-up the following week off the back of his sizzling patch in Canberra, Garcia was a shining light in an otherwise disappointing night against the Western Bulldogs with 14 possessions and nine tackles.

The sample size is small, but there’s a vivacity to Garcia’s game. He’s got the pent-up energy of a wind-up toy ready to let loose; always bouncing on his toes at the contest and primed to lay down some physicality at the drop of a hat, despite his smaller frame.

As Garcia continues to emulate Hayes’ philosophies before evolving into a player in his own right, he’s taking everything he absorbs in his stride. He knows he’s not going to become a bona fide gun overnight, and that’s more than fine in his approach.

As Hayes has imparted to him over the past few months, the little things all add up. 

“I think it’s just getting the little things done every day. You’re focussing on the next moment, not ‘I want to play this many games in my first year’ or something like that,” Garcia said.

“It’s ‘today I want to get better at my ground-balls’ and having things like that which build up to your end goal. That’s what Lenny has taught me.

“I think that’s why Lenny was such a champion because he was focussed on the little things that got him to where he wanted to be.”

Read this piece in this week's special edition of the AFL Record, available at Marvel Stadium on Saturday afternoon!