Pioneer prepares for trek across Europe

BENDIGO Bank Pioneers wingman-forward Jaden McGrath is gearing up for a 16-day trek across Europe with the AIS-AFL under-18s Academy.

Just days after kicking off the 2014 TAC Cup season, McGrath is heading to the MCG for Friday's clash between the Academy stars and Collingwood's VFL team.

By Saturday afternoon he will be aboard a plane bound for London and then later Italy and Switzerland.

The trek is one the talented footballer from Kerang aims to learn plenty from.

Some of the hit-outs in London will be a mixture of teams drawn from the Academy and European Legion.

Another big match will be the AIS-AFL Academy squad against many of Europe's best.

"It's going to be a great experience," McGrath said during a Pioneers recovery session at Golden Square's MyJet Oval.

A highlight will be a week-long training camp at the Australian Institute of Sport facilities in Milan.

Since last September there's been three training camps for the level two, draftable-age players, in the Academy.

A training camp in Melbourne last September was then followed by another on the Gold Coast in November and the most recent in Melbourne in January.

Western Bulldogs great Brad Johnson is head coach of the AIS-AFL Academy and backed by assistant and specialist coaches such as Glen Jakovich, Matthew Lloyd, Tadhg Kennelly and Brad Ottens.

In his second year with the Academy, McGrath said training with Carlton Football Club last January was something he gained a lot from.

"Being there for a week gave me an insight to the lifestyle of an AFL player and what's expected. It was pre-season, but I was surprised at how full-on everything was," he said of the training drills and other sessions.

It's not just skills and pace McGrath has worked at improving and increasing, but also his fitness and strength.

"A goal for this year at the Pioneers is to play more in the midfield or onball. The Academy has helped a lot about learning different roles.

"At the Pioneers and Kerang it's mainly been half-forward and some bursts in midfield. I am aiming to play more in the midfield this season."

The past two years he has played in premiership-winning teams with Kerang seniors. 

The year 12 student at Bendigo Senior Secondary College can pursue his football goals more easily through the specialist sports program. 

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