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HISTORY was made when Bendigo Pioneers footballers took the field at Queen Elizabeth Oval on Tuesday morning.
They might not have known it at the time, but the group of about 20 Pioneers became the first in the club’s 26-year history to train with an AFL club.
The elite-level experience arrived on day two of reigning premier Richmond’s AFL Community Camp in Bendigo and gave players like Golden Square-affiliated Pioneer Kyle Stevens a potentially once-in-a-lifetime chance to match strides with the likes of former Pioneer and 2017 Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin, premiership full forward Jack Riewoldt and a host of other current and emerging Tigers stars.
Stevens admitted there were some anxious moments early for the Pioneers before they settled.
The third-year Pioneers was even able to force a turnover against the Tigers in the final drill of the morning.
“It was a little nerve-racking from the get-go, everyone was nervous about meeting Dusty and the crew,” the 17-year-old said.
“He (Dustin Martin) is every bit as powerful as he looks.
“The bigger bodies of the Richmond players were a little scary at first, but we eased into it.
“It was a great experience for us all and a good way to start off school for the day.”
If there was one slight downside to Tuesday’s AFL experience, second-year Pioneers coach Rick Coburn said that not all 90 players in the Pioneers system got to experience the thrill of an AFL training session.
Nearly all of the participating Pioneers were students at Bendigo Senior Secondary College, following an invite to the school from Richmond.
“It’s a great opportunity to not only be able to train with the highest level of players in the country, but also a team that’s just won a premiership,” he said.
“Most of these boys had a class with me this morning anyway as part of the Bendigo Senior program, that was the main reason this group is here, it didn’t interrupt their school.
“We are big on that at the Pioneers, making sure the boys get a quality education as well.”
Coburn praised the Tigers for being so accessible during the community camp, not just to football organisations like the Pioneers and AFL Central Victoria Academy, but also schools and the wider public.