Some debuts take years, some a few months, but it’s been only 60 days between James Peatling officially joining the GIANTS’ list and his AFL debut, which will come on Sunday against Port Adelaide.
However, the Toongabbie product’s story started long before this year.
20-year-old Peatling has been on the cusp of an AFL career for the best part of the last three years, narrowly overlooked in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 drafts.
He’d come through the GIANTS Academy pathway and spent time at the club as part of that program, but as Academy coach Jason Saddington put it: “He was always extremely talented, he just wasn’t able to expose it enough or be consistent enough.”
Peatling could only watch on as his Pennant Hills juniors teammate Kieren Briggs was drafted to his home club in 2018 and fellow Western Sydney Academy product Eli Smith went to the Lions in the first-round of that same draft.
Coach Leon Cameron was the one who had to phone Peatling - a couple of times - to tell him the GIANTS wouldn’t be drafting him.
“It’s a great story of persistence,” Cameron said while delivering the news of his debut in a team meeting on Thursday.
“I had to give him that really tough phone call at the end of ’19 and said, no we’re not taking you.
“That probably sent you into a bit of a spin for a year and you lost your way a bit in terms of, ‘was footy the biggest thing he wanted to achieve?’
“He probably thought his dream was gone. But he’s knuckled down and we got him back this year and he’s just put his head down and his bum up and he just turns up every week.”
After joining the club’s VFL program for the 2021 season, Peatling has gone from strength to strength and become known for his high-flying marking, dash from defence and long kick across this season.
He had to quit his job at a Christmas Tree farm once he was taken as the club’s first-ever mid-season rookie on June 2 and just weeks later packed up and moved to Melbourne with the team.
“It’s pretty unreal, considering if you told me last year I would be playing my first game this year I probably would have laughed at you,” he said.
“There was a few times around 2019 when I probably expected to be on a list but I wasn’t so there were a few times I nearly threw it away so I’m just really grateful.
“It literally went from getting picked up, quitting my job and then two weeks later being in a hub.
“I think I’m just a lot fitter and being in a full-time program - even for just half a year - has been really beneficial for me to lift my game from where it was to where it is now.”
VFL-watchers would have seen Peatling’s big mark in last week’s win over the Lions as he soared into the air in defence.
What some may not know is that in the game Peatling played before that - against the Suns at Port Melbourne - his same courageous aerial skills put him in hospital.
He was cleared of a ruptured spleen and was back to his high-flying best just a fortnight later.
As Saddington said, “He’s always had serious X-factor.”