By Callum Twomey
WHEN Isaac Heeney set himself for a week of training with the AIS-AFL Academy in Canberra, he prepared to work hard, listen to everyone around him, and enjoy the experience. Meeting the Prime Minister, however, wasn't on the agenda.
Heeney is one of seven AIS-AFL Academy players awarded Jim Stynes Scholarships, announced at this year's Brownlow Medal and selected by the AFL, the Reach Foundation and Jim's wife, Sam Stynes.
Four others, for a total of 11 (the number Stynes made famous during his career at Melbourne), were also announced as recipients.
After Stynes' death earlier this year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard searched for a way to honour his legacy.
The Gillard Government provided $3 million as part of a partnership with the AFL to establish the scholarship fund, which helps disadvantaged children follow their sporting aspirations.
The recipients receive funding towards football, travel and education expenses.
With the AFL's seven recipients in the nation's capital this week, Gillard, and federal minister for sport Kate Lundy, organised to meet the scholarship holders at Parliament House on Tuesday.
"It was awesome," Heeney said.
"The Prime Minister was really nice and willing to talk. It'll be a weird feeling seeing her next time on TV, knowing we've met before."
Heeney plays footy in New South Wales for the Cardiff Hawks, in an area dominated by rugby league. In his AFL competition, he comes up against more senior, experienced and physical opponents.
He thinks it gave him a good grounding for this year, where he won the McLean Medal as the best player in division two of the NAB AFL Under-16 Championships.
Fellow recipients Jarrod Pickett, Bohdi Walker, Dwayne Wilson, Duom Dawan, Jake Lever and Nakia Cockatoo, from different parts of the country, also met Gillard and Lundy.
Dawan, who was born in Sudan, is in the Western Jets' TAC Cup squad. He has impressed already throughout the AIS camp, and won the level one group's three-kilometre time trial.
AFL national talent manager Kevin Sheehan joined the group at Parliament House, alongside AIS-AFL Academy coaches Michael O'Loughlin, Brad Johnson and Michael Ablett.
"It was pretty special for all the boys and the coaches who were involved in meeting the Prime Minister," Sheehan said.
"These scholarships just help them bridge the gap. A little bit can mean so much to help them devote their time and energies to being as good as they can be as sports people."