Jesse Hogan on the lead in the VFL. Credit: GWS Giant AFL

Two former prodigal key forwards crossed paths on their way to redemption as the GWS Giants went down to the Sydney Swans in the VFL season opener.

The VFL season kicked off in New South Wales with the sixth consecutive matchup of the GWS Giants reserves and the Sydney Swans reserves.

This game felt a little different, as they were finally playing for premiership points.

The Giants and the Swans each had plenty of talent on show, and some great exciting talent showed up.

Zach Sproule was a standout for the Giants, and Barry O’Connor showed that the Swans’ pipeline of Irish defenders is not slowing down.

What was of great interest to many was not the young talent on show, but the (relatively) older hands that were on the comeback trail.

Jesse Hogan, formerly of Melbourne and Fremantle, has taken time away from the game on a couple of occasions, citing mental health issues.

He has also struggled with foot issues over the years, and a quad injury suffered in the preseason has slowed his progress.

Hogan has shown flashes of the talent that saw him taken as a priority selection in the u/17 mini-draft in 2012 by Melbourne Demons.

He won the AFL Rising Star in 2015, and after the 2018 season, requested a trade back home to Western Australia.

There, he found the experience challenging, playing just over a dozen games over two seasons in purple.

Hogan has long been earmarked as one of the great power forwards of the future, similar to the man who spent parts of the afternoon marking him.

Patrick ‘Paddy’ McCartin was another key forward prospect, marked for success from early on. He was the number one overall pick in the 2014 National Draft and joined St Kilda.

McCartin started well for the Saints, playing six senior games in his debut season.

The trouble started the next season, with three separate concussions suffered in 2016. After suffering another concussion in 2017, there were concerns for McCartin’s long-term future.

In 2019, McCartin suffered yet another concussion in a preseason game and suffered ongoing symptoms and complications, which would rule him out of the entirety of the 2019 season.

McCartin was delisted by St Kilda at the end of 2019, and spent 2020 away from football.

For this season, he has been signed by the Sydney Swans to join their VFL list, and is hoping to return to top-flight football.

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After not playing since the pre-season of 2019, McCartin ran out for the Swans VFL side and slotted into the backline.

With McCartin lining up on Hogan, the symbolism was not lost, as the two former prodigies started the road back to playing in the AFL.

Hogan led up at the ball hard all afternoon, showing his skill and size, taking contested marks and playing as a key target for the Giants.

McCartin played behind the ball in order to reacclimatise to playing football. He had a number of strong contests, and showed his experience, helping martial an inexperienced backline.

Hogan will likely return to senior football in coming weeks as the Giants grapple with injuries. As soon as he is fit, it’s likely he will slot straight into their forward line.

McCartin will have a longer road back, needing to be picked up either in the mid-season draft, or at season’s end. He’s spoken openly about his dream of playing with his brother Tom, who is playing full back for the Swans this season.

The Swans ran out winners in the opener against the Giants, with the final margin 26 points.

If all goes to plan, the grey, dreary day that the VFL kicked off in NSW for 2021 will be remembered as a central moment in the story of the return of two fallen forwards.

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