This Sunday afternoon marks a significant milestone for Ethan Phillips and the Hawthorn Football Club. The 24-year-old mature-age recruit is set to make his AFL debut in the game against Yartapuulti, fulfilling a dream that has been a testament to perseverance and dedication.

Phillips was picked up by the Hawks in February this year, signing a deal during the eleventh hour of the pre-season supplemental selection period after a list spot became available due to James Blanck’s unfortunate ACL rupture. The 196cm defender’s journey to this moment has been nothing short of remarkable.

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 23: Ethan Phillips of the Hawks in action during the AFL 2024 Match Simulation between the Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn at Whitten Oval on February 23, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

After a stellar few seasons in the VFL, including winning the prestigious Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal as the league’s best young talent in 2022, Phillips moved from Port Melbourne to Box Hill during the off-season. Training with Sam Mitchell’s squad, he impressed everyone with his work ethic and performance, eventually earning a spot on the rookie list.

Phillips has excelled for Box Hill during the early rounds of this season, showcasing his defensive prowess and consistency. He has averaged 17.8 disposals and 11.7 marks per game from six appearances, with three games where he recorded 15 or more marks. His strong form has kept him on the cusp of senior selection over the past month.

Rob McCartney, Executive General Manager of Football at Hawthorn, expressed his excitement about Phillips’ debut. “This is a great story of perseverance and never giving up on your dream of playing AFL footy – we are truly excited for Ethan to get his chance on Sunday,” McCartney said. “Ethan has played well at VFL level in the early part of the season. His form has been really strong and he has showed he is a consistent performer in our defensive end, both in defending our goal and starting our attack through intercept marks.”

Phillips’ debut is also notable for extending a remarkable streak in the VFL. By joining Hawthorn, he continues a run of 17 consecutive Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal recipients who have progressed to an AFL list, following 2023 winner Sam Clohesy, who was recruited by Gold Coast.

With captain James Sicily ruled out for another week, Phillips’ inclusion in the team is timely. McCartney added, “It’ll be a great day for Ethan and his family as he starts his journey as an AFL footballer.”