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McCartin soaking up tips during defensive experiment

Tom McCartin has no idea if he'll end up becoming a key forward or backman for the rest of his AFL career. All the Sydney Swans youngster knows is that there's plenty of opportunities to learn while being pinballed from one end of the field to the other.

Even with co-captain Dane Rampe set to return from his eye injury for Saturday's clash with Port Adelaide, McCartin is again expecting to be deployed in defence this weekend. Coach John Longmire clearly likes the look of the 19-year-old in his back six, having previously only used him there out of necessity.

For McCartin, still only in his second year of AFL football, it looms as another chance to shamelessly plagiarise off the opponents he is assigned to. That's the approach he has taken while being deployed in a position that, aside from a short stint as an under-16s player, is completely foreign to him.

"I was chatting to Horse [Longmire] the other day and he said it's a great thing, especially for a forward, to play as a backman and learn other forwards' patterns and vice versa," McCartin said. "I guess you do get thrown in the deep end a little bit but that's the quickest way to learn. I'm not sure what the long-term is, but I'm really enjoying it."

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McCartin's first taste of life in defence came in round three against Carlton. When Callum Sinclair went down with what proved to be a season-ending shoulder injury against Gold Coast in round 15, it prompted a reshuffle that saw McCartin swung back behind the ball again.

He's remained there on and off pretty much ever since. And with Lewis Melican yet to truly cement himself in Sydney's best 22, it may yet lead to a permanent conversion for one of the club's most promising young players, who burst onto the scene as Lance Franklin's rookie foil in his debut year.

Tom McCartin's experimental stint in defence could end up being a permanent transformation for the Sydney Swans teenager.

Tom McCartin's experimental stint in defence could end up being a permanent transformation for the Sydney Swans teenager.Credit:AAP

Longmire himself was used in defence in the early part of his career at North Melbourne. West Coast legend Glen Jakovich and Port Adelaide great Chad Cornes are other prime examples of players who were drafted as forwards, but ended up carving out a niche in the other extreme.

Being paid to ruin someone else's afternoon also appeals to McCartin's innate competitive streak. "I like the idea of trying to make a forward have a quiet day and shut them down. I enjoy that aspect of it," McCartin said.

If it's only temporary, then McCartin will have at least picked up a few tricks of the trade for when he returns to the forward 50, having already tracked the runs of Essendon target man Mitch Brown and then copied them himself in the same game at the MCG earlier this season.

"He likes to start really high and work up the ground a lot. I went forward after half-time and tried to use some of his leading patterns in my game," McCartin said. "Stuff like that, what other players are doing, I've tried to implement. I think it'll be a good thing for my future."

Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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