LEETON standout Lucas Meline says he still harbours dreams of attracting interest from the AFL as he looks to take the next step in a state league competition next year.
After spending the last few years with NEAFL club Canberra Demons, who have withdrawn from next season, the Crows' best-and-fairest's superb AFL Riverina Championship season has attracted interest, including SANFL clubs.
The 23-year-old midfielder was on another level in the grand final loss to Wagga Tigers after the coronavirus pandemic forced him and several other Crows product to have a cameo at their junior club.
While he enjoyed a chance to don the Crows colours again and play with old mates, Meline still harbours a burning desire to test himself at as high a level as possible.
"I definitely still have the desire to play at the highest level. I'm pursuing options in that regard and trying to play state league footy" he said.
"Obviously Canberra Demons are no more, so where I'll play I'm not 100 per cent sure yet. I'm potentially heading south to Adelaide, I've had a bit of interest over there but haven't settled on a side yet.
"I was really trying to set myself up this year in pre-season for a big year of NEAFL. I wanted to stay in the vision of the right people (by playing for Leeton-Whitton), because I still have that desire to try and play AFL if I can.
"All you can do is try your best, and clubs are looking at mature age players more now than in the past I reckon.
"I understand it's really difficult to get picked up as an older player but I still have that desire there, and I may as well keep trying to play as high a level I can for as long as I can."
"Still being able to play footy this year and have a good year has helped me a bit to build that confidence and continue to grow my footy."
Many good judges felt Meline was best-on-ground in this year's grand final, and he said his hometown cameo helped reinforce why he play.
"It was a great opportunity to come back and have a bit of fun with my footy. I really enjoyed playing with my mates and to play a consistent year was good," he said.
"But you play footy to win flags and we fell just short, the Tigers had a pretty handy side.
"It's nice to be recognised for playing an alright game. It's pretty cliche but you don't play for the individual stuff, it's the team success at the end of the year you really like.
"At that higher level you can get distracted from why you play in the first place. Having this year to come back and really enjoy it and play in the home town and the mates really reinforced why I play, I really enjoyed it."
Meline hoped observing how he approaches the game helped the Crows youngsters, especially those like fellow midfielder Jeromy Lucas and forward Cooper Sharman who have the talent to play at a higher level.
"They've definitely got some ability and if they stick with it they can definitely go a bit further. Coop can do some things not many people can do," Meline said.
"I'm really keen on still having that enjoyment factor in footy, but also taking it seriously enough. I tried to drag a few boys along the way with that, and hopefully the knowledge I gained playing in NEAFL I've been able to pass onto the boys.
"It's a bit disappointing (the Canberra Demons are defunct). We've had a lot of Riverina boys travel up and play with us and not having that option isn't ideal, but a lot's gone on this year and you can understand how difficult it is to keep it going."