Former Swans star Craig Bolton. Photo: Simon Alekna
He grew up watching pre-season AFL games in the unfamiliar surroundings of Canberra Stadium, but premiership player Craig Bolton has predicted a brighter future as the GWS Giants continue to make inroads into the region.
The Giants are embarking on the second year of a decade-long commitment to the ACT when they take on Essendon at Manuka on Friday night. The NAB Cup clash with the Bombers is the first AFL game under lights in Canberra, an achievement which would have been considered a long way off during Bolton's formative years in the capital.
The Marist and Eastlake product carved out a successful top-flight career, playing 170 of his 199 games for the Sydney Swans, winning All-Australian honours in 2006 and 2009. He was an integral part of the Swans' 2005 premiership.
And while he was a part of Swans teams which played annual games in Canberra, Bolton endorsed the Giants as the club to nurture the game in the ACT for years to come.
''The future's looking really bright,'' he said. ''I remember growing up as a kid and watching pre-season AFL matches at Bruce Stadium.
''In the last decade or two it's been looking to take that next step, and in the last few years that's really started to be realised.
''With GWS coming out, it's provided something the region can latch on to.''
Bolton has a strong interest in the game's development in Canberra after he was appointed as the deputy general manager for AFL NSW/ACT on Wednesday.
He believes the presence of the Giants, along with the establishment of the second-tier North East Australian Football League and the Giants Academy, will lead to a steady stream of Canberra juniors progressing to the elite level.
Three ACT players are currently on the lists of AFL clubs - Phil Davis and Josh Bruce with the Giants, and Ainslie product Jason Tutt at the Western Bulldogs.
''It's a huge focus for us that we're developing talent in Canberra,'' Bolton said.
''Over the last 20 or 30 years there's been some really good players come out of the region, and in the last few years we're starting to see that evolve once again.
''With the GWS Academy and the NEAFL, it gives players a realistic pathway of getting into the AFL.
''Canberra is really starting to get some deserved attention and recognition, which will open opportunities for young players.''