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For a father with more interest in reading books than sport, Graham Downie had a pivotal role in his son Connor’s football development, including his first kick of the Sherrin football.

‘We were in Federation Square close to grand final time and there was an AFL stall selling small footballs,’ Graham remembers.

‘So we bought him one and went to the Botanical Gardens where we played kick-to-kick.’

Connor’s mini footy went with him to kindergarten and his new friends: ‘all loved their footy and Collingwood’, so he started following the Magpies and joined his local Auskick program at the Forest Hill Zebras.

Connor graduated into Forest Hill Zebras junior teams and developed a strong left foot kick. He was awarded the best player in an U15’s inter league carnival for the Eastern Football League and invited to join The Hawthorn Next Generation Academy.

His representative highlights include making both the Under 16 and 18 Vic Metro team and playing for the Australian Under 17’s team against the New Zealand men’s national team.

He continued to play strongly for the Eastern Ranges representative team and after a season’s break for Covid19, he was selected by Hawthorn at pick 35 in the 2020 AFL draft.

Connor Downie was born in East Melbourne in 2002 and his mother Li Xia (Tracy) Lin was an English teacher who migrated to Australia from Xiamen in China, eventually becoming a high school teacher. His father Graham was also a school teacher.

Connor was given consistent exposure to his Chinese heritage and has visited his mother’s hometown in China twice, first at age four and then when he was 13 where he spent time with his Chinese grandfather Minzeng Lin.

In Melbourne, Tracy ensured that Connor maintained his Chinese connection by speaking to him in Mandarin when he was young and later enrolling him at a local Chinese language school: ‘I’m really grateful because I can speak decent Chinese and hold a conversation and that’s a skill I’m proud of.’ Connor said.

For the opening round of the 2021 season, Connor Downie had one of the more unique AFL debuts in the game’s history.

He was named as a medical substitute for Hawthorn’s match against Essendon at Marvel Stadium, which means it was his official debut, but he never actually ran onto the field.

In Round 22 of the 2021 season, he finally made his on-field debut, helping Hawthorn defeat the Western Bulldogs in Launceston.

Connor Downie had achieved his dream of playing an AFL game and finished with a credible 12 disposals and two marks.

He says of his first game: ‘I felt pretty comfortable and confident at a level that nothing really took me by surprise,’

‘I guess I just embraced the occasion and really enjoyed it.’

His 2022 season was marred by injuries and he was delisted by the Hawks at the end of the season.