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The Age

When the draft blew in

Date: 18/11/2006
Words: 5118
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 4
It is 20 years since the first national draft changed the face of football. Emma Quayle visits the original top-10 picks and finds that the draft of 1986 also changed their lives.

STEVEN Sims had never spoken to anyone from St Kilda when the club used the No. 2 draft pick on him in 1986.

Essendon was so keen on Andrew Payze that coach Kevin Sheedy would arrive unannounced in the Adelaide bank where he worked and ask for rides to the airport.

Grantley Fielke was happy to be drafted, so long as it was only by Collingwood, and Martin Leslie was on his way to join a Darwin dole queue when he picked up a newspaper and discovered he was a Brisbane player.

IN 1986, the rich clubs were the best clubs. Only six teams had won the previous 20 premierships and, with the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears springing to life, the VFL wanted to make sure its new national league was one in which any team could thrive.

The VFL had trialled Americanstyle player drafts before - in 1981 and '82, each club chose two interstaters, in reverse ladder order - before reverting to an open market in which clubs chased the interstate players they most wanted. In this environment, the richest clubs offered the most lucrative contracts, were able to lure the best talent, and were therefore leaving the other teams behind.

Launched permanently in '86, the objective of the draft was - with the salary cap and other financial equalisation strategies - to present the worst-performed clubs with access to the best new talent and give each of them a chance to succeed.

The first version, however, was still a work in progress. There were no West Australians in it, because the Eagles had exclusive rights to them, and the Bears (who did not have the same sort of talent in their state) were able to sign six untried players before the draft.

The Victorian clubs still had first call on players who lived in their designated metropolitan zones; while their 20-year-old country zones were abolished at the end of '86, they were able, for the last time, to sign whomever they wanted from those areas in the months leading up to the draft.

What this meant, at the first draft, was that if you were a struggling Victorian club unable to afford an out-of-state recruit, you were effectively choosing from the leftover country kids.

(Robert Harvey, incidentally, is the last country-zoned player in the AFL, with Anthony Koutoufides, Scott West and Glenn Archer the last metropolitan-zoned players still at their clubs.) It wasn't until the 1992 draft - when metro zoning was abolished after 75 years, and the under-18 league replaced the 45-year-old under-19 competition - that any AFL club could pick any player in the country.

Even then, Adelaide, Fremantle and Port Adelaide were able to take the best of their local talent when they entered the AFL, with Brisbane and Sydney also allowed to secure young locals (such as Michael Voss and Greg Stafford) outside the draft for several years.

Pre-season, mid-season and rookie drafts have come, gone and evolved, and priority picks have helped the really bad teams pick up the pace. The father-son rule is remains an oddity and, before each rookie draft, the Swans and Lions have first dibs on as many undrafted kids from New South Wales and Queensland as they like.

From the start, the draft changed how recruiters worked.

There was no more spiriting kids from another club's zone to your own; no more (or not so much) hiding talented teenagers away in the bush.

Recruiting now is not about zeroing in on a big fish and beating everyone else to his signature, it's about knowing 40-plus players so well that you know exactly what you're getting should they be there when your pick comes up.

These were hit-and-miss days, but that didn't matter so much, because clubs had 60-plus players on their books. They chose older, more proven players in the early days, too, which meant there was less crystal-balling than required now.

The few clubs that had invested in recruiting had a definite early edge. In 1987, Melbourne's 23-yearold recruiting manager, Cameron Schwab, sat beside the Swans, and was staggered with their first pick."

They picked a guy called Scott Salisbury from Adelaide and I remember leaning over and saying 'you do realise he's 30, don't you?'" Schwab said."

They said 'nah, nah, we've seen him, he's not 30,' but he was. He was a good player, but it's something you just wouldn't contemplate now."

The thrill of the chase ended when the draft started, but there was still some work to do. Scroll through the 1986 list and you'll remember Alastair Lynch, Matthew Armstrong, Craig Kelly, Andy Lovell and others.

But you'll also see a lot of players who either never made the grade, or didn't try to, with 42 of the 65 players picked never representing the club that chose them.

Whereas today's teenage hopefuls have no choice - they must nominate, wait for a split second to end years of uncertainty, and go where they are called - clubs then had three years to talk their choices into coming."

You could take that chance," said Schwab, who drafted a "fat little kid" called Darren Jarman, at No.55 in 1986. He called after the draft, to introduce himself, and knew he had some serious convincing to do."

Our mistake was not drafting Andrew Jarman, too, and getting both brothers over. But things weren't so immediate back then, and you had bigger lists. Your decisions weren't as crucial as they are now."

Noel Judkins, the Essendon recruiting manager then, liked the draft from the start; although the "good old days" were gone, it meant clubs were not limited to two out-of-staters. Judkins also doesn't mind that today's youngsters are funnelled into such a well-lit path that every recruiter knows each one of them."

If you tried to be tricky now, it wouldn't help you," he said. "With a list of 38, you really need to see the best kids against the best kids.

Otherwise you're open to making a really bad error."

For all the sprint scores, psychological appraisals, efficiency rates and video available about a huge number of prospects, from an increasing range of geographical points, Judkins is also sure of another thing. Drafting, he said, will always be about instinct."

It's still about making a decision. They're more informed decisions, because we have more information. But when it's your turn, you've got to make a call."

1 MARTIN LESLIE (Brisbane)

Then a tough Port Adelaide defender, in his sixth season of SANFL footy.

What happened? went to Brisbane in 1989, played 107 games and shared the 1990 best and fairest.

Now coaches the United Yeelanna Eagles on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, works for a water contracting company and has two sons, Mitchell, 15, and Miles, 14.

IF MARTIN Leslie were 18 in 1986, he would not have been drafted. "If I was, I would have been number 220," he said. "I didn't even know if I could play when I was 18. I don't know how anyone else would have."

Leslie had, in fact, hit his mid-20s when the Brisbane Bears called his name first on November 27, 1986. He had played for Port Ade laide, for South Australia, just won a best-andfairest, and spent most weekends hanging tough at centre half-back.

He was a sure bet, but not necessarily available. Leslie had thought often about playing in the VFL, wanted to know what it felt like to play before big crowds, and would have gone to Essendon a few years earlier if not for some contract issues.

But he had signed for two more years at Port when Shane O'Sullivan, piecing together the first Brisbane team as the new club's general manager, called and said he wanted him."

I said, 'Mate, I don't think you should bother,' " Leslie said. "There was a lot going on, at that stage. There were a lot of people telling me not to leave Adelaide and I was getting a bit sick and tired of the politics of footy, to be honest."

I felt like I was trying to keep a lot of people happy and I didn't really like that side of it. All I wanted to do was to play footy. I told them not to draft me, but they went and did it anyway."

This, Leslie learnt when he was in Darwin, playing some summertime footy for Waratahs.

He didn't have a job and was on his way to the dole office when he stopped to pick up a newspaper. "I saw the back page and thought: 'OK, no need to go get the dole...' he said."

It was strange, I must say. There was a connection that you felt, but that you didn't feel, if that makes sense. I'd grown up at Port Adelaide and that was my club. Now I belonged to someone else, but I didn't really know who they were."

Leslie went home a little later, via the Gold Coast, for what he thinks was the Bears' first training run. He was always going to go back for good, some day, though this didn't settle O'Sullivan's nerves."

I remember going to see him at the Port Adelaide offices and he said he wouldn't leave until he won a premiership. I just kept crossing my fingers that they'd get one," he said. "We were new and I thought it was important, that he did come."

Leslie packed his bags at the end of 1988, with that premiership won. He didn't doubt for a second that he would play well at a new level; nor did he feel obliged to live up to any expectation.

There was pressure, but it was different to that which hounds the No. 1 pick now. "I knew what I could do," Leslie said. "I wasn't a kid, and I wasn't thinking, 'I've got to be good because everyone thinks I'm this good.' "I had a few people at home saying, 'No 1, he's not worth that ...' so that was there, but it didn't worry me. I probably needed the pressure, more than anything. I needed it to spark me up."

Leslie played 107 games in his seven years at Brisbane. The Fitzroy merger was still to come when he retired, but he left expecting the babyfaced likes of Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis, Justin Leppitsch and Chris Scott to finish the job he helped start. "It was a low-security job when I started," he said. "When I left, it was a club."

Leslie stayed in Brisbane for a few years after he stopped playing. He went to the footy most weeks, to watch, but slowly drifted away and by the time the Lions hit paydirt he was back in Adelaide. These days, he struggles to stay interested in an entire AFL match.

Earlier this year, Leslie moved from Adelaide to Port Lincoln, on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, to live surrounded by water, coach a "little club in the sticks" called United Yeelanna and be near his two teenage sons, Mitchell and Miles.

For four years he had been travelling to see them; living closer by, he has gotten to know more about them. "They're good kids," Leslie said. "I'm a very lucky man."

He thinks only fondly of his football days, too. Leslie loves two clubs in two states and, although Dwhile he wonders what life would have been like before big MCG crowds, he likes that he helped start something."

There were a lot of times I wondered whether it was worth it.

I drove myself pretty hard and I wanted more success, but those of us who were there in the early days have a lot to be proud of," Leslie said. "We were pioneers, in a lot of ways. I don't regret any of it."

2 STEVEN SIMS (St Kilda)

Then a 25-year-old onballer who had played for four years at West Torrens in the SANFL.

What happened? Trained twice with the Saints but chose to stay home. Won a best-and-fairest and two premierships at North Adelaide, and played almost 200 games.

Now works in the building trade at Murray Bridge and has two sons, David, 16, and Matthew, 13."

I got the biggest surprise of my life when St Kilda drafted me. I'd never spoken to anyone from there. Hawthorn had tracked me down at my girlfriend's place one day, but that was the only club that ever called me."

Until then, I hadn't thought about playing VFL footy. I'd never taken much notice of it, to be honest. The kids I grew up with only dreamed about playing local footy, but I started thinking about it a bit more when Hawthorn rang. I started to get a bit itchy."

I don't know why I didn't have a crack at it. I went over and trained twice with St Kilda, one time before Christmas and once after. The first time I could only stay overnight because I had to get home and play cricket."

Plugger Lockett was down there then, and I can remember Trevor Bartlett and Stewy Loewe; Stewy was one of the young guys. I actually arrived on the same day as Nicky Winmar. I trained that day and Nicky didn't; he ended up playing 200 games and I didn't play any."

My head was spinning with it all. I didn't know what to to do. I was talking to North Adelaide at the time, and Andrew and Darren Jarman were there. I grew up with those blokes, so they were a swaying influence. I wanted to play some footy with them."

We won the flag in 1987, so that helped smooth things over, but I did watch the Saints and wonder if I could have made it. I knew a young guy who went over later, Steven Sziller, and I used to think I was no different to him.

If kids like him got a game, I might have been a chance."

3 STEVEN FEBEY (Melbourne)

Then a 17-year-old schoolboy in Devonport. His twin, Matthew, was also drafted to Melbourne, at No. 16.

What happened? Played 258 games in 15 years with the Demons, in the 1988 and 2000 grand finals, and retired in 2002, second to Robert Flower on the club's all-time games list.

Now works for telecommunications company People Telecom and is married to former Hockeyroo Lou Dobson."

I wasn't at all serious about football until after the draft. Matthew and I had played a lot of junior basketball, so we were fairly new to footy, and it was more of a hobby for us."

We were both playing under 17s at Devonport that year, and I got called up to the seniors. We were the bottom side, we beat the top side, I got the three votes, but I quit the next week. I just wanted to play with my mates."

I've always said Matthew and I were identical in our sporting ability, but he'd had a knee injury, and I'd played that one senior game. That was probably why I got picked first."

We always made it clear that we wouldn't go unless we went to the same club. We were the original draft tamperers, I guess. Once Melbourne picked me it probably sent a message to everyone else, not to draft the other one. You could get away with that then."

There was no pressure at all on us then; no expectations. Most Melbourne supporters wouldn't have known who the Febey twins were. These days kids almost have their own footy cards before they start; the focus is really intense."

The draft is something that changed the direction of my life, I suppose. Matthew and I went to our 20th school reunion last year and, without being braggish, people there knew a lot more about what we'd been doing than we knew about them. It's just such a public game."

You get to experience great comaraderie, set yourself up financially, and you meet people you wouldn't normally come across. I wouldn't have met my wife, if not for footy. All of that came from that draft."


Then a 24-year-old shooting star, recently plucked from his Adelaide University side to join Norwood.

What happened? Didn't go to Richmond.

Played country footy and won Norwood's 1988 best and fairest.

Now director of students at St John's Grammar in the Adelaide Hills, and father to Meg, 8, Ella, 6 and Jessie, 2.

RICHARD Anderson still has the No. 53 guernsey the Tigers sent when they drafted him. Back then, it was difficult to look at.

Anderson was 24 when Collingwood, St Kilda, Footscray and the Tigers wanted him to come play for them. But football was something he had only just started taking seriously, and their attention was too much.

He felt intimidated, and unsure, so he took a teaching job in Port Pirie and headed off, not even inclined to keep an eye on how Richmond was going."

I didn't want to think about it. I really did try to avoid it, because I'd worry and worry," said Anderson."

I guess I tended instinctively not to follow the club, or absorb myself in it, because it all felt a bit odd."

It was all going too fast. I remember feeling like I had no control, and that was very unnerving. A lot of people thought I was mad, that I had this fantastic opportunity and here I was, running away from it."

It was flattering, but I didn't understand it. It all felt very intimidating."

Anderson went back to Norwood in 1988, where he won a best-and-fairest, and made the state side.

He had secret intentions to get to Punt Road at some stage, but felt under-prepared and kept telling himself: one more year.

Then came a back injury, and then a drop in form.

A teacher for 20 years now, Anderson was at Pembroke School in Adelaide's eastern suburbs when Barnaby French and Angus Monfries came through, harbouring more focused big-league dreams than he had. "They're so well prepared now," he said. "They grow up wanting it, and knowing how it works."

If he had his time over, Anderson would pack his bags, and not stop to worry. "I wish I could say I had played VFL. I really do, and I live with that regret."


Then a 23-year-old centre half-back at Port Fairy, and Hampden League's best-and-fairest player.

What happened? Spent part of 1987 at Geelong and played a handful of reserves games, but went home to Finley, in country New South Wales, when his father became ill.

Now an irrigation farmer in Finley and a father of six (Rebecca, Miranda, Jordan, Sarah, Abbey and Chelsea) THE CATS found Michael Taylor in Port Fairy, where he had just spent a season after one year in Mal Brown's Perth side. The irony is that they could have had him much easier.

For all but a few years of his life, Taylor has lived in Finley, the small country town in New South Wales that was part of Geelong's country zone. "I mustn't have been much good," laughed Taylor. "I don't know that I was even any good when they did get me!" Taylor lost money when he moved to Geelong.

He had been paid $300 a game at Port Fairy, the club paid his rent, and he had a decent job at the Portland aluminium smelter. He thought being a VFL player would mean bigger bucks for sure, but soon found out otherwise."

After I got drafted, I went home at Christmas," Taylor said. "I had a chat to Jack Hawkins, who had played at Geelong, and he said I should try for a $10,000 sign-on fee and $2000 a game."

I went back to the club, went in to see the boss, and basically ended up signing for $900 a reserves game. I thought 'right.... don't think I'll be making much money this year.' These days I'd be sending my manager in."

Taylor found some work mowing lawns, but resented the struggle for money. He felt lost among the 60-odd players pushing for a game, missed a couple of Sunday morning training sessions and wondered why he was there."

It was a tough world," he said. "You had to really love it, and be selfish, and have great belief in your own ability.

This year, Taylor's 12-year-old son, Jordan, captained the NSW primary school side in Darwin (Dylan Roos, Paul's son, was in the team too). It saddens him that country kids now grow up aspiring to play for under-18 teams.

Should his son become good enough, he's not sure he'll have much advice. "If I had my time again, I'd be more dedicated," Taylor said. "That's the only thing. I'd try to live and breathe it."


Then A 24-year-old ruckman who had played almost 100 games at Central District and won the 1986 best and fairest.

What happened? Played 60 games in five years at the Bulldogs.

Now an accountant, who lives in Berwick with wife Anne and kids Bill, 15, Dan, 14 and Bonnie, 10."

I'd already thought about coming over. I'd been over to watch the grand final with North Melbourne for a few years in a row, and they seemed pretty keen, but I wanted to play some more footy in Adelaide first."

The move was more dramatic for me than the draft. I can't remember feeling at all anxious about that, or wondering who would pick me. The catalyst for me coming over, really, was Anne: she'd grown up in Pakenham, she wanted to move back, and it all just coincided."

I felt lost, for a long time. I would have been homesick for three years and I can remember, in my first game, thinking, 'what the hell am I doing out here?' In my first year I came off the bench, in my second I was first ruck for the whole year, and then Scotty Wynd came along. So that was my small window of opportunity."

These days kids grow up wanting to play AFL.

Back then, it was an opportunity that just bobbed up, but if I was still in Adelaide, I'd be thinking about it.

I'd be wondering whether I should have gone, I know it, so I'm glad I answered that question. I haven't left myself wondering."

7 CHRIS LINDSAY (North Melbourne)

Then a skinny 19-year-old ruckman from West Torrens who had long been in North Melbourne's sights.

What happened? Moved to Melbourne at the end of 1987, did a pre-season, but received one of several knee injuries and went home.

Now an agri-business executive at the Commonwealth Bank in Adelaide and father to Georgia, 12, and Tom, 9. Has been an assistant coach at Glenelg and will be North Adelaide's ruck coach next season.

CHRIS Lindsay was 20 when he moved to Melbourne.

Wayne Schwass was one of his new housemates, and he used to fly to and from Adelaide with Wayne Carey.

John Longmire was there, Mick Martyn, too, and Denis Pagan was coach of the under-19 team and "a very nice man who would often ask how I was coping with it all".

Lindsay really wanted to wear blue and white stripes. He spoke to a few clubs before the draft, and got worried when Richmond called late in the piece.

Years later, he felt bad for Brett Chalmers, a Port Adelaide boy who wanted to go only to Collingwood, told the other clubs that, and got fined $30,000. "If someone had asked me, I would have said the exact same thing about North Melbourne," he said. "It was all new. None of us really understood it."

Lindsay did a full first pre-season, but hurt his knee in an early reserves match. He went home to have it operated on, got married while he was there, and tried to come back, but couldn't."

I did my knee four or five more times, I reckon.

I couldn't run, I couldn't jump, and it became more frustrating than it was worth," he said. "I played my first game when I was 16, my last when I was 22, and that was the end of it."

Lindsay likes to think he is a "glass half-full type of guy". But Carey, Longmire and Schwass were at the centre of the team Pagan pulled together in the 1990s, and when he watched them play, Lindsay knew where he would have fitted."

Throughout that period, the one spot that was sort of there was the ruck spot," he said. "There were a couple of big blokes who came and went, but it wasn't until Corey McKernan got there that they really had a ruckman."

I always felt a bit bad about that. Not that I'd missed out, but because they had put together this team, and I hadn't done what they got me for.

I didn't fill my little hole."

8 GRANTLEY FIELKE (Collingwood)

Then a 24-year-old, and the 1985 Magarey Medallist. Had trained with Fitzroy in the early 1980s, but a contract wrangle took him back to West Adelaide.

What happened? Spent one year at Collingwood, two at Adelaide when the Crows started up, and became West Adelaide's games record holder.

Now a father of three (Callum, 7, Bailey, 5, and Abbey Rose, 18 months) who works in real estate in Adelaide."

I had no clue what the draft really was.

Back then it all felt like a done deal. I had a connection with Collingwood and if any other team contacted me I used to tell them that Collingwood was going to draft me and that was the only team I'd go to. You'd get in trouble if you said that now, but we didn't know. It was all new."

I signed a three-year contract, but I only stayed one year. My brother, Bruce, got killed that year in a car accident, and that was a very hard time. I have some regrets that I didn't keep going, and the club would, too, but I was in no condition, mentally, to even look at it."

All the players who played in the 1990 premiership came together then. Darren Millane was there, Gavin Brown, Mick Gayfer, Denis Banks. I watched every minute of that game, and felt all the emotion of it. You wondered whether you had been one small part of it."

I don't have any regets in football or any regrets life life but, looking back, 24 was too old.

I'd learnt some bad habits with my skills, and things like that. It didn't work out how either of us wanted."

If I had my time again I'd go over at 18, to see what I could have done."

9 ANDREW PAYZE (Essendon)

Then A 20-year-old wingman at West Torrens, who had just won a best-and-fairest and finished runner-up to Greg Anderson in the 1986 Magarey Medal.

What happened? Never went to Windy Hill but played 14 games in the Crows' first two seasons. Captained South Australia and played 308 games for the Eagles.

Now a senior executive at HSBC in Adelaide, who is on the Crows' board and married with two daughters, Georgia, 12, and Eliza, 8.

ANDREW Payze is Adelaide's football director, and understands how much work will have gone into each decision his club makes next Saturday morning."

There are so many people involved, and there's so much information to process," he said."

The right player has to be the right player on so many levels. It's an enormous business."

Payze had just turned 20 when he was that young prospect. Footscray sent Doug Hawkins to see him, most other clubs called, and Payze can remember Kevin Sheedy, fresh off a couple of premierships, sitting his living room.

The Essendon coach was persistent. "I was working as a bank teller, counting cash, and Sheeds used to drop in for a chat when he was in Adelaide," Payze said. "I looked up one day and there he was, wanting a ride to the airport."

I had this little hatchback back then, and there was Sheeds, sitting up in the passenger seat with the soft-top down and hair blowing everywhere."

I was that intimidated and that gobsmacked by it all, I ended up taking a few wrong turns. I had no clue where I was going. He said it was the longest trip to the airport he'd ever had."

Payze planned to get to Essendon, but 1987 wasn't his best year, and he felt less convinced about it all. He didn't go in 1988 either, and at the end of the next year his three-year tie to Windy Hill ended.

He was drafted again, by Richmond, but had an inkling the Crows were coming, and so didn't go that time, either. An orignal Adelaide player, Payze cobbled together 14 games in two years, but doesn't often wonder whether he should have started sooner.


Then a 20-year-old playing senior football in his home town, Barooga, on the NSW border.

What happened? Played five games in four years for the Swans. Spent a season at Prahran in the VFA, played for Redan, and finished a few years later at Vermont.

Now an auto-wholesaler in West Melbourne and father to Jasmine, 8 and Jai, 4."

I can still remember the excitement, and the nervousness of it all. I'd had a couple of clubs come to see me play, Collingwood and Geelong, but every time I knew someone was there I'd have a shocker."

There was a bit of talk around town, in the lead-up. People loved their footy up there, and we'd had Bernard Toohey and a few others go and play. There was a bit of attention, but nothing like what you see now."

I was working on draft day, and I got a phone call at home that night. I can still remember the excitement, and the nervousness of it. I had some friends at Geelong, so I'd hoped a bit to go there, but I would have gone anywhere."

I moved to Sydney full-time after Christmas. There were five or six other recruits and we all lived in a motel at Camperdown. We were having room service and getting it paid for; it was great."

It was a big move, for a country kid, but being there made it easier. You make some good friends when you're all new and in it together."

It was hard work, right from the start.

The club got me a job as a bricky's labourer, so I'd work all day, train, get home and sleep.

The Swans were a good team then, so you'd be training with 50 other players, wondering how you'd ever get in."

I played two games in 1988 and three in '89. I thought it might be my chance, after 88, and I thought the same thing the next year, but it just didn't work out. I was emergency probably 10 times in 1990; that's when you know it's just not going to happen."

Looking back, I always trained really hard and did all the right things. I do sometimes wonder if there's more I could have done, but who knows. Maybe I just wasn't good enough."

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