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Sunday Age

10 things you need to know about the draft

Author: Jake Niall
Date: 02/11/1997
Words: 2500
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: SPORTSWEEK
Page: 8
1. BE PATIENT

PLAYERS who make an immediate impact on their team's fortunes are rare in the national draft, which is about discovering new talent rather than recycling.

There will always be a few, such as Jason Heatley (St Kilda) and Martin Pike (North Melbourne), who provide instant results, but the bulk of the prized, early choices will not take the AFL by storm next year.

This year's draft had more of a long-range flavor than those in 1995 or 1996.

In future, the impact of this crop may rival 1994's, which has proven to be most significant draft of the '90s.

Not one player over 20 was selected in the first 20 picks, with Clem Michael, a raw 21-year-old big man (Fremantle), the only non-teenager in the top 32.

A decent percentage of the early selections, however, will play senior football next year. The question is, how much?

Clearly, 18-year-olds, such as James Walker (Fremantle's first choice) are capable of becoming regulars next year. Recruiters say that some quality 17-year-olds will play next year; Carlton and Melbourne, for instance, expect their highly rated 17-year-olds, Travis Johnstone and Kris Massie to be given a chance.

Overall, though, the harvest will not be reaped for two years or more.

2. AFL REJECTS ARE NOT IN VOGUE

One of the consequences of the youth trend was that clubs were uninterested in drafting anyone dropped by another AFL club.

Only one player from a senior list, the less-than-decorated former Bomber Robert Stevenson (Western Bulldogs, pick 47), was drafted, compared with seven in 1995 and 15 last year, when Fitzroy's demise created a bigger pool of experienced players.

Only two others with league experience, Danny Morton and Troy Johnson, (who were not on AFL lists) were taken, by Port Adelaide and Fremantle respectively.

Clubs actually preferred to punt on the young players on club supplementary lists (who can play only reserves) rather than delisted senior players.

Five were drafted from supplementary lists, all in the later rounds. It seems that hidden potential was more alluring than known mediocrity.

How often does the number of Victorian amateurs (two, both taken by Hawthorn) surpass the number of AFL players?

Clubs are prepared to wait until the pre-season draft in Febraury before trying to fill a hole or two with AFL cast-offs.

By then, some youngsters will have been through a pre-season - and have been found wanting - while the pool of experienced players can only improve with further delistings and when a few out-of-contract players fail to come to terms with their clubs.

3. THE KEY-POSITION PREMIUM

The saying that decent big men are hard to find is reflected in the draft. Because running players are more numerous, the early choices are biased towards taller kids.

Three of the first four players taken (Brad Ottens, Trent Croad and Mark Bolton) were tall; Collingwood, Port Adelaide, Sydney and North Melbourne also opted for height and Carlton's Kris Massie might be capable of holding down centre half-back at a pinch.

The premium on taller players was most evident in Essendon's drafting.

Kevin Sheedy's desperation for a key defender was such that he spent each of the Bombers' first three picks on prospective tall backmen (Bolton, Dean Solomon, Judd Lalich).

If one is able to make the grade next year, he will be happy. Sheedy also drafted a ruckman (Simon Eastaugh), meaning that only one of five choices was used for a running player.

Clubs have taken the view that they need to carry a few additional talls on their list, give them time and hope that one or two graduate. A mixed football-basketball background is tolerated (Collingwood's pick 81, Trent Hopner, played state level tall-ball) so long as the kid is tall and athletic enough.

Taller kids are given "project" status at a club more readily than the small and medium-sized, who had better be up to scratch quickly.

4. FATHERS AND SONS

Collingwood supporters will be wondering how Marcus Picken, son of Billy, managed to end up in Brisbane, while Geelong was able to grab the sons of two solid former players, John Scarlett and Michael Woolnough?

Similarly, Crows fans will be slightly peeved that Graham Cornes' son Chad (evidently, a popular name in the late '70s) could be drafted by the loathsome Port Adelaide, a club his father despises.

The answer is that the father-son rule was changed this year.

Previously, clubs were able to tack any son who qualified on to the end of their list, effectively as a last pick in the draft.

To qualify, dad had to play 50 games with the club. This was how Matthew Richardson and Joel Bowden were grabbed by Richmond.

Ian Collins' new rule specified that a club would have to give up a second-round draft pick for a father-son player.

If, like Geelong, there was a second player eligible, it would cost them a third rounder. This creates tough choices for clubs.

For the Cats, though, it was not a difficult call. Woolnough was rated among the top 17-year-olds in the land and, had they not forsaken pick 29, would have been taken by Brisbane (which, curiously, was also eligible; but that's another story) while Scarlett was rated a prospective second-rounder by most experts.

Geelong, therefore, was getting a good deal: two players who were rated second-rounders or better at a cost of picks 29 and 45.

Collingwood, on the other hand, was not in a position to give up its second choice (24) for Picken. The Pies would definitely have grabbed him under the old rules but decided - as any club would - that Picken was worth a later selection.

As it turned out, he was taken in the fourth round (pick 58). Sam Cranage, son of another ex-Pie player Paul, did not qualify for father-son. His dad played only 48 games and he ended up at St Kilda.

Young Cornes was highly rated by scouts. His problem was that he did not qualify as a father-son because dad was sacked after four years as senior coach of the Crows. The rules require five years as coach.

The Crows did not get a chance to draft him because Port, which had an earlier pick, took him with their first pick.

5. ATHLETE OR FOOTBALLER?

Few clubs have to worry about father-son players. Every club, however, has to grapple with one of the modern draft's great posers: Do you draft athletes or less-athletic, pure footballers?

In recent years, the game has become increasingly athletic and, as its speed increases, the speed of the participants increases commensurately.

The downside is that, as many old-timers rightfully point out, many of these jumpers and runners do not have the knack of getting the ball. Thus, there is still a place here and there for the highly skilled average athlete who knows how to play.

Shane O'Bree, a North Ballarat boy drafted by Brisbane, is an example of the pure footballer.

O'Bree, a midfielder with fine vision, has excelled at every level of football he has played and, although he is not a speedster like teammate James Walker, he was rated good enough to be taken with the 10th pick.

At the other end of the scale is Norwood wingman James Wasley, who was drafted (pick 24) by Collingwood. Wasley, from all reports, is explosively quick - as fast as anyone in the draft pool.

His disposal, however, needs work. Collingwood has punted on its ability to improve his skills with AFL-level coaching.

The Wasley example shows why clubs draft more athletes. Provided they are young and hard working, it is possible to improve their skills or teach them how to play.

But, no matter how hard working or skilled a player might be, he cannot be taught to run faster or jump higher.

6. 'WE'RE HAPPY'

The public should take absolutely no notice of any club that says it is "happy" with its draft choices.

Have you ever heard anyone suggest that they were unhappy with their selections? Ask them if they are happy with this draft three years from now.

7. THE EAGLES

Although the draft has a glorious uncertainty, there are predictable outcomes. Fremantle will pick mostly Western Australians.

Collingwood can be counted on to draft players from Norwood and the Northern/Preston Knights (it managed a total of three from those clubs this year) and, on the evidence of past seasons, West Coast will be big winners.

Often, the Eagles are winners before the draft. Their standard ploy is to obtain the top pick (or a first-rounder, at any rate) by virtue of discarded unwanted fringe players.

This year they off-loaded Brett Spinks, Craig Smoker and Ashley Blurton to rival clubs for picks 13, 34 and 37. The players they selected with those picks were Callumm Chambers, Andrew Williams and Todd Holmes. Remember those names.

8. THE SHEEDY FACTOR

Kevin Sheedy is part of that glorious uncertainty and randomness of the draft. Every recruiting manager went into the draft with a plan, but whenever they tried to sort through the hypothetical scenarios, they were left with one major uncertainty: Who will Sheeds take?

Not having a football department surrounding him this year made Essendon's moves even more unpredictable because it was Sheedy's call alone (with advice from lead scouts). To the chagrin of a bored media, he did not deliver a shock choice this year, such as Darren Wheildon (1995). True to form, though, Sheeds did pull a mild surprise with the third pick, selecting an 18-year-old (Bolton) rather than the anticipated 17-year-old.

9. THE NO. 1 PICK

One recruiter remarked before the draft that there were some players with pace, but shoddy skills and vice versa. Others might be quick, but did not have a clue how to get the ball. Or were soft.

There were not many players with what he termed "the lot". Too many were just cheeseburgers or baconburgers.

Travis Johnstone was chosen before every other player because he was perceived as a midfielder with "the lot", a veritable Big Mac among 17-year-old footballers. He is certainly quick.

Scouts say he is a fluid mover who appears capable of finding another gear if required. He is also an excellent disposer of the ball; and he gets it. He had 29 disposals in a losing grand final side in the under-18s and he was playing with a shin injury in the finals series.

The No. 1 choices, however, have seldom lived up to their billing since the establishment of the draft.

Richmond's Richard Lounder and Anthony Banik were flops, Alex McDonald never made it at Hawthorn while Clive Waterhouse (Fremantle, 1995) has yet to fulfil his promise. Darren Gaspar (Sydney, 1993) has been a good performer at his second club, but hardly a superstar. Drew Banfield, of West Coast, was a solid No. 1. The Eagles' first choice of last year, Michael Gardiner, does appear to be a special talent and a worthy numero uno, but to a degree even Jeff White (Fremantle, 1994) is unproven.

The moderate success rate, however, is misleading. Some of the first picks, particularly those chosen up to 1991, were not true No. 1s. Metropolitan zoning was intact in Victoria and there had been recruiting moratoriums in WA and SA for the Eagles and Crows. The draft has not been uncompromised and concession-free until this year.

10. PASS

A club will pass on its draft choice for one of two reasons: because it does want to select another player because it thinks the talent pool is dry and would prefer to wait until February, or because it has mucked up its salary cap and cannot afford another player on the list.

On Friday, there were three passes. Richmond at 72, Adelaide at 76 and Port Adelaide at 79. Richmond and Port passed for the first reason, while the Crows - victims of premiership inflation - were squeezed by the salary cap. They will be one or two short of the maximum on their list this year.

There is, of course, the remote possibility that a club will pass because it is so disorganised or divided it cannot make a selection in the required time, even with an extension. To date, this has never happened in the national draft despite some of the lengthy in-house debates that have slowed the draft to a standstill in years past.

FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES

What the top picks said about the draft:

* TRAVIS JOHNSTONE, 17

(midfielder, Dandenong Stingrays to Melbourne)

"It was a really long week. Ten minutes before the draft started, I started to get all nervous and shaky. I just wanted to get picked, that's all. I wasn't fazed whether I was the first or last picked. I just wanted to get picked."

* JAMES WALKER, 18

(midfielder, North Ballarat Rebels to Fremantle)

"I was pretty shocked to start with, just the shock of getting picked up. Fremantle ... it's a long way, but the idea has definitely grown on me. I'm very happy with it now. There's no disappointment. I just wanted to be drafted. and to play league footy."

* SHANE O'BREE, 18

(midfielder, North Ballarat Rebels to Brisbane)

"Sure, I'll be a long way from home, but it doesn't really worry me. I've always wanted to play AFL footy, so you've just got to do what you have to."

BRAD OTTENS, 17

(ruckman/forward, Glenelg to Richmond)

"I'm ecstatic, really excited. I can't wait to get into it and see what happens. It's a dream come true."

* NICK STEVENS, 17

(midfielder/half-back, Preston Knights to Port Adelaide)

"They (Port) have surprised everyone in their first year. They look a good club to go to. It should be good. A few clubs had approached me, but I just wanted to play AFL, and I'm rapt to get my chance at Port Adelaide."

* CHAD CORNES, 17

(forward, Glenelg to Port Adelaide)

"It's excellent, although it hasn't sunk in yet. Port was my first choice. (But) I thought West Coast. They came over this week and were pretty keen. But Dad and I saw Alan Stewart (Port's recruiting manager) a few weeks ago. Training starts Wednesday. I can't wait."

HOW YOUR CLUB FARED

Adelaide

Lance Picioane (Western Jets) 17, 183cm, 82kg

James Thiessen (Norwood) 23, 181cm, 80kg

Ian Perrie (East Perth) 18, 191cm, 96kg

Linden Stevens (Sturt) 19, 186cm, 80kg

Brisbane

Luke Power (Oakleigh Chargers) 17, 176cm, 65kg

Shane O'Bree (North Ballarat Rebels) 18, 182cm, 81kg

Simon Black (East Fremantle) 18, 183cm, 70kg

Scott Ralph (Morningside) 18, 191cm, 83kg

Marcus Picken (North Ballarat) 18, 185cm, 80kg

Beau McDonald (Swan Districts) 17, 200cm, 81kg

Carlton

Kris Massie (Dandenong Stingrays) 17, 188cm, 78kg

Adam Chatfield (NSW/ACT Rams) 18, 189cm, 78kg

Craig Black (Dandenong Stingrays) 18, 180cm, 70kg

Trent Hoppner (Preston Knights) 18, 175cm, 70kg

John Hynes (Prahran Dragons) 18, 184cm, 85kg

Benjamin Thompson (Northern Eagles) 19, 186cm, 80kg

Collingwood

Chris Tarrant (Bendigo Pioneers) 17, 191cm, 80kg

James Wasley (Norwood) 18, 183cm, 76kg

Ben Kinnear (Central District) 18, 192cm, 88kg

Troy Kirwen (Preston Knights) 17, 190cm, 80kg

Frankie Raso (Preston Knights) 18, 181cm, 72kg

Scott Whiston (Central District) 18, 183cm, 74kg

Essendon

Mark Bolton (Eastern Ranges) 18, 192cm, 83kg

Dean Solomon (Bendigo Pioneers) 17, 188cm, 92kg

Judd Lalich (East Perth) 21, 193cm, 86kg

Jordan Doering (Bendigo Pioneers) 18, 187cm, 83kg

Simon Estaugh (Norwood) 24, 200cm, 100kg

Fremantle

James Walker (Ballarat Rebels) 18, 179cm, 70kg

Clem Michael (South Fremantle) 21, 193cm, 86kg

Brodie Holland (Tassie Mariners) 17, 178cm, 79kg

Troy Johnson (South Fremantle) 20, 180cm, 75kg

Geelong

Joel McKay (Murray Bushrangers) 18, 182cm, 72kg

Marc Woolnough (father/son rule) 17, 189cm, 79kg

James Rahilly (Geelong Falcons) 18, 186cm, 75kg

Matthew Scarlett (father/son rule) 18, 189cm, 80kg

Justin Wood (Tassie Mariners) 17, 184cm, 70kg

Tim Finocchiaro (Eastern Ranges) 18, 177cm, 80kg

Hawthorn

Trent Croad (D'nong Stingrays) 17, 189cm, 85kg

Christopher Obst (Western Jets) 17, 184cm, 76kg

Marcus Baldwin (Calder Cannons) 17, 194cm, 81kg

Matthew Dennis (Old Brighton) 19, 189cm, 87kg

Brad Lloyd (Williamstown) 22, 182cm, 81kg

Richard Vandenberg (University Blues) 20, 180cm, 80kg

Nathan Thompson (Bendigo Pioneers) 19, 195cm, 95kg

Hayden Burgiel (Gippsland Power) 18, 182cm, 70kg

Melbourne

Travis Johnstone (Dandenong Stingrays) 17, 184cm, 75kg

Troy Longmuir (West Perth) 18, 176cm, 74kg

Matthew Blake (Bendigo Pioneers) 18, 186cm, 83kg

Luke Ottens (Glenelg) 21, 194cm, 95kg

Nathan Brown (West Adelaide) 21, 179cm, 72kg

Guy Rigoni (Myrtleford) 24, 178cm, 80kg

North Melbourne

Shannon Watt (North Ballarat Rebels) 16, 191cm 86kg

Bradley Stephens (Murray Bushrangers) 18, 186cm, 79kg

Paul McMahon (Bendigo Pioneers) 18, 175cm, 66kg

Joshua Robertson (Murray Bushrangers) 18, 180cm, 80kg

Dion Miles (Western Jets) 19, 175cm, 70kg

Port Adelaide

Chad Cornes (Glenelg) 17, 191cm, 82kg

Nick Stevens (Preston Knights) 17, 180cm, 78kg

Danny Morton (North Adelaide) 24, 175cm, 62kg

Darren Fraser (Essendon) 24, 180cm, 82kg

Richmond

Brad Ottens (Glenelg, SANFL) 17, 198cm, 90kg

Lionel Proctor (Preston Knights) 17, 179cm, 70kg

Paul Greenham (Port Melbourne) 20, 178cm, 78kg

Andrew Kellaway (Sandringham) 22, 189cm, 83kg

St Kilda

Ben Walton (Central Dist) 18, 188cm, 87kg

Ben Thompson (Glenelg) 24, 193cm, 92kg

Sam Cranage (North Ballarat) 18, 185cm, 70kg

Brent Cowell (Gippsland Power) 17, 176cm, 66kg

Sydney

Jason Saddington (Eastern Ranges) 18, 192cm, 83kg

Fred Campbell (NT Pioneers) 17, 174cm, 64kg

Adam Goodes (North Ballarat Rebels) 17, 191cm, 85kg

Brett Rose (Eastern Ranges) 18, 178cm, 74kg

West Coast

Jaxon Crabb (Claremont) 17, 178cm, 78kg

Callum Chambers (Gippsland Power) 18, 180cm, 68kg

Rohan Jones (Claremont) 17, 183cm, 76kg

Andrew Williams (D'nong Stingrays) 18, 185cm, 79kg

Todd Holmes (Subiaco) 18, 185cm, 85kg

David Antonowicz (Western Jets) 17, 194cm, 84kg

Phillip Read (East Fremantle) 17, 177cm, 75kg

Western Bulldogs

Mark Alvey (Bendigo Pioneers) 17, 179cm, 72kg

Robert Stevenson (Essendon) 21, 188cm, 90kg

Anthony Aloi (Western Jets) 18, 184cm, 79kg

Paul Digiovine (Oakleigh Chargers) 18, 196cm, 93kg

 
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