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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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