It is mystifying as to why AFL clubs appear
willing, in deed if not in word, to place such a high value on the national draft.
History tells us that the order of draft selections rarely matches the eventual
ability of the players.

Kevin Sheedy’s decision to drag Dean Rioli
to 100 games has dual benefits for Essendon: ensuring his sons are
eligible to play for the Dons (and bypassing the competition of the draft), and
less obviously, a substantial weakening of the match-day team. That suits
Essendon – with one more win they lose a priority draft pick. But with Essendon
fans told they won’t see the best possible team out there over the next few
weeks, why should they turn up?

The “superdraft” of 2001 shows how inexact
the draft is. Both Hawthorn and St Kilda elected not to choose Chris Judd, instead
opting for Luke Hodge and Luke Ball. While Hodge and Ball are top-line players,
Judd has already won one Brownlow, is favourite to win another, and is already one
of the greats of the game. In that same draft, Nick Dal Santo wasn’t taken
until pick 13 and Rising Star winner Sam Mitchell was left until pick 36. By
contrast, Melbourne chose Luke Molan at pick 9. Poor old Luke was delisted without ever
playing a senior game.

Recruiters also got it wrong in 2003, with
rising St Kilda star Sam Fisher not taken until pick 55 and Richmond gun Shane
Tuck languishing at pick 73 – by contrast the more fancied Billy Morrison
(taken by Collingwood at pick 17) or Ryley Dunn (Fremantle at pick 10) are no
longer playing at the top level.

While Nick Riewoldt (top selection in 2001)
and Josh Fraser (first chosen in 1999) are examples of recruiters getting it
right, more often than not underage form is a poor measure of a player’s
potential. No better examples can be found than Chris Grant (picked at 105 in
1988) or James Hird (picked at 79 in 1990).

Advances in sports science are improving
the hit-miss ratio all the time, but so long as the future remains a mystery,
the game is poorer for AFL clubs like Essendon playing football from the
boardroom.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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