While The Ashes is undoubtedly the biggest game in town this week, for many sports fans in the footy-mad centres south of the Gabba, the most intriguing sports event will be Saturday’s AFL National Draft.
Anyone who enjoys listening to the well-worn clichés of post-match press conferences will love the pearls dished up by recruiters, coaches and club officials after they have secured five or six of the 1,100 or so “key talls”, “outside runners” and “ball magnets” who have nominated for this year’s draft.
‘We’re rapt with the group of players we’ve ended up with” is generally the main order of the day, closely followed by “yeah, he’s got captaincy written all over him, this kid” and “he’s going to play 200 games for this club”.
The post-draft protocol is so well-rehearsed these days that it wouldn’t completely surprise if a Carlton official said they were “surprised he lasted this long” in reference to Bryce Gibbs, who is almost certain to be lumped with the pressure of being the first name called out in the draft.
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But the draft is a very serious business for the devoted teams of club recruiters who spend countless hours at junior football matches throughout the country every year.
One recruiter, who chose not to be named, said he had watched more than 160 “live” games this year in preparation for the draft. He and his team have also seen “countless more” on video and DVD.
He agreed with the common thought that this year’s talent pool had the recruiting fraternity a little more excited than in seasons gone by.
“It’s regarded as a good draft because there are so many tall kids about. That’s not only unusual, but because every club is searching for those bigger-type kids, everyone is a bit excited. Having said that, we think there aren’t so many midfielders around this year.”
For Victorian fans fearing the continued domination of the so-called “interstate clubs”, he offered a sobering warning.
“The WA teams have a huge advantage because, among other things, the WAFL have all the colts (Under 19s) and reserves games taped and sent to Fremantle and West Coast every weekend, free of charge. The other 14 clubs aren’t afforded that luxury.
“With the Victorian TAC system, every AFL club is given equal access to all the games and all the kids, so there is really no advantage at all for the Melbourne-based teams.”
While our recruiting “deep-throat” was obviously not prepared to divulge who he thought would go in what position on Saturday, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring and at least have a crack at the top five.
The key variable is whether Essendon go with the ruckman (Matthew Leuenberger) or the tall defender (Lachlan Hansen). The Roos will take Gumbleton regardless, and Brisbane will resist the temptation to take midfielder Joel Selwood as they attempt to rebuild a defence shaken by the loss of Mal Michael and Justin Leppitsch last year.
So here goes:
1. Carlton – Bryce Gibbs
2. Essendon – Matthew Leuenberger
3. Kangaroos – Scott Gumbleton
4. Brisbane – Lachlan Hansen
5. Port Adelaide – Mitchell Thorp