Rarely have more trees given their lives for a less worthy cause. In the past fortnight, pages and pages of newsprint have been given over to the AFL National Draft, that one day in November when 17 and 18-year-old footballers pause mid-skol during schoolies’ week to discover whether they have been recruited by AFL clubs.

There have been stories about big kids, little kids, wide kids, thin kids, country kids, city kids, Iraqi refugees who learnt to play the game in bare feet while holed up at a detention centre, Inuits who saw the game on ESPN in their igloo and practised their kicking on startled penguins, and Elliott William, the English boy who turned his back on a promising dancing career and, to his parents’ horror, took up Aussie Rules. We’ve read about them all. (And only some of those stories are untrue.)

And on Saturday, when the names are finally called out by clubs in a staccato ceremony so full of dead time it makes the Brownlow Medal count seem like a candidate for the Tony Awards, Melbourne sport radio SEN will broadcast the event live, and afl.com.au will log the selections accompanied by a breathless commentary. Nobody but the most ardent footyhead has heard of any bar half a dozen of these kids and here’s the really sad part: even after draft day, most fans are unlikely to hear much of them again.

The facts, taken from AFL drafts between 1996 and 2004, are these:

  • 25% of Top-10 selections play 50 games or fewer. (Only 48% reach 100 games).
  • 48% of those picked after selection No.10 play 50 games or fewer.
  • 40% of those picked after selection No.10 play 25 games or fewer.
  • 11% of those picked after selection No.10 never get to take the field at all. Mark them down for 0 games.

What these stats show is that after the top 10 picks — the standouts that Blind Freddy could see were champions-in-the-making — it’s an absolute raffle. The guy picked at No.81 has got almost as much chance of succeeding as the guy selected at No.11.

As inexact sciences go, AFL drafting is up there with economics and weather forecasting. Some duds get drafted in the top 10, while champions get overlooked until the third, fourth and fifth rounds. Consider this: Chris Grant was picked at No.105 in 1988, James Hird at No.79 in 1990, Scott Burns at No.90 in 1992, Brent Harvey at No. 47 in 1995, Brendan Fevola at No.38 in 1998, Ryan O’Keefe at No.54 in 1999 and Daniel Pratt at No.74 in 2004.

Of course some of the boys written about in the past fortnight will go on to become household names. They’ll be the Judds, Hodges and Murphys of the next decade – even the Hirds, Grants and Harveys. But let’s wait until they become champions, or even 100-game journeymen, before devoting acres of newsprint, hours of airtime and gigabytes of cybermemory to careers that have not yet even started. For the sake of the trees.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey