Cricket takes on AFL in recruiting battle

By , 9 Jul 2011

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    Sydney’s Adam Goodes, Hawthorn’s Luke Hodge and Geelong’s Jimmy Bartel are the AFL superstars who bring fans through the gates.

    Between them they boast four premierships, three Brownlows and a Norm Smith Medal.

    But the mention of their names, along with others such as Brisbane Lions’ triple premiership hero Jonathan Brown, causes heartache at Cricket Australia.

    Like so many other talented schoolboy athletes, they chose Australian rules football over cricket.

    Stephen Coniglio, who won the Larke Medal this week as the best player at the national Under-18 championships as captain of Western Australia, could be going down the same path.

    The WA Under-17 cricket representative is yet to make a call on whether to nominate for the AFL draft in November, where he’s a likely top-three pick headed for 2012 debutants Greater Western Sydney.

    “I haven’t made a decision on anything yet,” the 17-year-old midfielder said this week in Melbourne.

    “I’ll wait until after the carnival to have a think about that.

    “It’s a fantastic opportunity with footy and there’s opportunities in cricket to get the same.

    “It will definitely be the opportunities and the one which I enjoy most, nothing like money or anything.”

    Coniglio says the riches of the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket league won’t sway him.

    “It will just be what I enjoy and what I can see myself being the best player at,” Coniglio added.

    Cricket hasn’t been bowled over every time a multi-talented athlete bobs up.

    Victorian teenager Alex Keath played against the touring England side at the MCG last summer after turning his back on AFL club Gold Coast.

    Mitch Marsh, 19, represented Western Australia in the under-18 football championships before pursuing a cricket career with the Warriors alongside brother Shaun.

    Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) chief executive Paul Marsh says the issue has been a hot topic in cricket circles for several years, and the mood is becoming more optimistic.

    “In 2005 we felt we couldn’t compete with the AFL,” Marsh said.

    “This debate was a very hot debate in cricket five or six years ago and it was always the southern states who felt they were losing out.

    “There was almost resignation that cricket could not compete but with the rise of Twenty20, we stand a far better chance now than we did six or seven years ago.

    “The total package we need to offer these kids is what’s important.

    “Money, support services, the overall professionalism is all part of it.”

    Marsh says footballers can get drafted as teenagers and within a year be playing in front of crowds of 80,000 or more.

    Previously in Australia cricket, a player generally had to be in the national side before achieving public and media recognition and having the chance to make good money playing overseas.

    Now those opportunities are available at state level through T20, where the top two Australian teams contest the lucrative Champions League in India.

    State-squad members will put themselves in the shop window in the revamped eight-team, city-based Big Bash League T20 in December and January.

    With several IPL teams coached by Australians, the interest in BBL players is high. The flow-on effect is helping Australian cricket’s attractiveness to young athletes, Marsh says.

    “We are starting to win some of these battles,” Marsh said.

    “At the elite level, Twenty20 has opened up opportunities for players to play more overseas and earn more money.

    “Overseas opportunities is a big part of it, through the Indian Premier League.

    “The big change is you don’t need to be an Australian player to reap some of these benefits.”

    Marsh says salaries, overseas opportunities and how the players are treated by the relative sports are key aspects.

    “Cricket has traditionally been a harder road to hoe for athletes,” he said.

    “You don’t have to make the national team to get the recognition given to athletes in other sports like the AFL.”

    While Coniglio claims to be still deciding between cricket and football, he has brushed off a report he’s considering staying out of the draft to avoid playing for GWS.

    The Kevin Sheedy-coached AFL newcomers have nine of the first 15 picks, including the top three.

    “No, I wouldn’t have any concerns. It’s a new club, it’s exciting,” the 182cm, 76kg midfielder said.

    Coniglio announced himself as a star of the future when he kicked four goals for Swan Districts in last year’s WAFL grand final. He was shaded for best-afield honours by Andrew Krakouer who’s now with Collingwood.

    The teenager has been surprised by the media exposure he has received.

    “(But) if you’re going to be a good player in the future, you have to deal with that,” he said.

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