GWS Giants think big at the AFL Draft
The aspirations of a crop of young footballers were on the line when the AFL held their draft on Thursday evening. For the first time the draft was held in Western Sydney, a place that many of the country’s elite young footballers will now call home.
And so the who’s who of football made their way to the State Sports Centre at Homebush. Coaches, recruiters and list managers for all 18 clubs, the AFL Commission, plenty of media, the aspiring players, and members of the public – about 1,500 of them – who took advantage of the opportunity to see who would end up at their favourite clubs.
The AFL Commission was placed at the stage at the end, with a media area at the other end of the hall. In between, each of the clubs had a table as club officials sat and discussed their upcoming picks.
The picks had been allocated according to last year’s positions, but with new team GWS Giants being allocated extra selections to enable them to build a team from scratch. The recent trade week had also seen picks in the draft change hands as clubs exchanged picks for players who were keen to switch clubs.
The top ten draft picks had already been selected behind closed doors. The draft began with those players being counted down. Not an entirely satisfactory arrangement; it would have been good to see those players being selected. And in this draft, with GWS Giants holding eight of the top ten picks, including all of the top five, there was little surprise as the top ten players were counted down.
As the top ten selections were named, the players who had been chosen came up to the stage, where the coach of the club they had been drafted to presented them with their jumper. The first name read out was Liam Sumner, the number ten selection, who will now be moving to western Sydney.
The names were read out, from ten to one. Jonathon Patton, who this year played under 18s with Eastern Ranges in the Victorian TAC Cup, was the top pick. A key position forward, he already stands at 197cm; and when the obligatory photo of the top ten draft picks was taken, Patton towered over the other players. Patton will be looking to carve out a place in the Giants’ forward line.
Patton and Sumner will be joined at the Giants by Stephen Coniglio, Dom Tyson, William Hoskin-Elliott, Matthew Buntine, Nick Haynes and Adam Tomlinson. Chad Wingard joins Port Adelaide and Billy Longer is now with the Brisbane Lions.
After the top ten had been counted down, the draft continued. With each pick, the club spokesman read out the player registration number, his name and his previous club. A couple of times they had to repeat it, when microphones weren’t switched on correctly, while the Hawthorn microphone was very faint all evening.
But the draft continued through the first round, with every player selected 18 or 19 years old. Priority and compensation picks were next, and again young talent was selected.
GWS didn’t participate in the second round, they had traded their second round pick during the trade week in their successful quest for extra early picks. And the first player over 20 was selected, the first recycled player; with Carlton selecting former Sydney rookie Sam Rowe.
In the third round, several eyebrows were raised when the Western Bulldogs read out the name “Daniel Pearce”. But this wasn’t Danyle, the experienced Port Adelaide player, but a namesake.
Most of the fourth round picks had already been allocated before the draft. These were elevations from the rookie list, while Collingwood listed Jarrod Witts, the last player on the now-defunct NSW Scholarship scheme.
A few mature-aged draftees had been selected, with Geelong signing up the 29 year-old Orran Stephenson. The Cats had success when the ready-made James Podsiadly joined the club two years ago, and again the Cats have shown that there is hope for the late bloomers, that not being selected as an 18-year-old isn’t necessarily the end of an AFL aspiration.
The father-son rule saw Tom Mitchell, son of Barry, join Sydney; while Andrew Bews’ son Jed is following in his father’s footsteps at Geelong.
GWS Giants, the youngest side in the competition, pulled off a surprise by naming Setanta O’hAilpin. The delisted former Carlton player had another chance at AFL level, and brings some experience to the Giants. James McDonald, former Melbourne captain, also comes out of retirement to join the Giants.
But former Carlton forward Brendan Fevola was overlooked by every club. At 29, and after a string of off-field incidents, this looks to be the end of the road for the former Coleman Medallist.
The draft was completed, the coaches and players heading to the media rooms to discuss the talent of the players and their new homes and new challenges.
For GWS Giants in particular, it was a night to celebrate. The club had been a long time in the planning, and had already developed a list of young players who had played in the NEAFL this year, had signed up uncontracted players during a special transfer window; and with their many draft selections, their list is now complete.
The players, officials and supporters of the new club gathered to celebrate another milestone in the Giants’ development. 12,000 foundation members, every corporate target met and surpassed, a top-class training facility at Blacktown, Skoda Stadium under construction, and now a list that coach Kevin Sheedy will be working hard with in preparation for the season ahead.
Sheedy, ever the visionary, was beaming with pride as the Giants’ squad was presented. He spoke of Tom Wills and Henry Harrison, the founders of the game, who were born in western Sydney and that the Giants was taking the game home. He spoke of being a part of history, of being a part of growing the game in an area where the game has struggled for traction in the past.
Phil Davis, who signed with the Giants from Adelaide during the transfer window, took the stage. He spoke of growing up in Canberra, where AFL is a minority sport, and how he hopes the Giants will cause more people both in western Sydney and Canberra to aspire to the AFL. He was joined on the stage by top draft pick Jonathan Patton. Patton spoke of being excited, how being drafted is a dream come true, and looking forward to being part of a new franchise and a part of history.
For the drafted players, challenges lie ahead. These players undoubtedly have talent, but many are raw and need to work in around their clubs’ game plan. Plenty of them are moving out of home and relocating interstate. Slotting into the senior team, for many, will take time.
But the opportunities are enormous. To be an AFL listed player is to be part of Australia’s sporting elite. But who from this draft will be the superstars of the future? Time will tell.
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