Upon the completion of the best first round I have seen for many years, I had my usual banter with friends on all things AFL.
Across the table went the usual remarks of how nice was it to see Collingwood lose, or how it looked like the same Melbourne outfit would present again this year.
Normally this conversation ends with some big calls, bold predictions for the year ahead or even just outright silliness, like GWS for the flag. However, a comment of mine sparked very heated debate. It’s one I intend to stand behind.
The statement was that Essendon have the best list coming into the next five years, including the lists of the Gold Coast Suns and GWS. Boldly foolish on its exterior, however it can be properly justified.
Essendon’s is a very young list. What is exciting about the Bomber team is the already demonstrated value of its players, and their consistency at such a young age.
Bellchambers, Carlisle, Colyer, Crameri, Dempsey, Hardingham, Heppell, Hibberd, Hocking, Hooker, Howlett, Hurley, Jetta, Lonergan, Melksham, Myers, Pears, Reimers, Ryder and Zaharakis are all under 25 years of age. You could throw in Monfries and Stanton who are just over 25.
This is a huge core group of players who make the best 22, have game experience, and consistently deliver on the big stage.
Looking at other AFL clubs, each has two or three real standout players under 25 who consistently make the best 22. The next-best team is Hawthorn.
How does this beat the lists of Gold Coast and GWS over the next five years? The answer simply comes back to proven worth. The Essendon players are young, have game experience, and have shown they can match it with the best at AFL level.
Although we believe the new clubs have the cream of the crop when it comes to talent, that does not always eventuate to being a good AFL player. There are so many examples of players who showed great junior and TAC Cup performances but never made it at AFL level.
The standout is Richard Tambling. He showed amazing potential and even showed glimpses of brilliance at AFL level, but never shone or realised the potential so many saw in him. He went ahead of Buddy Franklin that year in the draft. Who would you choose?
How about names like Mitch Thorp, Luke Molan, Luke Livingston and Danny Roach? Haven’t heard of them? They were all top 10 draft picks in their year. Roach was pick four in the ’99 draft and only played one game for Collingwood. His stat was one tackle. At pick four you would certainly hope for more.
Mitch Thorp was another star of the TAC Cup whose impact at AFL level was virtually non-existent. After being chosen at pick six in the ’06 draft, Thorp only played two games for Hawthorn. Pick seven in the draft that year was Joel Selwood. I can only imagine a Hawthorn line-up with Selwood in it.
Even today there are a crop of high draft picks who have not produced what so many believed they could. Jack Watts and Patrick Veszpremi are two notable names.
I certainly understand that injuries hampered some of these players. However, with my direct involvement at TAC Cup level in the past, the difference between the demands, intensity and overall approach from TAC to AFL is huge. No recruitment officer or player manager can predict how a teenager will cope with the rigours of AFL.
Even having early draft picks like the Gold Coast and GWS will not necessarily culminate in a strong team. Fremantle had 11 pre-draft selection choices and also the number one draft for their inaugural year in the AFL. It’s only taken them until now to develop a list with a strong chance in the finals.
All that said, the Bombers are in the box seat in terms of their list in the future. With new training facilities out at Tullamarine, a dynamic and strong list with great key position players, and an excellent coaching line-up, my tip is for the Bombers to push for premiership glory right through to 2018.