The AFL takes a lot of pride in its status as the most entrenched of the football codes. But with the major drafts over for another year, I have been left wondering if it can truly lay claim to this status.
Clay Cameron was the only Queensland player selected in the 2012 national draft, as a Gold Coast zone selection, while no New South Wales players got lucky on November 22.
The numbers are better in the rookie draft, but it’s still been downhill since 2009, when nine Queenslanders were selected in the national draft.
Broadbeach’s Andrew Boston, who was a runaway winner of the 2012 NEAFL Northern rising star and an Under-18 All-Australian, was overlooked, along with the rest of the northern talent.
Boston and Northern Territory gun Jake Neade were the only two U-18 All-Australians this year from the northern states, with all the starting players from Victoria (nine), South Australia (six) and Western Australia (three). And yet, Boston still went through to the rookie draft.
Three of the NT Thunder’s under-18 national championship side were taken either in the mini-draft or the main draft, with Neade (Port Adelaide), Jed Anderson (Hawthorn) and Dom Barry (Melbourne) making the grade.
Of the All-Australians eligible for the draft, Boston was the only one without an AFL home on November 22.
AFL Queensland Academies manager Mark Browning says he’s not worried about the lack of Queenslanders picked up, and I understand a lot of this is cyclical. However, when the AFL has put as much effort into promoting Queensland and NSW as development grounds, it’s a concern that talent is either not there or being overlooked.
For the numbers to change, the AFL needs to focus on more than just engaging people in these markets. This is about engaging these markets with the rest of the nation.
Ignoring for a second the fact that participation numbers in Western Sydney may not be entirely accurate, the game is growing in popularity in the fledgling areas due to the AFL’s work at increasing the profile of the game there.
However, the talent that non-AFL states possess seems to be routinely missed by the traditional powerhouses.
And by continuing to offer less exposure to these states, this will not change.
Becoming a national game is about more than just plonking teams where AFL fans are in the minority, it’s about creating a valid alternative in terms of development and rising talent.
The more players from these states that receive a chance to play in the AFL and the more exposure the NEAFL and NTFL competitions receive, the better the game will be at becoming truly national.
The creation of the NEAFL conferences in 2010 was crucial to the development, but if they do not receive exposure on a national level then they will continue to suffer.
Allowing these sides an even keel in the Foxtel Cup is important for this. In a bid to avoid blowouts, the Foxtel Cup will include two SANFL sides in 2013, while the NEAFL qualifiers will need to fight it out for the final two spots in the competition.
This is despite the fact that plenty of non-NEAFL sides have been on the wrong end of blowouts and the inaugural winners, the NT Thunder, were a NEAFL side.
With Foxtel Cup matches to air in primetime on Fox Footy, the northern states are once again being robbed of the exposure they need.
If the AFL wants the game to grow, it needs to showcase the emerging markets to the wider AFL community, not just push the game on unexplored territories.