JOHNNO: Time’s on their side, as Dees and Hogan look to future

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Melbourne coach Mark Neeld announces co-captains (Slattery Images)

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Melbourne may have lost both chapters of their first round of the NAB Cup, but there was plenty of post-game buzz following the solid performances of Jack Viney, Jimmy Toumpas and teenage forward Jesse ‘The Hulk’ Hogan.

Demons coach Mark Neeld would have slept well regardless of the defeats to North Melbourne and Richmond, because it’s clear that Melbourne have recruited three beauties in recent trading.

The focus quickly turned to the fact that Hogan, who just turned 18 a fortnight ago, cannot pull on the Melbourne seniors jumper in home-and-away games until next season.

Players can only nominate for the draft in the year they turn 18, which means they’re only eligible to play in a given year if they are 18 or older when it begins.

The rule was introduced in 2009, based on statistics that before then, 40 percent of 17 year olds drafted to an AFL club had managed 20 senior games or fewer. The aim was to protect younger players from the pressures of elite football.

Hogan was too young for last year’s draft, but was recruited beforehand, alongside Jack Martin, via the AFL’s Greater Western Sydney mini-draft. This concession allowed GWS to claim up to four 17 year olds, then trade them to other clubs. Martin went to the Gold Coast Suns, and Hogan to Melbourne.

The players are reserved by those clubs, but still won’t be allowed to play at AFL level until another season has passed by and they enter a calendar year as adults. The mini-draftees received a special exemption for the pre-season competition.

GWS traded Hogan for Melbourne’s third pick in the 2012 national draft. They used it to recruit the highest-rated junior defender in the country, Lachie Plowman. The winner of the deal could be decided in 12 months, when Hogan and Plowman first line up on each other.

Despite the waiting period ahead, Hogan excited teammates and fans alike on the weekend with his contested marking ability, his hefty stature, impressive movement for a big man, and his composure around goal, the latter highlighted by a perfect snap from the boundary line.

We’re yet to see the highly rated Martin play, but are told he’ll get a taste of the action as the pre-season competition continues.

Last year in the NAB Cup, Jaeger O’Meara was the underage recruit playing well for Gold Coast, having been given the same exemption. He and Adelaide’s Brad Crouch were picked up via the 2011 mini-draft.

Although not able to play senior football, last season would have seen the two learn so much in training and development in a professional environment. It has given them the best chance to push forward this year, while also – and most importantly – letting them finish their high school commitments.

The same will happen with Hogan. He can train and prepare with the senior squad this year, and play in the VFL, in preparation for 2014, without yet having to take the responsibility of being on a senior list.

I was drafted as a 17 year old, and had to combine all the commitments required by the Bulldogs with completing my Year 12 studies. It was tough at times, especially around exams.

It was made easier though by the fact I had some great teachers who understood what I was going through, especially Brian Cordy, who had played 124 games for the Dogs in the 1980s.

It was also helpful that we only trained on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, with a game on Saturdays.

Training days were tough, starting at 4.45pm and finishing around 8.30, then having to go home to complete what I needed for school.

But the hours required were nothing compared to the range of commitments that players have today. To be part of that at the same time as studying for Year 12 would be impossible without at least one side of the equation suffering. Allowing players to finish school before being drafted is the right call.

Jesse Hogan will have to bide his time this year, with his schoolwork and his work in the VFL to take up his focus.

But if his performances in the two pre-season hit-outs are an early indication, the wait for all of his Melbourne supporters will be worth it in the long run.

Six-time All-Australian Brad Johnson is a former Western Bulldogs captain, Team of the Century member, and played a record 364 games for the club. He now commentates for Fox Footy and writes for The Roar.
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