At the conclusion of each AFL season the clubs and their fans turn their attention to the annual draft, in which they hope to secure the best available talent from the under-18 competition.
The analysis and focus on the players heading into the draft has exploded in recent seasons, with absolutely every statistic from their junior seasons and the Player Combine made public for everyone to see.
There is enormous pressure on clubs to get it right, particularly from a fan’s perspective.
Upon the conclusion of draft night, all clubs build their supporters’ hopes and dreams for the following season and the future by proclaiming that they got the player(s) they were after. Most will hope that star juniors become one-club star senior players who lead the club to the ultimate glory of premiership success.
I have nominated a list below of the players that I most look forward to seeing debut and play during this season. They have had stellar junior careers and the challenge for every one of them is to translate their talent and potential to the big time with their respective clubs.
James Aish (Brisbane Lions)
Aish was touted as a top 10 pick and was duly selected by the Brisbane Lions, who possibly could not believe that he slipped through to them at pick No.7.
The hype around the South Australian is understandable when you look at his family background, which is heavily involved with the Norwood Football Club. His father Andrew played as a midfielder, his uncle Michael was the 1981 Magaery Medallist and his grandfather Peter was a Norwood Captain.
Aish became the youngest player to debut for Norwood at league level in 134 years, and since debuting as a 16 year-old has played in both of Norwood’s grand final wins of 2012 and 2013.
His disposal efficiency on both sides of the body and ability in traffic is what recruiters are most impressed with. He was selected in both the 2012 and 2013 Under-18 All-Australian Teams.
I suspect that he will see plenty of game time for the Lions in 2014, who will be keen to see which of their draftees has what it takes to succeed at senior level.
Jack Martin (Gold Coast Suns)
Martin was selected by the Suns as the first pick in the 2012 mini-draft and he played in the NEAFL during 2013 as he was too young to play in the AFL.
Much has been said about Martin leading into this season, with some commentators believing that he is better than fellow Western Australian prodigy and 2013 NAB Rising Star winner Jaeger O’Meara.
Martin moved from Broome at the age of 12 to Geraldton to play football in the Great Northern League where he debuted for the Towns Football Club aged 15.
Martin dominated in the NEAFL during 2013 and the Suns cannot wait for him to play senior football.
While Suns coach Guy McKenna has said all the right things in the press about earning your spot, you can bet that Martin will be lining up in Round 1 against the Tigers.
Kade Kolodjashnij (Gold Coast Suns)
The Suns took Kolodjashnij with their first pick in the draft after a solid season at under 18 level.
In 2013 he co-captained Tasmania to the Division 2 Title, was awarded All-Australian selection and also awarded the Harrison Medal (jointly with Toby Nankervis and Liam Dawson) as the best player in Division 2 of the competition.
He comes as an elite distance runner with a fantastic vertical leap playing off the half-back flank or through the midfield.
The Suns have a seriously talented group of midfield type players and I expect that Kolodjashnij will see plenty of game time this season running off the half-back flank, with intermittent periods running through the midfield.
Josh Kelly (GWS Giants)
Kelly comes from a football background with his father Phil playing 61 games for North Melbourne and also winning two Sandover Medals while playing for East Perth in the WAFL.
Kelly comes to the Giants via their second pick in the draft and impressed last year for both Vic Metro and Sandringham Dragons. He won the three kilometre time trial in a time of 9:32 – the second quickest ever recorded at the Combine.
In a very youthful team such as the Giants, the opportunity will arise for Kelly to debut and spend significant time playing at senior level should his form be consistent.
Dom Sheed (West Coast Eagles)
Eyebrows were raised when the Eagles were attempting to get Elliot Yeo back to Western Australia from Brisbane, which ultimately resulted in West Coast trading their No.6 pick for No.11.
With the eleventh pick they selected the player that they wanted in Sheed, who starred at the Under-18 Carnival during 2013 and won the Larke Medal as best player in Division 1.
West Coast have been accused of being very conservative in the draft and trade periods in years gone by, sticking with West Australians where they can.
In Sheed they have picked up a tough and strong inside midfielder, and all the noises from the West indicate that he will debut in Round 1.
Patrick Cripps (Carlton Blues)
Selected by Carlton with their first pick, Cripps comes to the AFL with a reputation as an inside ball-winning midfielder. He had a solid NAB Under-18s Championship and was selected in the All-Australian team as a result of his efforts.
Cripps amazingly went from being the smallest player in his team at Under-15 level to one of the bigger bodies, growing 20 centimetres in two years to stand at 192cm for the WA Under-18 side.
He will be looking to break into the Carlton midfield led by Mark Murphy and may have an opportunity early in the season now that Judd is out for at least the first two rounds after undergoing surgery on his Achilles.
Tom Boyd (GWS Giants)
The No.1 pick for 2013, Boyd is an imposing figure at 200cm and 100kg and will be looking to form a formidable partnership with Jeremy Cameron and Jon Patton in the GWS forward line.
As the youngest player in Vic Metro’s Under-18 Championship winning team in 2012 and also the TAC Cup leading goalkicker, Boyd was inducted into the AIS-AFL Academy and carried the tag of No.1 draft pick throughout season 2013.
His greatest strength is his height and power and he will be an absolute headache for defenders this season. He has strong marking ability – be it one-on-one or in a pack – and is an accurate kick for goal, which will help him navigate his first season in the top flight.
There will be plenty of opportunity for Boyd this season as GWS desperately need to find help for Cameron, who carried the forward line on his own in 2013.
Jesse Hogan (Melbourne Demons)
Another recruit from the mini-draft of 2012, the Demons snagged the key position forward and he played for their VFL Affiliate, the Casey Scorpions, throughout 2013.
He finished fifth in the VFL goal-kicking with 39 for the year and won the Casey Best and Fairest as reward for his efforts and fantastic play.
The Demons faithful would love to see Hogan play in a forward line with Clark and Dawes, rather than being thrown to the wolves as their other draft picks have experienced during one of the darkest periods in Demons history.
He offers hope for the future for Demons supporters along with other youngsters Tyson, Salem, Viney, Toumpas, Trengrove and Michie.
The above is an exciting list full of potential who now are now firmly ensconced at the various clubs around the country doing their first grueling AFL pre-season (some are doing their second).
They have it all ahead of them and can be assured that they will have every resource available to them to become the best footballers that they can be. They will also have the opportunity to grace the premier sporting arenas across the country as their careers unfold.
There are many I have not included in this list who are in the same boat as those above, but these are the kids I am most looking forward to seeing at some stage during 2014.