American colleges could be AFL’s next frontier

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

By Michael DiFabrizio, Michael DiFabrizio is a Roar Expert

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    Kevin Sheedy is always keen on making headlines and last week was no different, suggesting that his Greater Western Sydney club will look to California to find playing talent.

    If it weren’t for the fact he made good on his original promise to scour the globe by signing a South African just a few days earlier, his comments might have been written off as an act of publicity.

    But it seems as though the great man is indeed headed across the Pacific. “I’ll be going to California to chase players don’t even worry about that,” he assured us all.

    Where exactly he’ll be looking and whether he will find anything is anyone’s guess.

    However unearthing future Aussie Rules talent in the States mightn’t be as tough a challenge as some would assume it to be, especially if you’re going in with the sort of optimism that Sheedy possesses.

    Believe it or not, in the past couple of months two former college basketball players have made their way onto AFL lists.

    The first to do so, Daniel Bass, was admittedly born and raised in Melbourne. But he had a limited football background even before his four-year stint at Metro State University in Denver, Colorado.

    The club that recruited him – curiously they chased after him, and not the other way around – was Port Adelaide, who have a history in this area after they plucked Dean Brogan from the NBL. Brogan would go on to become a big part of Port’s premiership-winning team and one of the game’s elite ruckmen.

    The other signing, Seamus McNamara, hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After his college stint, at Marist College in New York, he played a season of professional basketball in Germany before putting together “audition tapes” in the hope of catching the attention of an AFL club.

    His CV landed at Collingwood and after a series of trials, he became an international rookie at the club. In spite of his inexperience, he was the surprise opening goal-kicker at the Pies’ intra-club game last week.

    Both are around the 200cm mark and have been earmarked as potential ruckmen or, in McNamara’s case, perhaps even a key forward. Both, however, are viewed as medium-term prospects at best, so not much is expected in the near future.

    It will be interesting to monitor their progress.

    It’s not as if the US college system is short on athletic talent. Huge numbers of athletes don’t go on to the professional level in their chosen sport, be that basketball or otherwise.

    The success of Brogan’s recruitment shows that a transition is certainly possible.

    But perhaps the most enticing motivator for clubs is that international rookies are basically a “free hit” on top of the existing list. They can bypass both the draft system and the salary cap.

    So whilst Sheedy coming out boldly stating that he’ll venture to California in search of talent may at first seem a tad crazy and unlikely to lead to much, there’s clearly some method to his madness.

    The likes of Port and Collingwood may only be scratching the surface of what could be a much bigger talent pipeline.

    It wouldn’t be a surprise to see other clubs making similar moves in the not too distant future.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • February 9th 2010 @ 4:19am
      Mr Real Australian it's called Football Man formerly known as Kurt said | February 9th 2010 @ 4:19am | ! Report

      Living in a hot-bed of College sports here in North Carolina I can confidently state that there is one thing that would be absolutely guaranteed to get elite first & second year College athletes interested in the AFL – the opportunity to drink alcohol before turning 21. Tell ’em the AFL will fly them out to Australia four times a year where they will have the opportunity to drink endless beer in the sunshine without the need for a fake ID.

      I know this doesn’t exactly fit with the AFL’s current stance on binge-drinking, but we have to play to our strengths…

    • February 9th 2010 @ 8:18am
      Matt S said | February 9th 2010 @ 8:18am | ! Report

    • February 9th 2010 @ 8:41am
      Bam Bam said | February 9th 2010 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      Basketball players are what Sheedy is looking for, though I must say I thought he would be looking for local talent. GWS needs to endear the GWS public by embracing them, not just their land. Yeah grab some outside talent by all means, but look in the land you came from. Its easier to grow fruit in your own backyard then keep stealing it from your next door neighbours.

      • Roar Guru

        February 9th 2010 @ 2:05pm
        Redb said | February 9th 2010 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

        The AFL is spending most of its development money in Western Sydney not overseas anyway. It has set up AFL academies in NSW and QLD. If you read other recent articles about GWS there is a clear direction on developing as much home grown talent as possbile. To quote Sheeds “there are gold nuggets in Western Sydeny to be discovered” in terms of football talent.

    • Roar Guru

      February 9th 2010 @ 8:52am
      Redb said | February 9th 2010 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      In my opinion, the US is a waste of time for AFL from a recruitment perspective.

      There are far better prospects closer to home, like PNG, Pacific Isles, NZ and even though its not so close to home, South Africa.

      There is a stable of some 60 footy teams in the States, but they are spread out with very few junior programs, it is purely a social league.


    • February 9th 2010 @ 11:01am
      Al said | February 9th 2010 @ 11:01am | ! Report

      Sheedy should spend his time at spring break because he is wasting his time, the yanks would hardly even know where Australia is let alone being interested in aussie rules.

    • February 9th 2010 @ 11:04am
      College Australian Football said | February 9th 2010 @ 11:04am | ! Report

      Interesting, if they really want to go down this path though it might be worth the AFL funding some sort of College Australian Football program.

      If they could get that into 8-12 colleges and get people playing the game at College, it might be possible to create a recruitment path straight onto AFL rookie lists.

      Targeting those athletes (American Football & Basketball perhaps in particular) that may not make the US Major Leagues would be the best way to go because there’s no doubt some of these guys would surely be capable of playing various positions in Australian Football.

      Offering it up as a viable alternative version would surely be worth it.

      If they could get it going in 8-12 colleges (Perhaps along the West Coast primarily?) then as it develops its own momentum other colleges might willlingly start up their own programs.

      It could snowball (Over a period of 20-40 years or so) into something very significant – but unlikely to ever compete in a professional sense with the AFL.

      • Roar Guru

        February 9th 2010 @ 1:57pm
        Redb said | February 9th 2010 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        It might be worth a try but not worth a lot of effort.

        Strangely enough there appears to be a gap in junior sports in the USA. It is not too difficult for many young Australians to get full scholarships in US colleges playing basketball. The reason is apparently a lot of US kids dont play organised club sport from such a young age like they do in OZ. The Aussie kids are in demand becuase at 17 they are so much further along in their development.

        For a country the size of USA and its huge population there should be no apparent need to top up College basketball teams.

        The structures are different and therefore less easy for other sports to tap into.

        The AFL has created an Under 16 & 18 ‘World’ team to compete in a tournament in July this year (at Blacktown), the bulk of the kids will come from the pacific and Sth Africa, it’s available in the USA but with so few juniors it is literally starting from scratch.


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