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BRAD JOHNSON: With New Zealand and youth, AFL looks to future

Brad Johnson Columnist

By Brad Johnson, Brad Johnson is a Roar Expert


63 Have your say

    After spending a fortnight in New Zealand with the AFL’s elite junior footballers it has been interesting to see two aspects of the league’s future starting to take shape.

    The Australian Institute of Sport has two AFL academies. Level Two players are those eligible for this year’s draft.

    The Level One boys who travelled with us are two years younger, picked from the under-16 championships.

    This means we get the best 30 kids in that age group coming through. They’re put through three or four different camps, to learn about the requirements for high performance.

    It’s a good introduction to get their heads around what it takes to be involved at AFL level.

    The New Zealand trip is one of the big challenges for the young guys. They do things like trudge 16 kilometres over a mountain, handle their recovery, and maintain their training in between some time to relax and see the sights.

    Their other challenge is that you throw together 30 guys from all over the country, and they’re expected to get along and understand each other from the outset. They need to, because at the end of the trip they play the New Zealand national team.

    They know that’s ultimately where they’re judged, with recruiters coming to see the game.

    Some of this year’s New Zealand team members play at various levels in Australia, but most are local residents. That’s the purpose, for them to start growing their own players within the country, and the match was pleasing from that aspect, with some good colour on show.

    The other movement in New Zealand is that in 2013 St Kilda will play Sydney in an ANZAC Day clash over there. The Saints were there at the same time as us to pump up the game.

    There was certainly a lot of engagement from the public with the Saints players, and you just got that sense that the game will sell out. Not only will Australians travel over, but I’m confident a lot of Wellington people will come too.

    As early as 1908 New Zealand and Australian teams played AFL games against each other, but there hasn’t been much trans-Tasman action since. With the growth of Auskick in New Zealand, a game for premiership points could be a real positive.

    Of course there’ll be sceptics about AFL’s future in New Zealand. No-one is expecting the sport to take on rugby, but early signs are positive.

    Hawthorn are the frontrunners, with three young Kiwi players already signed to International Scholarships. Once guys like these succeed, I’ve no doubt the interest and the options will improve. Like the Irish experiment, recruiters will be close behind.

    It’s all part of a long-term effort to grow the game around the world. Overseas recruits have three or four years of work ahead of them just on reading the play, the flow of the game, ball-in-hand skills.

    Athletically they’ve probably got everyone on an AFL list covered, but lack the natural aspects. Given the chance to start at a younger age, they could come here a lot more comfortably.

    Another 15 or 20 years, and we might start seeing the benefits.

    That’s not to take away from tradition. The sport is only going to improve here in Australia. Just look at the skills of the young guys today. They’re at a different level than when I was in their place.

    But a lot of things are different now. The AIS scholarships are about personal standards, not just training standards. The motto of coaches Chris Johnson and Michael O’Loughlin is ‘Building better players, better people.’

    The New Zealand trip is good to show the boys something outside Australia. The Level Two boys also travel to Europe, visit Gallipoli, and discuss our involvement in wars. We want to give them the broader education to set themselves a high standard.

    You need talent and skill, but also to hold yourself in the highest regard, and hold your teammates in the same way. You need to present yourself in a fashion that allows you to succeed on a daily basis. At AFL level you’re judged 24/7.

    For myself, this personal development is the most pleasing aspect. Players get guidance from Glenn Jakovich, Matthew Lloyd, Brad Ottens, and Kennelly, premiership players who achieved so much throughout their careers.

    It’s a great experience for all of us to have an impact on the next batch of potential players, and build relationships that will hopefully continue through drafting and a career.

    If they need anything, they’ve got people to call. And hopefully over time more of these young players will come from overseas, starting with New Zealand.

    In both cases, the future looks bright.

    AFL champion Brad Johnson retired after the 2010 season, and has moved into a coaching role at the club he captained and called home: the Western Bulldogs. His first column for The Roar is today.

    Brad Johnson
    Brad Johnson

    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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    The Crowd Says (63)

    • February 7th 2013 @ 4:28am
      AndyMack said | February 7th 2013 @ 4:28am | ! Report

      Was Matthew Lloyd a premiership player? Prob on drugs (oops, too soon???)

      Yes good article Brad, and welcome to the Roar. Look forward to some kiwis coming through the ranks in years to come.

    • February 7th 2013 @ 5:40am
      Toa said | February 7th 2013 @ 5:40am | ! Report

      International growth has got to start somewhere best of luck & welcome to the Roar Brad…..(couldn’t help noticing at the hawks pre Christmas training session last year the possibility of what an athletic Shem Tatupu could do in our game).

    • February 7th 2013 @ 8:38am
      Fred said | February 7th 2013 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Nice article Brad! Always loved watching you play football. Your inclusion in the bulldogs team of the century was a great foresight and very well deserved.
      It will be very interesting to see the development rates of football in new Zealand compared to Westerner Sydney

    • February 7th 2013 @ 8:44am
      allblackfan said | February 7th 2013 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      Brad, stay off the white wine when you write.
      How many of you out there believe the NZ game will be sold out?
      As for Shem … good on him. Israel Folau has shown him how to make the switch work. Oh wait!!:-)

      • Roar Guru

        February 7th 2013 @ 9:22am
        Redb said | February 7th 2013 @ 9:22am | ! Report


        Comparing Shem at what 16-17 to Folau at 23 shows your not really grasping the difference, but keep at it.

        • February 7th 2013 @ 9:26am
          Not Inerterested said | February 7th 2013 @ 9:26am | ! Report

          So how are your team of drug cheats doing Redb?

          • Roar Guru

            February 7th 2013 @ 10:11am
            Redb said | February 7th 2013 @ 10:11am | ! Report

            Hilarious stuff.

            • February 7th 2013 @ 11:16am
              micka said | February 7th 2013 @ 11:16am | ! Report

              I saw a pic of Lance Armstrong in a bombers jumper and the new members kit…
              Harsh but pretty funny stuff.

              See the bombers fly up, up… Excuse me while I kiss the sky…..

              • February 7th 2013 @ 12:00pm
                Ian Whitchurch said | February 7th 2013 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

                “Whatever it takes”

        • February 8th 2013 @ 7:40am
          allblackfan said | February 8th 2013 @ 7:40am | ! Report

          redb, you still fail to grasp the main point.
          AFL is more of an aerobic sport. Polynesians are physically not built for such activity (there’s a guy who was at Dunedin Uni a few years back who did his PHd thesis on this). There may be exceptions but that is the rule. (I’m an islander BTW). That’s why you don’t see Islanders take part in 10,000m races or marathons. All this has been discussed before.
          Whether Tatupu lasts the distance remains to be seen. He is, I beliieve, Tongan and Tongans are among, if not are, the biggest race on earth.
          However, money is money these days.

          • Roar Guru

            February 8th 2013 @ 8:29am
            Redb said | February 8th 2013 @ 8:29am | ! Report

            You didn’t make your point until now.

            Heard of David Rodan? How about Nic Naitinui? Or Aaron Edwards? your wrong they can play AFL.

      • February 7th 2013 @ 11:49am
        Emric said | February 7th 2013 @ 11:49am | ! Report

        ABF.. it might be a sell out this time there are a lot of Australians who are prepared to spend the cash and fly to Wellington for a few days and go to the game so yes it might work once or twice but once the novality of the whole thing wears off in a couple of years time it will begin to slide.

        The NZRU will simply have to up its game and compete with the AFL

        • February 7th 2013 @ 12:19pm
          TC said | February 7th 2013 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

          The NZRU and AFL should join together to develop elite young footballers. If a few are lost to the AFL, that’s a tiny, tiny price to pay. The vast majority will always want to be an All Black.

          • February 7th 2013 @ 1:34pm
            mitzter said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

            What would be in it for NZRU?? Maybe the AFL should join up with Gallic footbll clubs in australia

            • February 7th 2013 @ 9:52pm
              TC said | February 7th 2013 @ 9:52pm | ! Report

              I’m not sure if anyone in the AFL speaks French.

              • Columnist

                February 8th 2013 @ 4:00pm
                Geoff Lemon said | February 8th 2013 @ 4:00pm | ! Report


        • February 9th 2013 @ 8:21pm
          sue said | February 9th 2013 @ 8:21pm | ! Report

          Why will the novelty wear off, Its not as as if the cost of travelling to NZ is expensive.

    • February 7th 2013 @ 8:47am
      Australian Rules said | February 7th 2013 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      Shem is an exciting propsect physically – well done to the Hawks for leading the way in NZ.

      Good stuff Johnno

    • Roar Guru

      February 7th 2013 @ 9:04am
      langou said | February 7th 2013 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Welcome to The Roar Brad

      I should point out that it is highly likely this article will start a ‘code war’,

      It is just how things work around here

      Looking forward to reading more articles from you