Academy system vs father-son: A new paradigm

Maddy Friend Columnist

By Maddy Friend, Maddy Friend is a Roar Expert

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104 Have your say

    The northern academies, designed to attract and nurture young players from the non-football states, have garnered much controversy since their introduction several years ago – mostly centred around the quality of the players being produced, and their draft value.

    The AFL’s website states that the academies “are aimed at increasing the opportunities for young people in NSW and Queensland to learn about and play the game of Australian rules football.

    “The four northern AFL clubs are incentivised through draft concessions for their role in growing the Australian Rules talent pool in NSW and Queensland, and ultimately strengthening the state and community leagues in those states.”

    In that regard, the initiative has been a remarkable success.

    Sydney youngsters Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney are the two most successful products of the system, but Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Greater Western Sydney have also reaped the benefits.

    Callum Mills of the Swans takes a mark over Stephen Coniglio of the Giants

    Callum Mills (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    The academies are an important part of our game, as the continued focus on attracting and developing young players who would otherwise have likely turned to different sports expands reach and popularity.

    However, the itinerant nature of football coaching – where former players often move interstate for their chance to join the coaching ranks – has thrown up another permutation to the mix: young players who are eligible to be drafted under both the father-son rule, and the academy system.

    Two players in particular fit this year – Nick Blakey, son of former North Melbourne and Brisbane player John, who is eligible to join both clubs under the father-son rule, but is also eligible for Sydney’s academy, given he has lived there for the past 12 years, and John is on the coaching panel.

    Likewise, Bailey Scott, son of former Geelong and North Melbourne player Robert, is eligible to join those two clubs as well as the Gold Coast as an academy selection, having lived there since he was nine.

    This raises questions over the purpose of the academies, the sanctity of the father-son rule, and the AFL’s intentions in this space.

    Blakey and Scott are representative of a wider issue – they are players who, due to their fathers’ careers, have been around football since a young age, and would have almost undoubtedly been playing it regardless of whether they had moved interstate or not. The fact that they are now eligible for Sydney and Gold Coast goes against the academies’ founding principle of growing the talent pool in non-traditional states – it has not grown the talent pool, merely found itself the beneficiary of two, young, Victorian footballers.

    Yes, the Suns and Swans have played an important part in developing the pair (Blakey is widely viewed as a top-five selection, while Scott looks a likely mid-range prospect; both are members of the AFL Academy squad), but this would likely have been the case had they been playing in the TAC Cup for their local clubs.

    Having grown up in their respective zones, they obviously have an affinity with those cities and clubs, but I’m sure there is also a connection with the clubs for which their fathers played.

    The father-son rule has long been a way for clubs – based on their own good fortune – to acquire talented players at discounted rates, while preserving club connections, something valued by fans. It’s one of the unique and treasured tenets – or quirks, if you like – of our game.

    Clubs should be comfortable in the knowledge that traditional connections will continue under the system, and have likely been planning for several years for these players to join their club in the future. The fact that this system can be over-ridden by the academies seems to go against the AFL’s oft-stated tenet that the father-son system is an intrinsic part of our game.

    Blakey and Scott are the first players to be faced with this scenario, but will most likely not be the last, which is why this issue needs to be addressed now – to provide certainty for both the academy and father-son clubs.

    Perhaps one solution could be that where players are eligible to be drafted to a club under the father-son rule, they are then not eligible for the academy system.

    However, if the current situation is more in line with its views, then it needs to clarify or possibly change its definition of the purpose of club academies.

    Blakey has already made his choice of club, nominating the Swans last week, and it’s likely that Scott will nominate Gold Coast. I don’t begrudge either their choices – they are merely doing what the system allows.

    However, the way the system currently operates lacks clarity, and calls into question the value of something we have always held dear.

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    The Crowd Says (104)

    • Roar Guru

      May 16th 2018 @ 8:27am
      Cat said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      I’m sure the F/S rule will come under more fire in the future

      Can you picture Johnny Ottens palming down to Aston Bartel who feeds it out to the run of Boh Enright, flicks onto Myles Chapman, shares with Archie Johnson and hits up Jagger Mooney in attack? That’s the prospect that awaits Geelong in 2037. Incredibly from the Cats’ three flags from 2007-2011, the club has 26 eligible father-sons. Other names such as Scarlett, Taylor, Mackie, Harley, Wojcinski, Kelly, Milburn, King, Ling, Corey, Hunt and Lonergan could be donning the blue and white in future years.

      Can we start banking draft points now? lol

      • May 16th 2018 @ 8:44am
        Birdman said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:44am | ! Report

        fair chance some of those kids will be bog average too – Joey Kennedy was the only gun from the loins of those many 80’s Hawthorn champions and we didn’t even keep him.

        • Roar Rookie

          May 16th 2018 @ 8:59am
          Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:59am | ! Report

          Wce first true f/s Jacob Brennan is testament to that, you’d think with a bloodline that had monkey Brennan as a father and rob Wiley as an uncle he’d have been something special, truthfully he was a good wafl player nothing more.

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2018 @ 9:52am
          Cat said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:52am | ! Report

          I get that but even a 10-20% ‘chance’ would see 3-4 be good players … which would be more than enough to start another round of woe is me from non-Geelong supporters.
          Also the kids not only have to be worthy to be drafted, they have to choose to pursue footy as a career too. Again though, with 26 ‘chances’, odds are we might get a few.

          • Roar Rookie

            May 16th 2018 @ 9:56am
            Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

            Cat didn’t Geelong get ratagoulea thru a loophole in the academy setups that all the 14 other clubs have, if they did good in them.

            • May 16th 2018 @ 10:10am
              Birdman said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

              the indigenous and multicultural criteria – not sure it could be called a ‘loophole’

              • Roar Rookie

                May 16th 2018 @ 10:17am
                Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:17am | ! Report

                Loophole may have been a poor choice of words but hypothetically if this existed some time back would nic fall into such criteria, I’m not concerned at all as I so think if clubs invest resources into pathway programs its a good thing but hypothetically if a player of natanuis talent becomes tied to one club I reckon wed hear a lot of ppl voicing outrage over how it could happen

              • May 16th 2018 @ 10:40am
                Jim said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

                It is definitely a loophole that clubs will exploit with the NGAs – make no bones about it.

            • Roar Guru

              May 16th 2018 @ 10:22am
              Cat said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:22am | ! Report

              Geelong picked Esava Ratugolea with pick #43 (third round) of the 2016 National Draft. He was there for any club to pick. He was not an academy player. He played for the Murray Bushrangers in the TAC Cup.

              Big Sav is Australian by birth. Born in NSW. Moved to Victoria aged 6 and only started playing Aussie Rules in 2013 (previously played rugby and soccer). His parents are Fijian.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 5:14pm
        J.T. Delacroix said | May 16th 2018 @ 5:14pm | ! Report

        I can’t see that happening, Cat. At least not with Ottens jnr. Nobody names their son John anymore. They skip ‘John’ & go straight for ‘Jack’ these days, Or any number of made up names with maddening spellings.

    • May 16th 2018 @ 8:37am
      Christo the Daddyo said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      “Blakey and Scott are representative of a wider issue – they are players who, due to their fathers’ careers, have been around football since a young age, and would have almost undoubtedly been playing it regardless of whether they had moved interstate or not. ”

      This is speculation. Just because a parent played a particular sport doesn’t mean the offspring will automatically follow in their footsteps. Just look at the Swans’ Kieran Jack for an example of that. Despite having a father who was a rugby league legend and growing up in rugby league heartland, Kieran (and his brother Brandon) ended up playing AFL.

      The academies are fine,despite what the Melbourne Mafia say.

      • Roar Guru

        May 16th 2018 @ 8:47am
        Kaks said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report


        This seems very biased and one sided. Shouldn’t the author be happy that kids are given a pathway to develop and become professional’s regardless of how they do it?

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2018 @ 12:38pm
          Paul Dawson said | May 16th 2018 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

          You’d think so wouldn’t you? Given she’s a St Kilda fan I can understand the waft of eau de desperation but the sentiments in this article seem very blinkered and small minded

    • May 16th 2018 @ 8:41am
      Birdman said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      I’ve made my views plain previously on academies (not a fan of the club-run models) but I can’t see how F/S should in any way prevail over the choice made by a young player.

      Wouldn’t be the first time a kid has decided not to accept a F/S offer from a club and clubs routinely ignore kids of former champs because they don’t rate them highly enough.

    • May 16th 2018 @ 9:05am
      Don Freo said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      As long as Freo gets Ian Hill it all good.

      • Roar Guru

        May 17th 2018 @ 3:25pm
        Dalgety Carrington said | May 17th 2018 @ 3:25pm | ! Report

        I don’t know how they’ll snaffle Hill. They’ve got one pick in the first 3 or 4 rounds and a couple of academy kids to grab. Depending how things pan out, they might also have an option on one of the quality talks in this year’s crop.

    • May 16th 2018 @ 9:08am
      Dave said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      This is not just an issue with northern academies either. The NGA’s, which were designed for clubs to find players outside the normal talent pathways, are currently being slightly abused. North have access to a young kid from Tassie this year who has been playing footy all his life. He would have been playing whether North had an academy or not. Even worse is Essendon who have listed one of Chris Johnson’s sons as an NGA player so might be able to get him instead of Brisbane. Young Johnson has been playing footy for ever and is currently in the normal pathways in Victoria but qualifies as an NGA player because of his Aboriginal heritage.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 9:46am
        Kris said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        Which means from the player’s point of view they have twice as many options. Sounds like a good result.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 10:41am
        Jim said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        It will be a bigger problem with NGA academies as many of them are in the traditional footy heartlands, where there are multiple already existing avenues available for them to develop as footballers. Thomas this year is the first of many no doubt.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 10:58am
        Birdman said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:58am | ! Report

        Dave, I agree that North has been gifted Taryn Thomas.

        IMHO Hawthorn should have co-run a Tasmanian academy with North but the AFL is doing everything in its power to nudge the Hawks out of their foundation market.

        • May 16th 2018 @ 3:17pm
          Kris said | May 16th 2018 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

          By giving them Gippsland instead

    • May 16th 2018 @ 9:44am
      Kris said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

      ” can be over-ridden by the academies”

      The system was not overridden. Blakey made a choice between 3 clubs and with the Swan’s record over the last 20 years you’d be mad not to choose them.

      “founding principle of growing the talent pool in non-traditional states ”

      Another principle is to give these kids better development to make up for the fact that they are not in elite football schools or in TAC Cup teams. Had Blakey not participated in the academy system his development would be considerably behind that of kids in other states.

      “:Having grown up in their respective zones, they obviously have an affinity with those cities and clubs, but I’m sure there is also a connection with the clubs for which their fathers played”

      Obviously not strong enough a connection that Blakey chose North or Brisbane over Sydney.

      “Blakey and Scott are the first players to be faced with this scenario”

      No different to the Clokes or Darcy Moore or Ben Jarman, kids have had to make a choice between multiple father-son clubs for years. The Academy just adds another club to the mix, doesn’t change the fundamentals.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 16th 2018 @ 10:04am
        Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        I find the idea that because their dads played Aussie rules it was their destiny pretty baseless argument, just need to look at kieran jack and his brother.
        As a teenager I played league as my mates did instead of Aussie rules(not a league follower at all), teens have a habit of choosing sport that their peers are involved in

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2018 @ 10:15am
          Cat said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          Gotta disagree with a caveat. While I’ll agree it isn’t a kids destiny, seeing your dad play a game, potentially be involved in the game in others ways after their playing career, maybe seeing them do media about their career and seeing memorabilia (game jumpers, medals, etc) around the house will certainly increase a kids chances of wanting to emulate their dad. There is a reason generations of families follow the same career path. Being in a ‘cop family’ a kid will certainly be more likely to be a cop too, but its not guaranteed.

          • May 16th 2018 @ 8:46pm
            Joe B said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:46pm | ! Report

            The Jack brothers in Sydney prove that doesn’t hold true either.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 10:34am
        Jim said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        Why anyone would think somehow Blakey should have more of a’connection with the clubs for which his father played for then the club he has grown up around (i.e. Blakey has been an asssitant coach at sydney for what 10+ years now) is beyond me….

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