Why the AFL should focus more on mature-age recruits

Ryan Geer Roar Pro

By Ryan Geer, Ryan Geer is a Roar Pro

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    The majority of players in state leagues like the VFL, WAFL, SANFL and NEAFL will never get to fulfil their AFL dreams, but Channel Seven commentator Brian Taylor has come up with a concept that will allow many more of these state league stars to get onto AFL lists.

    In recent years there have been many success stories of mature-age players coming from state league competitions and making their mark in the AFL. Luke Ryan, Tim Kelly, Kane Lambert and Bayley Fritsch are some recent examples of players who have transitioned from state leagues into the AFL, and all are now regulars for their respective clubs.

    Recently on Channel Seven’s Talking Footy Brian Taylor brought up the idea of the AFL giving a draft pick to each club to pick a mature-age player from one of the main four state leagues – the VFL, WAFL, SANFL and NEAFL. Either this or each club must have a spot on their list for a mature-age recruit each season.

    In Taylors words, “I reckon there’s another 50 at the moment playing around Australia that could play at this level (AFL) no problems”.

    Taylor speaks some sense. Many AFL starts have come from state leagues, including 2015 Brownlow medalist Matt Priddis, along with others like Michael Barlow, Hayden Ballantyne and Michael Hibberd.

    Matt Priddis West Coast Eagles

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    Taylor continued, saying, “There are so many great stories and good players that are missing out on our game because what the recruiters do is they say, ‘Oh, do we want that 23-year-old or do we want to develop the 18-year-old?’.

    “You’ll always go the 18-year-old. But the 23-year-old that you can play is missing out.”

    Adding to the discussion was Hawks and Suns player Campbell Brown, who said that there’s certainty in picking a player who already has three or four years of experience compared to speculatively choosing a rookie.

    It will mean clubs will have to research more into these state leagues and look for the right type of player they’re looking for. We know from looking at some of these state league success stories that most of these mature-age recruits can make it at AFL level. Lions defender Matt Eagles came from a TV show The Recruit and still managed to work his way up the ranks through the NEAFL to make his debut at 29.

    This season 16 players have already been drafted out of state leagues as mature-age players and have made their AFL debuts. This is evidence it can work. Draft a mature-age player who has performed at the state league level and you can be sure that they’ll appreciate the opportunity so much more after so many of them missed out on being drafted as 18-year-old.

    The AFL should really investigate this, and opening a position on every club’s list every year for mature-age recruits from these state leagues looks to be the best option. It gives these players a chance that they may have missed before and it gives clubs the chance to scout and look at more state league players that they would have otherwise missed out on.

    To paraphrase Taylor, not only is it good for the AFL, but it helps the state competitions, which get some great stories and great buzz from seeing one of their own elevated to the national league. It’s good for everyone involved.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • June 15th 2018 @ 5:01am
      christy olsen said | June 15th 2018 @ 5:01am | ! Report

      Probably the best argument for taking the mature-age rookies seriously is the failure rate of players taken in the national draft.

      It’s true that most of the best players in the game were taken in the first round of the national draft.
      That’s not surprising.
      What is always surprising to me is to look back through the first round picks of the past decade.
      Hardly any of the names are recognisable. Maybe ten percent.

      What is supposed to be the spigot of talent for AFL clubs is really just a high-risk hedge fund.
      So much value is given to high draft picks, yet very few of them end up giving much ROI.
      The best older players of the state leagues would be a much safer bet.

      In fact there’s a lot of the same talent in the AFL already, not just the state leagues.
      I think AFL lists are flush with 23-yr-olds who are not stars, but are solid, consistent players who contribute every week.
      Imagine if a club traded all it’s draft picks one year for that type of player?
      Everyone would laugh because it seems folly to trade a, say, No.12 draft pick for a 50-100-gamer who is not a household name and was a second round pick when he was 18.
      But if that player knows what he’s doing, has not been injured much, and has the potential for improvement, then it’s actually worth more than the draft pick.

      I remember I was disappointed when StK gave up their No. 5 pick for Jake Carlisle.
      After all, Carlisle was picked 24th in 2009.
      But, in reality, it was a good idea. He is already a very high caliber player.
      Whoever that lost draft pick might have been, he might never have developed or have left by now.

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2018 @ 8:07am
        Dalgety Carrington said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        The idea of potential is very seductive, it’s a great blank future space where we get to project in all our best case scenarios and is hard to resist with the draft, given it’s all about the future really and we’re primed for it.

        • June 15th 2018 @ 9:23am
          Perry Bridge said | June 15th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          Via the draft and early picks – you get to sell ‘hope’ to the supporters/members.

          However – rushing those kids through is often counter productive.

          The other thing to remember is stories like Mike Pyke and Mason Cox show what can be done with mature age guys who haven’t even played the game – but have solid ‘attributes’.

          • Roar Guru

            June 15th 2018 @ 9:36am
            Cat said | June 15th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

            Can add Mark Blicavs to the list of ‘thinking outside the box’.

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2018 @ 8:13am
      Dalgety Carrington said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      I’m not sure any “special picks” are required (aren’t they just called “rookie picks” right now?). What the players bring are reward enough, if the clubs don’t see it and don’t take advantage then it’s more fool them.

      Freo has been mining the more mature recruit seam for years and has got plenty of gems out of it.

      • June 15th 2018 @ 5:52pm
        GOB said | June 15th 2018 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

        Damn shame Tim Kelly was not one of Freo’s mature-aged gems.

        • June 15th 2018 @ 10:33pm
          dontknowmuchaboutfootball said | June 15th 2018 @ 10:33pm | ! Report

          *Liam Ryan

          • Roar Guru

            June 16th 2018 @ 8:59am
            Dalgety Carrington said | June 16th 2018 @ 8:59am | ! Report

            It was unfortunate timing on Ryan for Freo. If Shane Yarran leaving the club had played out a few months earlier It’d be odds on Freo would’ve picked him up in the ’16 draft.

    • June 15th 2018 @ 8:54am
      Merv43 said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      Why not do something completely different and allow each AFL club access to 1 mature aged recruit on June 30 each year

      It may
      • open up a pathway for a mature age recruit who has, seemingly, missed the boat
      • help clubs who have been decimated by injury

      You could argue that the mature age recruit has missed intensive pre-season training but if the same individual new this pathway was open then it would be up to them to keep their body up to scratch

    • June 15th 2018 @ 10:56am
      Kris said | June 15th 2018 @ 10:56am | ! Report

      “The majority of players in state leagues like the VFL, WAFL, SANFL and NEAFL will never get to fulfil their AFL dreams”

      A significant number of them have already had a chance.

      “This season 16 players have already been drafted out of state leagues as mature-age players and have made their AFL debuts.”

      So the proof the AFL clubs aren’t doing it, is that they do it?

      • June 15th 2018 @ 11:27am
        Aransan said | June 15th 2018 @ 11:27am | ! Report

        If the AFL clubs were already doing it, Mat Guelfi wouldn’t have been taken by Essendon with pick 76. My guess is that one of the WA clubs had planned to take him as a rookie.
        Rather than giving struggling clubs extra high picks, perhaps give them priority on drafting 20+y.o. players using their late picks.

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2018 @ 11:26am
      TomC said | June 15th 2018 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      It’s a good idea, but there’d need to be processes in place to make sure the teams with weaker lower leagues aren’t further disadvantaged.

    • June 15th 2018 @ 12:26pm
      dontknowmuchaboutfootball said | June 15th 2018 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

      No new positions or extra draft picks are needed. Every year pretty much all clubs finish their drafting with another 2 rounds of picks available to them. For mature age 2nd tier players to be selected, all that is really needed is for list managers / recruiting teams to actually start rating the potential of those players and to invest the same amount of time and resources into assessing them as they do the 17/18 year olds who are heading into the draft.

      Personally, though, I hope that doesn’t happen. I like Freo being able to scoop the cream without any competition from other teams.

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