AFL powerhouse Richmond has been buoyed by the loyalty of club members in tough financial circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic.
Eighteen teams. Forty-odd players per list. That means about 800 players represent the AFL pool.
What does it take to become a successful AFL player? The first thing that comes to mind is talent. But does the best talent in the land rise to the top? Not necessarily.
To be a successful AFL player, you need three things.
The first, of course, is talent. This is a combination of good genes and access to the junior levels of sport so that said talent can be developed, nurtured, and most importantly spotted by scouts.
The second thing you need is a robust body.
How many promising careers have been cut short by injury? The teenage sensation in school who blows a knee or keeps doing their shoulder, and then decides it’s just not worth the effort to continue.
They may end up with a career in the industry, but their future as a professional sportsperson is over before it even starts. Plenty of players make it as far as AFL level, and only then do their bodies let them down. It’s very difficult for talent scouts to measure let along predict physical robustness.
The third thing you need is the hardest to measure: the stuff from the neck up.
Players need talent. They need to be able to get on the park every week, and they need to fit in at the club. It’s a tough ask for any youngster to suddenly have fame and fortune thrust upon them – even harder if this involves moving their lives from a small town to a large city.
It can be a slippery slope to fall into all sorts of negative behaviours from there, without the strong environment of a club: coaches, mentors, and other players.
This past season, two cases stand out: Sydney Stack and Marlion Pickett.
Both prodigious talents, yet both come from very challenging personal and family backgrounds. The talent spotters would have seen them play and work their way up the ranks.
Many would have scored them highly in their rubrics, and then come to the section on personal attributes. “We’d love to have him, but… just too much effort, not worth the risk”.
And so these two fell off everyone’s radar, and were picked up by my team, Richmond. They both instantly became crowd favourites – certainly for their on-field impact, and perhaps bolstered by their respective back stories. I’m very proud that Richmond had trust in their club culture and had the courage to take them.
They will probably go down as steals of the draft. But only because 17 other list managers were risk averse.
There are probably hundreds of Stacks and Picketts out there, playing in other leagues around the country. I hope other clubs also start to cast the net wider in search of them. We want to see them play. We want to celebrate their journeys and their stories. They make our sport more representative and stronger for having them.