After four days of intense activity, the draft combine concluded with plenty of tired, but excited young stars that showed their athletic wears in front of recruiters and coaches at Etihad Stadium. Plenty of TAC Cup players featured prominently in the results with first round hopefuls Josh Kelly (Sandringham Dragons), Billy Hartung (Dandenong Stingrays), Nathan Freeman (Sandringham Dragons) and James Tsitas (Geelong) all winning a respective event.
Of all the draftees, Nathan Freeman impressed the most, winning the repeat sprint event and featuring in the top 10s of the 20 metre sprint, the beep test and the three kilometre time trial. The latter event was smashed by Kelly whom went back-to-back after winning the event as a bottom-ager, something that had never been done before given the rarity that 17 year olds are invited to the draft combine. He finished 14 seconds ahead of Western Australia’s Nick Robertson and 19 seconds ahead of namesake Oakleigh’s Jake Kelly. Others to make the top ten included Tsitas, Freeman, Darcy Byrne-Jones (Oakleigh Chargers) and Nathan Drummond (Murray Bushrangers).
The other endurance test was the beep test in which highly fancied gut runner Billy Hartung took out and smashed the previous record held by Hawthorn’s Brad Hill. Hartung ran an elite 16.6, a whole level ahead of NSW and GWS recruit Jake Barrett. Four TAC Cup players finished equal fifth with Byrne-Jones, Tsitas, Jake Kelly and Drummond showing they have elite endurance. Unsurprisingly, Josh Kelly and Nathan Freeman were just behind them rounding out the top ten.
Along with his impressive endurance, Geelong’s James Tsitas scored the highest on Nathan Buckley’s kicking test. He hit a total of 29 targets out of 30 to hold off six players of whom finished on 28. Aside from the field kicking, there was a goal kicking test which saw three players nail all five goals (three set shots, two snaps) from five shots. Eastern Ranges’ Michael Apeness, Port Melbourne’s Chris Cain and Queenslander Jarred Ellis.
With line-breaking speed now an important facet of playing AFL, all eyes were on the 20-metre sprints and repeat sprints to see which players had the best burst speeds in the Under 18s competition. West Australian super athlete Jonathon Marsh stole the title from Nathan Freeman by just four tenths of a second ahead of Port Adelaide’s Irish recruit Daniel Flynn. James Sicily (Western Jets), Karl Amon (Sandringham Dragons), Jack Leslie (Gippsland Power), Tom Cutler (Oakleigh Chargers), Jake Barrett and Byrne Jones rounded out the top ten. The repeat sprints were just as eagerly anticipated, with Freeman this time taking the honours ahead of Byrne-Jones and Marsh. Josh Kelly and three other TAC Cup players in Nic Bourke (Geelong Falcons), Louis Herbert (North Ballarat Rebels) and Tom Langdon (Sandringham Dragons) finished in the top ten.
In the agility category, Tasmanian speedster Zac Webster took the overall titles ahead of Daniel Flynn. Darcy Byrne-Jones was again prominent, equal third, just ahead of Sandringham’s Karl Amon, the only two TAC Cup players to make the top ten although VFL player Ben Brown was on par with West Australian jet Dayle Garlett which shows he has a chance to be drafted as a mature aged player.
The other athletic categories tested were the vertical jump in which the Tasmanian twins in Kade and Jake Kolodjashnij made it their own while Queenslander Archie Smith also topped the left leg category. Murray Bushrangers Nathan Drummond and Jarman Impey made all three top ten placings for the vertical jump as did North Ballarat Rebel Louis Herbert. Josh Kelly recorded a top ten placing in both running vertical jumps which capped off another impressive draft combine for the likely top ten pick
After four days of tough athletic competition, the talented footballers now head back to their respective clubs to continue to train ahead of the draft. For some players it will be a case of recovering from various niggles or keeping themselves fit should they be selected by an AFL club. For others, it is a chance to bond with the group that they fought with throughout the year. Whatever the case, all these young men have done themselves and their clubs proud.