It was only 19 months ago that a fresh-faced 18-year-old from Sandringham Dragons, Tom Langdon was gathered around his TV in his family home of Brighton, nervously waiting to find out if he’d soon become an AFL player. An hour and a half later, 70 picks were taken and Langdon wasn’t one of them.
A year later coupled with significant development, a starting position in Sandringham’s VFL side not to mention the Dragons captaincy as a 19-year-old, Langdon was taken at pick 68 in the National Draft. He now finds himself now in the box seat to take home this year’s NAB AFL Rising Star award for Collingwood, in what would be a fairytale affair.
Like Langdon, the 2014 Draft looms as a second chance for many potential draftees. The 19-year-olds who were for one reason or another overlooked in 2013, are now making every moment count in what is regarded as their final opportunity at TAC Level, and perhaps their last chance at a spot on an AFL list.
North Ballarat’s Louis Herbert was also another 19-year-old whose success in his 19th year was also a major story. Herbert won the TAC Cup Coaches award as the most influential player each week, which ultimately led to him being plucked by Gold Coast in the rookie draft.
Herbert’s eighteenth year saw him situated predominately across half forward, but when he was criticised for his lack of versatility, Phil Partington’s men at the Rebels moulded him into one of the elite half-back rebounding defenders in the TAC Cup, who went on to flourish for Vic Country at the National Championships, and it seems lightning could strike twice for Partington with Portland ruckman Rowan Marshall to come under many recruiters’ microscopes after a scintillating start to the year.
Marshall, who went from being on the fringe of the Rebels list, to the number-one choice ruckman for Vic Country has a terrific story. The 198 cm ruckman has found consistency as a 19-year-old since moving to Ballarat, whose presence up forward has been the topper on the cake for Marshall. With a strong presence around the ground, Marshall wins a good amount of the ball around the ground for a ruckman, but has also shown tremendous ability in his application to really take direction from coach David Loader. This paid dividends in round 10 when Marshall kicked three goals in seven minutes to win the game for the Rebels against the Bushrangers. His three contested marks in as many minutes signified the breakout game that Rebels officials and perhaps Marshall himself, knew was coming.
For some players, the expectation of being a potential father-son selection increases unnecessary external pressure, which is magnified when overlooked.
That was the case for Calder Cannons key forward, Jayden Foster who is the son of Western Bulldogs legend, Peter. When Foster made a return in the finals for the Cannons, kicking four goals hype generated talk that the Bulldogs may have given him the opportunity, however limited appearances and just four games of the year due to a lengthy injury lay-off due to a foot issue.
However, as is the trend, Foster’s surge to prominence has been swift, kicking 20 goals off seven TAC Cup appearances including a bag of five against Gippsland a fortnight ago. Since putting on four kilograms, Foster’s contested marking and reliable set-shot for goal have been talking points, but so has his ability to crash packs and move well higher afield that could see this son of a gun follow in his father’s footsteps in November.
Dan Howe from the Murray Bushrangers wouldn’t have made a ripple in any body of water when his name wasn’t called out in last year’s draft, despite AFL Draft insiders believing he was a strong chance to be rookie-drafted. Howe, who resides in country town Rennie, is a super-versatile tall who at 191 cm and 84 kg has become a vital cog in Vic Country’s defence as a damaging rebounding defender since making the move to the backline from half forward this year. In each of Howe’s six TAC Cup games to date, he has featured in Murray’s best on each occasion, which is more than what he could account for in 2013. Currently averaging 21 disposals, Howe is another beneficiary from the TAC Cup’s 19-year-old rule, just like his teammate, Nathan Drummond.
A prodigious talent, Drummond’s draft year was cruelled by a series of injuries that meant he could only play a total of three TAC Cup games. By his own admission, Drummond really distanced himself form the club during that period and he struggled to cope with the realisation that it wasn’t going to be his year.
Still, Drummond was regarded a favorable chance to be rookie-listed by a club and is repaying the faith the Bushranges instilled in him, by inviting him back as a top-age player. Like other 19 year olds, Drummond is having a career-best year that has so far included a Vic Country jumper and labeled as the most exciting utility play in the competition. Drummond has played almost every position this season, and in particular for Vic Country he’s played forward, back, on a wing and through the midfield, which has given recruiters a taste of perhaps what the 181 cm, 85 kg endurance king, who is averaging 28 disposals and seven marks a game can offer at the next level.
In the case of Cameron Conlon, his story is differently completely again. It was 2012 when the athletic Northern Knights key-forward-cum-ruckman made a splash for the Northern Knights as a bottom-age player, and was earmarked as a potential top five pick in the 2013 National Draft, when a shoulder injury requiring reconstruction subsequently whipped out the second half of this promising start to the year. Apart from playing 17 minutes of a practice match in 2013, injury again hit and what followed were an array of knee-related injuries, which put a line through his draft year.
The AFL-AIS member did manage to get himself right to test at the combine late last year, but the prodigious talent was overlooked in both the national and rookie drafts, with only a handful of games to go off dating back to the first half of 2012.
Now in 2014, Conlon, who stands at 198 cm and 91 kg, is set to make his long awaited return to football against the Murray Bushranges in Wangaratta in round 12 of the TAC Cup season. The draft’s man of mystery undoubtedly has the elite assets to make it at the top level, but thanks to the faith shown by the Knights and a preseason spent training with VFL side Northern Blues, Conlon will be hoping to string together a solid few months of football injury free to put forward his case as a potential draftee later this year.
The 19-year-old rule has proven to be a successful pathway for plenty of current AFL-listed players, but more so it allows for clubs to develop and nurture these young men, and find them homes on AFL lists. For the players, it’s an opportunity to focus purely on football with draftees juggling up to five different football teams throughout the year, not to mention the pressures of year 12 and anything else that may have an impact.
It also allows for the players another year of personal development, which as has been the case in following seasons is an area that required further growth. With Langdon and Herbert, both were able to find consistency and versatility in new positions, whilst also enabling them another year to fill out to resemble the body of an AFL player.
With somebody like Conlon, the extra year means another 12 months in an elite environment, with access to physiotherapists, doctors and training staff to rehabilitate his injuries, to give him the best opportunity of showcasing his talent in what looms as his final crack at his dream.
But the Oakleigh Chargers might have the biggest three of the lot. Jack Sinclair, Lachlan Waddell and Hugh Beasley are all 19-year olds. Sinclair averages 21 disposals, almost four marks and an elite five tackles per game; further proof that another year can be all the difference in terms of confidence and development. Although Sinclair stands at just 179 cm and a light 75 kg, he has pace to burn and plays taller but more importantly has found consistency in his game that makes him almost a draft certainty. Mark Smart’s men also threw up talented key utility, James Toohey in last years rookie draft off the back of a fine season.
With the TAC Cup allowing for three 19-year-old players each year to be re-listed for each of the 12 metropolitan and country-based sides, they also have the opportunity to become the 23rd man at VFL level, however at only at a maximum of three games.
Foster in particular will get the opportunity to taste what could be ahead, by pulling on the Footscray jumper before the year is out. Calder’s pacey wingman Aaron Christensen has impressed for Coburg and has recently made the move to becoming a signed player for the Lions, the same pathway Langdon went with the Zebras. Keep an eye out for some of these 19-year-olds who may well be the next Tom Langdon.