Category: Feature Articles

Young stars Rising up to AFL challenge

EVERY club is excited with the young talent in their team and with round one approaching we have taken a look at which players could step up and progress from the under 18s – or their first season in the AFL – and be the standout young talent at the elite level. From an already premiership player to a few top five five draft picks, there is no shortage of contenders for the 2018 AFL Rising Star Award and here are a few to look out for this year.

Jack Graham

The Richmond young gun was picked at number 53 in the 2016 AFL National Draft and has already had one year of experience in the AFL, remarkably winning a premiership with the Tigers which will help him to thrive and play to his absolute best in the Richmond midfield. He was a standout in the Grand Final, kicking three goals, while keeping Adelaide star Rory Sloane quiet. Graham is one of the favourites to take out the 2018 AFL Rising Star award, and it would be surprising not to see him at least poll some votes from the judges at the end of the season.

Paddy Dow

Carlton’s prized number three draft pick in last years draft, Paddy Dow from the Bendigo Pioneers is another one of the favourites tipped to win the 2018 AFL Rising Star Award. The young blue has the full package in he is a powerful, classy midfielder who can impact the scoreboard. He is a huge accumulator of the ball and knows how perform on the big stage. He showcased some of what he has to offer during both AFLX and the JLT Community Series. Dow’s long repertoire of skills will be on display, and is primed to play and be a young leader in a young up-and-coming side.

Jaidyn Stephenson

Collingwood have found themselves a player that has some X-factor with pick six in last year’s draft. The former Eastern Ranges enigma is a great runner who is both quick and has the tank to run out four quarters of footy . He was a playmaker during the TAC Cup in 2017, averaging 5.2 inside 50s and 3.9 clearances, and was a danger every time he went up forward, something Collingwood is hoping he can do in 2018. His X-factor trait is the explosiveness in Stephenson game style, which will likely see him up in the top 10 of the AFL Rising Star Award.

Oliver Florent

Oliver Florent was picked by Sydney Swans in the 2016 AFL National Draft with pick 11. After only playing a handful of games in 2017, Florent is still eligible to win the Rising Star in 2018. The former Dragon is a lively half-forward who can make something out of nothing. At the 2016 AFL Draft Combine he recorded the equal highest beep test (15.1)  Florent will fit in nicely to a regenerating Swans side, and add another dimension to an already star forward line with Buddy Franklin and Isaac Heeney. 

Luke Davies-Uniacke

North Melbourne’s Luke Davies-Uniacke from the Dandenong Stingrays, was picked with the fourth pick in the 2017 AFL National Draft. He is a classy player with all the characteristics of an contested ball winning and game breaking midfielder. Davies-Uniacke wins the ball similar to Sydney’s Josh Kennedy and models his marking on Luke Parker. North Melbourne’s Recruiting Officer Ben Birthisel, said Davies-Uniacke is “really good at accumulating the footy around the ground and his ability to consistently stand-up in big games has really made him stand-out amongst this year’s group. His elimination final against Eastern Ranges was super, and he’s another who’s gone forward and hit the scoreboard and is strong overhead.”  Look to see him in the top three in the Rising Star award.

Cam Rayner

Brisbane’s prized number one draft pick, Cam Rayner from the Western Jets, is another who will see plenty of game time in the 2017. His game style is compared to Richmond star Dustin Martin. Andrew Hamilton from the Courier Mail compares Rayner to ‘Dusty’ “because of his explosiveness and brutal fend-off.”  Rayner had the nickname “Hollywood” at his Junior football club, Hillside, because of his “goalkicking flair”.  So with his ability to impress, expect him at seasons end to be in the top three vote-getters of the AFL Rising Star Award.

Alex Witherden

Lions young gun Alex Witherden was selected by Brisbane with pick number 23 in the 2016 AFL National Draft. Witherden played nine of the final ten games for the season, only missing Round 21 because of injury. He was a standout in his first season in defence at the Lions, and especially in his debut match against the GWS Giants in Round 14 “where he collected 20 disposals, 12 kicks and seven marks.” In his impressive debut season, Witherden “averaged 23.6 disposals, 15.9 kicks and 5.3 marks” and therefore he was 17th “on the 2017 Rising Star Nomination tally.”  In 2018, he is tipped to finish in the top two of the AFL Rising Star award. If Witherden plays the whole season and continues with his great form in defence from 2017, he will take out the AFL Rising Star Award or at least in the top five because he will be playing against other very young talented superstars.

Andrew Brayshaw

Sandringham Dragons’ Andrew Brayshaw was taken by Fremantle with pick two in last year’s National Draft. Brayshaw’s is renowned for being “a hard worker, neat user of the ball and a superb decision maker.” His kicking is top notch and in the TAC Cup he averaged nearly seven tackles a game. Brayshaw is a versatile player who can have a significant impact whichever position he plays in, as he can not only play in the midfield, but can play as a half-back flanker and move forward when required. He had a great AFL National Draft Combine, where he showcased a rare mix of speed and elite endurance capping off an outstanding 2017 season. Look to see Brayshaw in the top five of the AFL Rising Star award, due to his versatility as a player and his incredible footy IQ .

Draft Gems: The best of the low 30s

IT HAS been a little more than 30 years since the then-VFL held its first national draft. While footy fans are well-versed in the feted number-one pick since Martin Leslie became the first back in the inaugural 1986 draft, the chances of picking an out and out champion the later the pick, are indeed lessened.Given the national draft now has more than 30 years of history to look back on, as an exercise we will examine the most successful draft picks taken in the low 30s. Like the lottery that is drafting at times, many names drafted over the years are now long-forgotten by most fans. However, there have been some true draft gems secured in hindsight for outstanding value. As follows, here is a selection of the best players drafted in the low 30s since 1986.

Shaun Hart, 1989

Drafted from Shepparton United with pick 33 to the Brisbane Bears, Hart was small in stature, but earned the respect of the football world over 273 games in 15 seasons with the Bears, then Lions. Hart was a key member of all three Lions’ premiership sides from 2001-2003, but in particular, his performance in the 2001 Grand Final against Essendon saw him awarded the coveted Norm Smith Medal. Unfortunately, Hart’s career ended on a sad note finishing injured in the Lions 2004 preliminary final win over Geelong, denying him the chance to finish his career in the Brisbane Lions historic attempt for a fourth successive premiership.

Simon Black, 1997

When it comes to football greats, Simon Black’s resume more than fills the required criteria. A triple-premiership player with the Brisbane Lions, Black played 322 games, was named All-Australian on three occasions, won three best and fairest awards, and is one of the few players to have won the Brownlow Medal and a Norm Smith Medal.  Drafted with pick 31 in the 1997 National draft via East Fremantle, Black debuted for the Lions the following year, and it didn’t take long before he found himself in the Lions’ best 22, playing 22 games in the 1999 season.

Black won his first best and fairest award in 2001, tying with skipper Michael Voss, and he added two more in 2002 and 2006. In addition, Black was runner-up five times, including four years in a row from 2008-2011. Along with his 2002 Brownlow win, Black was also runner-up in the 2007 Brownlow count (with Brent Harvey and the ineligible Daniel Kerr), and again the following year, falling just one vote short of eventual winner Adam Cooney. Black may have suffered an injury-plagued final season in 2013, but he was still good enough at the end to poll two Brownlow votes in his last AFL game. One thing is for sure, as soon as he is eligible, Simon Black will be a walk up start for the Australian Football Hall of Fame. 

Paul Chapman, 1999

Hailing from the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Chapman was drafted by Geelong with pick 31 in 1999 via the Calder Cannons. Debuting with the Cats in 2000, Chapman played 251 games in the blue and white hoops, and was a member of Geelong’s three premiership sides in 2007, 2009 and 2011. But it was the 2009 season that was the highlight of his career, Chapman was named in the All-Australian team for the first time, kicked the goal to put the Cats in front late in the 2009 Grand Final, then was awarded the Norm Smith Medal for his performance that afternoon. Proving he wasn’t a one-season wonder, Chapman backed up again with another All-Australian selection in 2010. At the end of 2013, Chapman departed Geelong, but still feeling he had some senior footy left in him, moved to Essendon where he played a further 29 games over the course of 2014/15. 

Daniel Hannebery, 2008

Current Sydney Swan, Dan Hannebery has already carved out an impressive resume so far in his nine-year senior career, highlighted by his win in the 2010 AFL Rising Star award, playing in the Swans’ 2012 premiership win over Hawthorn, and being named a three-time All-Australian. Hannebery was drafted via the Oakleigh Chargers with pick 30 in the 2008 National draft, making his senior debut with the Swans in round 16, 2009 and has now accumulated 193 games with the Swans. Hannebery’s form as one of the games premier midfielders was also recognised with his win of the AFL Coaches Association award for the 2015 season. As Hannebery moves towards the 200 game milestone later this year and beyond, he has the chance to see more success for the Swans and personally enhance further his reputation before his time in the game is over. No doubt he has the ability to. 

Haua making waves in the sunshine state

LAST year a dreadlocked Geelong star turned heads with a stunning seven-goal performance in the TAC Cup Grand Final, but five months earlier, a little known Queenslander recorded a baker’s dozen in central Queensland.

It was April 22, 2017, and 16 year-old Kane Haua walked off the ground having snagged 12 majors for his side Boyne Island Tannum Sands (BITS) Saints side against Rockhampton Kangaroos. The Gold Coast Suns Academy prospect was putting his best foot forward, and finished the season with 35 goals from 14 games. At the end of the year, he would relocate to the Gold Coast, studying full-time at Griffith University while balancing two part-time jobs and training with the Academy.

Haua has impressed Academy coach Andrew Raines as the top-age Queenslander sets his sights on achieving his AFL goal. In speaking with the Gladstone Observer’s sports editor Nick Kossatch, Raines spoke of Haua’s determination to make it at the highest level, and some of the traits he possesses ahead of next month’s Academy Series.

“The attributes he shows is his speed and his running ability,” Raines said.

“He’s got a high work rate too; he works really hard up the ground and he works hard to get back towards goal so we’re thinking about playing him forward in our upcoming Academy series.

“His pressure up forward is really good too, he tackles really well and he’s very aggressive and strong so that’s what we’re liking at the moment.”         

Andrew Raines, Gold Coast Academy coach

Raines said the teenager had some untapped talent and he would have to continue to develop in order to make the Allies squad for the National Under 18 Championships in June.

“He’s (Haua) got a long way to go in terms of the next step and the next level,” he said.

“Whether he can match it with other Academies around Australia and obviously there’s the best in Victoria and WA if he’s fortunate enough to get an opportunity in the division one [side] which is later in the year.”

For now, Haua is looking to make an impression through the Academy Series, which pits Gold Coast against the other three northern Academies in the Brisbane Lions, GWS Giants and Sydney Swans. Previously, the carnival was looked as as a Division 2 to the National Under 18 Championships, but was changed last year so the two Academies in each state could show off their own talent rather than a mixed team. Tasmania and Northern Territory remained in the carnival, with all six teams to be combined to form an Allies side for the division one championships.

Raines said Haua had been a member of the Gold Coast Suns Academy for a couple of years, and had shown signs of development, including representing Queensland in an under 17s match last year. The Gold Coast Academy coach said once the prospects finish school, they are invited to come down to the Gold Coast, relocating off their own back and chase their AFL dream, a dream Raines knows has no guarantees of coming to fruition.

“The young kids aren’t guaranteed a spot, it’s more for their own pathway, and they do various other things to, like go to uni, move to a bigger town anyway so that’s the whole process,” Raines said.

“He’s been down since November last year or December, and he’s relocated well, he’s living at Griffith University on campus, and doing university there full-time.

“He’s balancing working, he’s got two part-time jobs so that gets him busy, on top of his training, so that’s a bit of a brief background how he’s come into the program and how he’s relocated from central Queensland to down here.”

Raines said the new Labrador recruit could play for as many as four sides this season if he plays to his potential: his home club, the Gold Coast Academy, the Allies, and, later in the year, the Gold Coast Suns’ NEAFL side when they call-up Academy prospects.

The full interview with Andrew Raines can be heard here.

Lion cubs ready to roar in 2018

QUEENSLAND’S top young talent is continuing to grow, with 2018 promising to be another busy year for the Brisbane Lions Academy. The Lions have a number of talented prospects they will develop and showcase across the season.

Lions Academy manager Luke Curran was kind enough to give AFL Draft Central his time in discussing what lies ahead for the academy this season.

The Academy already had its first hit outs across last weekend, featuring three games played by the academies Under 18 girls and male Under 16 and Under 18 squads. The Brisbane Lions Under 18 Female Academy played against the Gold Coast Suns Under 18 Female Academy in a curtain raiser to the AFLW, between Brisbane and Collingwood at the Moreton Bay Sports Complex recently.

Curran was pleased with the performances of the Academies’ male and female teams over the weekend in wet conditions.

“The three academy games were really good. The girls had a win (37 points) over the Gold Coast Suns in their first practice game,” Curran said. “We also had the U16s and 18s boys in difficult conditions. The boys and girls’ teams both played well considering the conditions.”

The Lions Academy also had eight players play in the Lions’ North Eastern Australian Football League (NEAFL) squad in their practice match against Aspley last weekend. By all reports the academy players acquitted themselves well in the match.

“Feedback from the NEAFL match from the coaches was really good,” Curran said. “The boys slotted into that team well and all performed their roles as required. We’ll be using players from our U19 NEAFL development program and U18s regularly throughout the year to make up numbers in the NEAFL main squad.”

The under 18s and 19s in the Lions Academy all aspire to get drafted later in the year. Curran identified some of the top prospects with high potential to be drafted onto an AFL list.

Ben Sloan had a reasonable season last year, going through again this year as a 19 year-old with the hope of good performances to put him in contention,” Curran said. Jack Tomkinson is a tall ruckman and key position player that’s stepped up over summer playing good footy. “From the 18 year-old’s you’re looking at guys like Tom Matthews who played in the Under 17 all star game last year. Connor McFadyen, Kiedean Coleman and Jesse Quint. There’s a fair few in the 18s we are happy with now.”

Fans will have the opportunity to see these young stars in action throughout the year. Academy players will be committing to play both academy/representative games, alongside matches for their local clubs depending on their week-to-week schedule. Fans can find the clubs of academy players on the Brisbane Lions website.

The key competitions for the Lions academy prospects this season include the AFL Under 18 Academy Series in April, followed by the Division 1 National Under 18 Championships.  Academy players will be looking to put a good foot forward in the Academy Series to stamp their spot in the Allies side at the national championships. Curran stressed that the players should not rely on the Academy series to perform their best but rather do so on a week-to-week basis in club and NEAFL games.

“We find the NEAFL games are important as well playing with and against AFL listed players on a regular basis,” Curran said. “Every game is important, the boys will fluctuate week to week but hopefully they can put consistent performances together. From our point of view, we are more worried about performance and development rather than outcomes of the games.”

The Lions Academy will have two more practice games over the next fortnight against the Gold Coast Suns Academy and the Wilston Grange QAFL side in preparation for the Academy Series. To keep updated and learn more about the Lions Academy just check out the Brisbane Lions website.

Fantastic Five: Memorable moments from the weekend

THERE was no TAC Cup or TAC Cup Girls football on the weekend, but the AFLW and JLT Community Series played out their penultimate and final rounds respectively. Here are five moments which made the weekend memorable.

Jack Watts’ six goals against Adelaide

There are few players in the AFL who have come under as much scrutiny as former number one draft pick, Jack Watts. After starting to show signs of finally reaching his potential over the last couple of years, Watts gave Port Adelaide fans a glimpse of what he could offer them in season 2018, bagging a career-high six straight goals. Yes, it was only the pre-season and there have been plenty of pre-season performers who have failed to go on to dominate – Jesse White booted five goals against Geelong in his first match in the black and white – but nonetheless, Watts was a player who needed a confidence boost in his new colours and his new fans could not be happier with his output.

GWS Women’s topping the Western Bulldogs to keep their GF chance alive

GWS did not have the season they would have liked last year with injuries galore and less homegrown talent growing organically in the state compared to football-centric hubs of Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. That has all changed in 2018 with competitive efforts throughout the year, and now the Giants are in the thick of the action for a grand final berth. If they win the final game, they’ll will face either the Western Bulldogs (again) or Melbourne in the grand final. Their efforts against the ladder-leading Bulldogs were superb and there is plenty to like about the way the GWS Giants women go about it. That was obvious from their really strong showing against Melbourne at Casey Fields in round one.

Carlton’s youth coming through

While the Blues are one of a few teams opposition fans love to hate, it is hard not to get excited about the youth coming through the club. Coming into their 23rd season since winning the 1995 flag, Carlton fans are desperate to see improvement after a forgettable past 15 years. Now they can see the likes of Caleb Marchbank, Charlie Curnow, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Harry McKay, Paddy Dow, Lochie O’Brien and of course, Patrick Cripps all starting to create a really formidable young group who are bound to improve over the next few seasons. Sure, they might not be premiership contenders this season, but with Brendon Bolton at the helm, and a belief that seems to grow stronger each day, expect the Blues to be a team to watch over the coming years.

TAC Cup Testing Day

From the stars of today to the stars of tomorrow, the TAC Cup boys and girls all were tested on the weekend for the 2018 TAC Cup Testing Day at Maribyrnong College. More than 600 players were put through a series of tests conducted by Rookie Me, from the 20m sprint to the AFL Agility Test, the yo-yo test (boys) and the 2km time trial (girls) to the vertical leaps. In front of plenty of friends, family and AFL and AFLW recruiters, the potential next big things in the elite league got to show off their athletic ability in what was a successful day. In particular the athletes deserved massive applause with outdoor temperatures reaching up to 37 degrees (according to some weather apps) towards the end of the day.

Collingwood Women’s toppling the Lions with only pride on the line

Similar to last season, Collingwood’s best football has come when the ball game is done and dusted. But with a huge win over Melbourne, a competitive six-point loss over the Western Bulldogs and now a good win over Brisbane, the black and white women have shown they can match it with anyone on their day. Much like the AFL side, the AFLW side has not escaped scrutiny this season, but with some really talented youth prospects coming through and much better ball movement and willingness to create run, the Magpies have been as good as any side the last three weeks and reigning premiers Adelaide must be sweating a little coming into the final round.

Determination pays off for Ballard

EVERY draftee has taken their own unique pathway to the big time.

Some, like last year’s number one pick Cam Rayner, are touted as high-end selections years in advance. Others, like Giants recruit Aiden Bonar, re-emerge after stints on the sidelines with injury. And some, due to a wide variety of reasons, drop out of first-round calculations as the season progresses, as was the case with Port Adelaide ruckman Sam Hayes. But as is often said when draft day approaches, where you end up being taken is merely a number once you make it into club land.

One such draftee went from a virtually unknown, skinny utility to a draft bolter with plenty of x-factor, on the back of an outstanding year for South Australia, Sturt and at school level with Sacred Heart College. That bolter was Charlie Ballard who was drafted to the Gold Coast Suns with pick 42 in last year’s AFL National Draft.

After missing out on inclusion in Sturt’s 2015 under-18 squad, in the space of just two years, Ballard grew no less than 15 cm’s, allowing him to be tried in key position roles at either end of the ground.

At the start of 2017, Ballard said his initial goals were to “make the Sturt 18’s team and then just chip away at my footy and see how [he] went”.

“I had bigger goals at the back of my mind but kept my mind short-term,” Ballard said.

As the season progressed, strong performances at school and club level caught the attention of state representatives. This led to his inclusion in South Australia’s Under 18 squad for the mid-year national championships.

Ballard’s neat skills, mobility, cleanness at ground level and strength overhead proved to be too good for opponents when he lined up for Sacred Heart College. Despite his height and proven ability up forward and down back, Ballard played predominantly across the wing in for the Croweaters.

Ballard, 18, says the national championships were “a step up from all the footy that I’ve played before, quick and intense, but I just tried to treat it like any other game”.

“It really helped having a couple of good mates in the team to help me get settled,” he said.

Featuring in all four games for South Australia, Ballard excelled under pressure, finishing the tournament averaging 18 disposals (11 kicks, seven handballs), 4.3 marks, 1.8 tackles and 0.3 goals. By this point in time, recruiters across the nation had all heard the name Charlie Ballard and were sure to monitor him closely for the remaining games and the upcoming national combine, to which the utility received an invitation.

“I probably first realised being drafted was a possibility when I got told by a couple of coaches that it could happen, but really clicked when I was lucky enough to get a combine invite,” the 18 year old said.

Coming into the draft, there was a reasonably significant amount of hype around Ballard, with many draft experts predicting the Suns would swoop at the back end of the first round, with  selection 19. In the end, it was the Gold Coast who picked him up, albeit later than perhaps anticipated, at pick 42. It capped off an outstanding year for Ballard, whose stocks continued to rise as the season progressed.

Now, with one AFL pre-season under his belt, Ballard has well and truly set his sights on making a strong early impression in Queensland, either at NEAFL or potentially AFL level.

“Settling in was really easy, living with a player makes it pretty cruisy and you learn a lot about good habits, etc. The preseason was really good, exhausting but really rewarding coming up to the seasons’ beginning soon,” the Suns recruit said.

When asked about where he sees himself playing at the highest level, Ballard said his preference was midfield, but anywhere to get a game would be great

“At the moment I think I’d still like to play on the wing but I expect to be a bit all over the place, I just have to adapt to different positioning.”

Many South Australians will be watching on with interest in 2018 and beyond to see how the talented utility goes at the elite level.

All-Time Best 22: Bendigo Pioneers

IN a new feature series throughout the year, AFL Draft Central’s Brandon Hutchinson will look at a possible best 22 from each TAC Cup club. Starting with the Bendigo Pioneers and working through each of the 12 clubs, the series is likely to cause plenty of debate as to who should or should not make the side.

As you will see from the Pioneers’ best 22 that have been compiled, the midfield is stacked with guns and the defence is quite strong. With only three genuine key position players in the side, the Pioneers would aim to play a running game to trouble opponents. Due to the lack of height, Nathan Thompson has been thrown into the ruck, while the Tarrant brothers hold down the key position posts in the defence. Up forward, medium-talls who can fill-in for key position players, Andrew Walker and Jake Stringer are the focal points for the attack.

A midfield containing Dustin Martin, Joel Selwood and Ollie Wines is just about going to win every clearance, so the forward 50 entries are likely to be frequent. It will be a family affair for the Selwoods, with brothers Adam, Scott and Troy all making the team. No doubt in the future we will be adding names such as Paddy Dow, Lochie O’Brien and Jarrod Brander to the team should their careers progress as expected.

Bendigo Pioneers Best 22:

B: Brent Guerra – Robbie Tarrant – Dean Solomon
HB: Josh Hunt – Chris Tarrant – Jarryn Geary
C: Nick Dal Santo – Ollie Wines – Adam Selwood
HF: Daniel Harris – Andrew Walker – Scott Selwood
F:  Nathan Brown – Jake Stringer – Sam Kerridge
R: Nathan Thompson – Dustin Martin – Joel Selwood
INT: Michael Braun – Colin Sylvia – Troy Selwood – Rick Ladson


Brent Guerra

Drafted as the twenty-eighth selection for Port Adelaide in 1999. During his time with Hawthorn he was developed into a strong-bodied half back flanker helping to add experience to their 2006 side.  He played in both Hawthorn’s 2008 and 2013 premiership side and received a Rising Star nomination in 2001. Guerra displayed a better consistency during his time with Hawthorn that he lacked when playing at Port Adelaide and St Kilda.

Robbie Tarrant

Initially being overlooked in the 2006 draft due to a shoulder injury, Tarrant was drafted the following year after having a standout year with the Pioneers. Tarrant was the fifteenth pick in the draft and was snagged up by North Melbourne. He did not play any AFL football in his first two years, but in 2016 was awarded North Melbourne’s Syd Barker Medal. He has a strong intercept mark and knows how to beat his opponent in a contest. He has played on some talented forwards as a backman and would make a good utility in defence.

Dean Solomon

Selected by Essendon as the twentieth pick in 1997. He went on to be a part of Essendon’s AFL Premiership side in 2000 and received a Rising Star nomination in 1999. He had a strong body and a good attack on the ball but was often let down by his lack of discipline during play. Despite that, Solomon was a part of Essendon 2000 side, arguably one of the greatest teams ever, losing only one game the whole season.


Josh Hunt

Hunt cemented himself as a dangerous backman for Geelong when he hit his breakout year in 2004. He earned himself two Premiership Medals in 2007 and 2011, but missed out on Geelong’s 2009 appearance due to an ACL injury. The stocky defender was relied on to kick in after an opposition behind due to a keen ability to get the ball moving into an attacking play with his long, precise kicking.

Chris Tarrant

Being Collingwood’s leading goalkicker from 2001-2005 is a feat that should not go unnoticed. Tarrant played as a key forward during his time with the Magpies and was known for his high marks, athleticism and leading to the ball. He won the AFL Anzac Medal in 2001, was selected for the All-Australian team in 2003 and took home mark of the year that same year. Tarrant also demonstrated his skill as a backman following his moved to Fremantle in 2006.

Jarryn Geary

The current St Kilda captain has transformed his career over the past couple of seasons from a fair contributor to one of the Saints’ crucial players. He finished second in the club best and fairest in 2016, and was named captain at the start of last season, taking over the reigns from Nick Riewoldt. At 29 years of age, Saints fans will be hoping he has a few years left in him.  


Nick Dal Santo

Dal Santo was drafted to St Kilda in 2001 with the thirteenth selection and went on to play 18 games during his first year. He is a three-time All-Australian and played with incredible poise and skill. During his prime, Dal Santo played light on his feet and demonstrated an excellent ability as an outside midfield. His football smarts guided him nicely and he did well to keep up with other stars on St. Kilda such as Riewoldt, Hayes, Montagna and Goddard. In his final year for North Melbourne he averaged 24.8 disposals for a total of 545, topping the board in both categories. Kevin Sheedy has likened Dal Santo to triple Brownlow Medallist Ian Stewart for his bravery and skill.

Ollie Wines

Wines was picked up as the seventh selection during the 2012 National Draft for Port Adelaide in 2012, and since then has shown impeccably skilled football. The midfielder has been selected three times for 22 Under 22 team and is a three-time Gavin Wanganeen Medal recipient. He is young and improving. He has played primarily as an inside midfielder and manages to hold himself against more seasoned players.

Adam Selwood

Adam had a crack at two premierships with the Eagles in 2005 and 2006, and despite having some bad luck with injuries, has had an impressive career. Selwood received a Rising Star nomination in 2005, earned a spot in the Eagle’s starting 22 and defined himself well as a defensive midfielder. Adam also took home a premiership medallion in 2006 when the Eagles beat the Swans in their Grand Final rematch in which he played all 26 games for that season.


Daniel Harris

One of North Melbourne’s hardest workers and onball toilers, Harris became known for his inside work and ability to shut down opposition players. He played 149 games and while he was eventually delisted at North Melbourne, found a home on the Gold Coast, playing for the Suns. He managed 11 more games to take his total to 160 and made history being a part of the inaugural Suns’ team. He retired later in the year after ongoing groin complaints.  

Andrew Walker

Walker was selected by Carlton with their priority draft pick, the second pick overall in 2003. His debut in 2004 against West Coast saw him rack up 26 disposals and three goal assists. That performance was rewarded one Brownlow vote and a Rising Star Award nomination. In 2011, Walker was also Carlton’s leading goalkicker and finish sixth in their best and fairest. During his 2006 season Walker had many successful games as a tagger and began to show consistency in his football.

Scott Selwood

Selwood’s career started off a little rocky but he slowly managed to find his feet. He played mostly as a tagger and an inside midfielder for West Coast from 2008-2015. In 2012, he was awarded the John Worsfold Medal, beating Shannon Hurn and Dean Cox. In 2016, Selwood moved to Geelong to join his brother but missed a few games due to injury. However, he did manage to play eleven games and returned as a dominant tagger for the Cats.


Nathan Brown

Drafted in 1996 by the Western Bulldogs at tenth overall, the Morrish Medal winner played a total of 219 games across 13 seasons. Brown was a dangerous medium forward who kicked 348 goals throughout his AFL career. He is a four-time International Rules Series player and a winner of the Jim Stynes Medal. Brown’s clever read and attack on the ball made him a damaging forward for the Western Bulldogs and eventually the Richmond Tigers.

Jake Stringer

Jake Stringer is a Western Bulldogs’ three-time leading goalkicker from 2015-2017. Drafted in 2012 as the fifth selection, it took Stringer only three years to develop into a strong forward for the Bulldogs, putting through 56 goals for the 2015 season. He was selected in the same year for the 22 Under 22 team and the All-Australian side. In his fourth year, Stringer became a premiership player and assisted his team in their win. He is a big-bodied forward who plays well in the air and has been known to do well through the midfield. He is damaging on the board and does not shy away from a contest.

Sam Kerridge

Drafted by Adelaide at selection 27 in the 2011 National Draft, Kerridge only played one game in his first season on AFL before running out in 11 the following year. He became a tagger for Adelaide and worked to lessen the damage of key opposition players. Kerridge was traded to Carlton to 2015 where he played all but one game and cemented himself nicely within the side. He can be a damaging forward when he needs to be but has shown plenty of promise as midfielder or tagger.


Nathan Thompson

Thompson is a strong forward and excellent goal scorer. In 2003 and 2004 he was the leading goalkicker for Hawthorn, and the year’s following at North Melbourne in 2005 and 2006, he led their goalkicking all the same. He was a strong overhead marker and was a dominant force in both forward lines. He was not known as a ruck, but for the purpose of this team, is the most likely to ruck, along with the Tarrant brothers.

Dustin Martin (Richmond)

Probably the biggest name in the AFL at the moment, it should come as no surprise to see Dustin Martin on this list. In 2017, Richmond’s powerhouse took home the Jack Dyer Medal, an All-Australian selection, the Leigh Mathews Trophy, the Champion Player of the Year Award, the Gary Ayres Award, the Brownlow Medal, the Norm Smith Medal and a win in the Grand Final. In 2009, Richmond used their first pick to snatch up Martin from the Bendigo Pioneers, selected third overall. He has come to be one of the most valuable midfield utilities in the league, and was the first player history to take home both the Brownlow Medal and Norm Smith Medal in the same year.  His accolades should come as no surprise once you see how damaging this man can be to any side.

Joel Selwood

Captain of Geelong since 2012 and a three-time Premiership Player, Joel Selwood has defined his football through his keen sense of leadership and his prowess throughout the midfield. Selwood is a six-time All-Australian, captaining the side in 2013, 2014 and 2016. He is a four-time winner of the AFLPA Robert Rose Most Courageous Player Award, and a three-time winner of the Carji Greeves Medal. For the 2006 National Draft, Selwood was the 7th pick and Geelong’s first choice. He went on to win the AFLPA Best First Year Player Award and the AFL Rising Star Award in his first year. Since then he has scored highly in many statistical groups and is still one of the most talented players in league after 11 seasons.


Michael Braun

Braun played with the West Coast Eagles from 1997-2008. He received two Rising Star nominations in 1997 and 1998 and won the Ross Glendinning Medal following the Western Derby match in 2007. Braun also played in West Coast’s grand final side in 2006 and took home a premiership medal. He was picked by West Coast as the fifty-third selection in the 1996. Braun proved to be a valuable asset for West Coast throughout the midfield.

Colin Sylvia 

Sylvia was picked with the third selection in 2003 by the Demons.  He received a Rising Star nomination in 2005 after coming back from a groin injury the previous year. He was seen as one of the most impressive young players at the time. He was a dominant force for the Demons as the years went on but his career was held back by injuries. After failing to meet fitness standards, Sylvia was relegated to the WAFL before retiring from the AFL.

Troy Selwood

Selwood’s endurance saw him take up the role of a tagger for the Brisbane Lions. He played 75 games for the club before being delisted at the end of 2010. In an attempt to get back into AFL football, Selwood joined the Geelong Cats VFL side of which he was appointed co-captain in 2011. He would later lead his team to a premiership in where they defeated Port Melbourne by 33 points.

Rick Ladson

Ladson played every game in 2008 and, as a result, was a part of Hawthorn’s premiership winning side. He was taken in 2001 at Pick 16 and developed into a pivotal part of Hawthorn’s side. He mostly played as a defender and an outside midfielder, but his career was limited due to injuries.    

Toohey enjoys fresh Eastern challenge

ON a scorching afternoon in Beaconsfield, new talent manager Sean Toohey — a former homicide squad detective and Sergeant with Victoria Police — witnessed his first game as part of the Eastern Ranges TAC Cup program; a win for the girls’ squad in the first round of the season against the Greater Western Victoria Rebels.

The vibe around the ground, and in the rooms after the match, was buoyant. Despite the Rebels challenging, the match always felt in the Ranges’ control. It is an attitude born of confidence, of knowing things are done the right way to ensure their players will be at their best, week in week out.

It is an environment that Toohey knows well, having come through the Eastern Ranges under-15s and 16s program; but coming back in a difference capacity has still provided a decent learning curve.

“I’m just getting used to a new environment, new people, new structures and just different ways of doing things. Which I find really exciting, and a good challenge,” Toohey said. “I’m a people person, and there’s so many good people working within our club and within our region — so that’s really exciting for me.”

Even though the 2018 season has yet to officially begin for the boys’ program, there are already whispers about players to look out for this year.

Inside midfielder Ben Cardamone, Defender/Midfielder Kye Quirk as well as forward Cody Hirst and midfielder Adrian Kalcovski are early front-runners to attract attention from AFL recruiters. This level of interest, at such an early point in the season, is nothing new for the Ranges, and Toohey’s role in keeping the players level-headed is vital.

“I’ll just try and continue that really good work of Len (Len Villani, former Eastern Ranges talent manager),” Toohey said. “I’ll aim to keep the players balanced, and help them understand what they’re striving for, and keep them focused on doing that. “I’m not here to reinvent the wheel, hopefully I can value-add to the programs with my different experiences. We do have a great record in this region for producing talent, and people, so I’ll really just try and continue on with the great work that Len has done over the last few years.”

In the last 10 years, the Eastern Ranges have consistently produced a decent sized crop of AFL quality players. This recent crop includes All-Australian calibre players Kade Simpson and Rory Sloane, as well as young guns Jonathon Patton, Tom Boyd and Christian Petracca.

The 2017 draft was no different, with a total of 10 Ranges players ending up on an AFL list. This production line of talent has not come about because of sheer luck, or some sort of geographical oddity that makes the eastern suburbs of Melbourne a breeding ground for young talent. It is because of a commitment from the club to helping young footballers become the best they can be.

“We obviously have people that identify talent very well, and get them into our programs, and once they’re in our programs our coaches and our high performance staff, our welfare staff, trainers, medical staff, all play their role and really just surround these young people with a great environment for producing talent,” Toohey said. “The players know that they can just come and concentrate on either; if they’re injured, getting their bodies right; or concentrating on what their individual program says they need to work on. “They have the confidence to be able to do that, and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s as good a program as you’ll find for this age group.”

Toohey hopes to impart some of his professional knowledge from the SANFL and Victoria Police into his work with the Eastern Ranges.

“I’ve had a pretty diverse range of life experience, due to the fact that I did work in Victoria Police,” he said. “I was seeing things that people in every day life don’t see…I suppose it’s really just trying to help guide our young athletes in the right direction, and steer them into making good choices. “Hopefully I’ll help them a little bit to influence their good decision making. We don’t want to just produce the best footballers that we can…we’re really about producing good people as well.”

Eastern Ranges will open their TAC Cup 2018 season against the Oakleigh Chargers on Saturday, March 24 at Ikon Park from 11am.

Confidence the key to girls’ success

“IF we coach young female footballers the way we coach boys then we will lose them to the game.”

This is how Nathan Burke, high performance coach, and writer from SEN’s Inside Football magazine, portrays coaching girls. Scott Armour, new coach of the Gippsland Power TAC Cup Girls team, agrees wholeheartedly with Nathan Burke’s sentiments.

“I’ve had some experience working with girls and trying to get the best out of them in a sport setting because I’m a P.E. teacher,” he said. “So one of the things I’m aware of is the importance of building positive relationships with the girls and being positive about feedback.”

AFL Community’s AFL Female Club Guide echoes Armour’s view on coaching females, explaining that coaches need to understand the environmental, individual and societal factors that lead females to playing Aussie Rules football. Environmentally, clubs need to provide good facilities, and not let over-competitiveness get in the way of developmental improvement. Scott Armour is already on the right track in implementing an encouraging environment at Gippsland, with more of a developmental focus, rather than a winning-based focus.

“One thing we’re going to tell the girls is, we won’t be looking at the scoreboard as a measure of their success,” he said. “If they’ve lost the game, we’ll look at their effort and we’ll look at how they played, all that sort of thing. “We’ll get feedback from that, take positives and move forward. We won’t judge them by the scoreboard.”

Armour also knows the importance of developing the players as individuals first, rather than elite footballers. Berger (2014) states that girls in the 14-17 age groups are more likely than boys to suffer from the perception of not being good enough, perfectionism, sexual confusion, fear of failure, body image hatred and lack of self-esteem. So Armour intends to help players overcome these issues, as should other coaches.

“We need to build the confidence up with the girls and so yes we need to teach them and educate them, but we need to build their confidence up,” the Gippsland coach said.

“So the girls playing for us in a few weeks time they know that if they make a mistake, and the runner comes out, the runner will be saying, great option, you’ll get it next time. Rather than you’re off, you made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. So being critical will deflate confidence quickly in a game and it’s not going to help anyone.”

From a societal perspective, the AFL Female Club Guide states that: “coaches who stick to good coaching principles such as striving to achieve individual goals, putting development ahead of winning and allowing time for the girls to socialise, will get the best out of their footballers.”

To ensure that Armour can get the best out of his Gippsland players, he is mindful of the language he uses around the girls.

“(With) Girls, it’s really important to be careful of the language you use,” he said.

He explained this through relating it to telling boys about a fitness test result, compared to telling girls about it.  

He believes that the boys “might look around at each other, thinking who’s not doing their job, whereas the girls might associate it back to themselves”.

Another area that the AFL Female Guide focuses on is “catering for player’s other interests and commitments”. Many TAC Cup players are up to their ears in homework, and juggle a part-time job to make some pocket-money. Fitting in family time, and hanging out with friends is another story altogether. So how do players even think about adding football into their busy lives?

Gippsland Power Female Talent Manager, Chelsea Caple states that:

“The Gippsland Power philosophy is that family and school comes first, footy comes next”. Caple and Armour understand the difficulty in balancing work, school, sport, and socialising. Therefore, they are very understanding if footy has to take a back seat in the players’ lives.

“If girls are struggling because of school workload or something in the family has come up, they’ll speak to Scotty (Armour) or myself and we’ll just have to keep reminding of them, that there is zero pressure from us to be at training if school or family needs priority,” Caple said. “There’s a lot more things that come before football and we need to educate girls about that as well. “Essentially football could last for them five to ten years, whereas school and education lasts a lot longer.”

Armour echoed these sentiments, and added his point-of-view as a physical education teacher.

“A thing that helps is from a school’s side of things is that there’s so many teachers there (at the club), so we get it,” he said. “School is so important and so we’ve got a principal, a deputy principal, a leading teacher and myself so we all know the importance of school. “We support that.”

Gippsland Power finished winless last season, but with the extended 2018 season, and a new coach at the helm, the players will have every opportunity to develop not only their football skills, but also themselves.

Progression leads to performance

FOR eight years Natalie Grindal has seen the transformation of girls footy, going from a 30-player state academy team that would train together; to now a clear pathway for girls to play footy at the highest level at AFLW. 

Grindal highlighted the importance of the AFLW, and how it has given young girls something to strive for in the future.  

“I been able to watch it grow from two to three teams to where it is now,” she said. “I guess training wise, that has changed a lot as well.”

The Northern Knights Girls high performance manager believes that the people that the teams invest into the program have contributed to the success and continual development of the girls program.

“I guess when I started so many years ago it was just me being the strength and conditioning coach and now I am High Performance Manager of the girls team,” Grindal said. “I have two strength and conditioning coaches working for me. “I have a rehab coordinator, we have a dietitian and trainers. “With all these people helping me, it gives the girls the best program possible.” 

The high school teacher says the thing that she loves about working with the girls is their attitude towards training and their willingness to take opportunities that come their way with both hands.

“The girls just eat everything up,” Grindal said. “They want to learn, they want to get better, they want to develop. “They ask questions, do everything you ask of them and they do it to the best of their ability.”

Grindal and the entire high performance team pride them themselves on being the benchmark in the TAC Cup girls competition and try to emulate the goings on of an AFLW club during the season. Initiatives such as Smartabase allows the team to manage the girls wellbeing and training loads.

“Smartabase is something all AFLW use,” Grindal said. “So the girls just have access to it on their phone and takes a couple of minutes to fill in the morning and then a training report in the evening.”

“It is just another thing that makes our program be that one bit better, and helps the girls if they get drafted, walk into an AFLW club (and they) won’t have to be told how to do it because they will know it.”

Grindal says it has been quite funny this season as in previous years of working in girls footy clubs she has been the only one organising and running her area, where as this year she has had the ability to teach the other staff and delegate roles.

“I’ve got an awesome staff of people that are eager to learn; they all want to get experience.”

However sometimes she can’t help herself and will get involved in the action, chatting with the girls and making reflecting and continually improving the the program to be the benchmark.

Grindal believes the girls are eager than ever as they can now see a pathway in the form of AFLW.

“I don’t call them girls or players, they are athletes,” she said. “They have got a pathway, they can see what they can get to. It also helps me because I can say, you are doing this to help yourself get to the next level.”

Everything we teach them and that they learn is what they will need to do at an AFLW club and not be lost when they get there.”