Midseason rookie draft - cost significant, return minimal, damage substantial
Today could be the best day in the football lives of impressive young WAFL forwards Jack Buller and Jaiden Hunter.
It is the day when their names could be read out at the AFL’s midseason rookie draft, realising their life-long dreams and opening a world of football opportunities.
Today is also the worst day on the State league calendar.
It is the day that could shatter a club’s premiership aspirations, devastate a team’s recovery program and further erode vulnerable grassroots already threatened on all sides.
It is also another free kick for AFL recruiters so riddled by incompetence and devoid of vision that they can’t find 44 reasonable footballers across the country and globe to include on their club lists.
AFL clubs already have seven vehicles to deliver talent.
They can nominate players through the national, pre-season and rookie drafts; add to their lists at the supplemental selection period; trade players or acquire free agents during the relevant windows; and, most intriguingly, sign as Category B rookies at any time anyone who has not been registered at any level for three years.
The Western Bulldogs did that recently with James O’Donnell who went from football civilian to AFL debutant in 37 whirlwind days.
Who said pathways were vital?
Yet if recruiters can’t find enough decent players through those seven means – and remember they are only ever topping up a list with a dozen or so individuals rather than starting from scratch – they have been gifted an eighth paddock to harvest.
And there are stakeholders eager to introduce in-season trading between AFL clubs in a bid to provide a ninth instrument to find enough players to get through a season.
Is it that difficult for clubs to pick enough players at the start of a year to survive to the other end?
In fact, why not just have open slather? Allow any footballer – any human, actually - anywhere in the land, or planet, to join any club at any time?
That is surely the next step rather than continuing to tinker with minor adjustments that diminish the lower levels and reward mediocre recruiting teams incapable of identifying and developing their own talent.
Hunter will be the hottest West Australian property on the block tonight.
He and Buller have the physical attributes to move into the AFL immediately, as does surprise target in East Perth defender Corey Watts, while teenagers like Roan O’Hehir and Rob Hansen jnr are likely to be longer-term projects.
Essendon recruiting manager Adrian Dodoro was at Fremantle Oval on Saturday to cast an eye over O’Hehir but surely turned his gaze to Hunter when the big forward single-handedly lit up the match with the five goals that proved the difference between his developing team Perth and the more favoured and seasoned South Fremantle.
The draft provides a considerable dilemma for clubs and supporters.
Everyone wants to see their players get higher opportunities - and succeed when they get them.
But the cost is significant, the return minimal and the damage substantial.
Perth will receive $10,000 if Hunter is drafted – chickenfeed to a club that offered an eastern stater $80,000 at the start of the year – but they will not be able to find a player to replace him.
Marlion Pickett has been the only WA player whose midseason selection has proved an unqualified success and he most likely would have achieved that anyway had the recruiters removed their blindfolds long enough to watch him in action for South Fremantle in the years leading into his 2019 elevation.
Connor West gets a tick given his 27 games for West Coast but the other eight WA players have done little with Josh Deluca (six games at Carlton) and Brynn Teakle (six at Port Adelaide) the only ones to get on the field.
Jack Mayo, Dillon O’Reilly and Will Collins came and went without leaving a mark while Kalin Lane, Sebit Kuek and Wade Derksen are on lists but yet to debut.
IMAGE: The West Australian