THE INTERCHANGE: Welcome to the AFL draft - when athletic and young only matters

BLUES BOUND: Anthony Koutoufides would find his way to Carlton despite a standout junior athletics career that had him on track for the Olympics. Picture: John Donegan

BLUES BOUND: Anthony Koutoufides would find his way to Carlton despite a standout junior athletics career that had him on track for the Olympics. Picture: John Donegan

Just blame the shy 14-year-old Anthony Koutoufides who nervously first walked inside the changerooms of Princess Park.

Carlton just couldn’t resist. When he could run the 110-metre hurdles back in 1988 under 15 seconds, the Blues brains trust all but drooled with delight.

Koutoufides just two years on was a national under-16 high jump champion and visions of the Olympics was even on the horizon. 

Lucky for Carlton, that athletic strength and power he possessed was instead utilised bursting through packs with his trademark one-handed grip on the ball.

But before Koutoufides, there was Jimmy Stynes.

The athleticism wasn’t quite as great, but for a 199cm ruckman it was unseen until his arrival.

His legend only grew when Stynes would go on to play an unprecedented 244 successive VFL/AFL games.

INSPIRATIONAL: Jim Stynes brought a new dimension to the game. Picture: Jim Hooper

INSPIRATIONAL: Jim Stynes brought a new dimension to the game. Picture: Jim Hooper

And he was an Irishman.

The gaelic football convert had not picked up the oval ball until a first run with ex-VFA club Prahran in 1985.

His slanted kicking style bore testimony to that.

But the remarkable 1991 Brownlow Medal win in just Stynes’ fifth year playing for Melbourne sowed the seeds for an attitude change towards AFL recruiting.

No longer did a potential player have to already be a good footballer and have a football sense of the game.

They now had to be very athletic. They also needed to be super fit. They preferably should be quite fast. Almost all the things two-time Brownlow Medallist Greg Williams wasn’t.

Nor Sam Mitchell, who also won the 2012 Brownlow retrospectively.

That comparison was quite apt for Matt Hanson.

LEGACY: Sam Mitchell proved that mature-aged super athletes could make the AFL.

LEGACY: Sam Mitchell proved that mature-aged super athletes could make the AFL.

The ex-South Launceston premiership player moved across Bass Strait to develop his game at the VFL level.

He found a home at Werribee where experienced coach John Lamont told The Examiner last year that he likened Hanson to Mitchell at the same stage of their respective careers.

Mitchell was nearly 20 when debuting in a nine-game AFL opening year. He added a Liston Trophy win.

Hanson, 22, came close to winning that same highest individual VFL award this year behind Richmond sensation Jacob Townsend. 

That came on the back of three straight club best-and-fairest awards, only the second player at Werribee to achieve that feat.

James Podsiadly won two. Shaun Smith and Simon Atkins just the one.

Hanson is now the fabric of a VFL representative side since his inclusion in 2015.

His disposals not only rose in 2017, but also efficiency. Tackles and clearances were also the best in the VFL.

BACKWARDS STEP: Former South Launceston and Western Storm midfielder Matt Hanson's dominant VFL season at Werribee did not change the views of recruiters at the draft table via the national or rookie drafts. Picture: Supplied

BACKWARDS STEP: Former South Launceston and Western Storm midfielder Matt Hanson's dominant VFL season at Werribee did not change the views of recruiters at the draft table via the national or rookie drafts. Picture: Supplied

But on both AFL draft nights – for the third year running – his name went without a whisper. 

How possibly could this possibly be? Perhaps the more pertinent question is how could Hanson do anything more to grab the attention of AFL recruiters?

To no surprise, the 2017 national draft proved telling.

To the point where it’s really better to be young than to be good.

Not suggesting that any future champions of the game failed to get drafted, but more so that the first 23 selected were 18-year-olds.

Just nine out of the 78 selections – which two were past or present AFL players – were not teenagers and none were over 23.

Five of the final six picks were 20 or older when AFL clubs tend to take pot luck on a mature-aged player.

It wasn’t until Geelong named 23-year-old Tim Kelly from South Fremantle with selection 24 did it end.

ONE TO MISS OUT: No AFL club could find a place for leading 24-year-old WAFL midfielder Haiden Schloithe in the 2017 AFL drafts. Picture: Perth Now

ONE TO MISS OUT: No AFL club could find a place for leading 24-year-old WAFL midfielder Haiden Schloithe in the 2017 AFL drafts. Picture: Perth Now

The WAFL half-forward was runner-up in the once prestigious Sandover Medal.

But if Hanson thought he was stiff, consider the man who bettered Kelly this year.

Star South Fremantle teammate Haiden Schloithe was overlooked. Not just the national draft, but the rookie draft three days later.

Just like Hanson did too.

Schloithe’s numbers stood head and shoulders above his WAFL competition.

The 24-year-old averaged 28 disposals in all 22 games, kicked 30 goals and was seven votes clear in the Sandover Medal – the fifth straight winner to miss out.

But he was no 18-year-old with potential nor proven record. Therein lies the problem. Obviously.