Opinion

Tasmania smashed the AFL draft - but what happens next?

By Thane Brady
December 6 2023 - 4:50pm
Tasmania's four AFL draftees James Leake, Ryley Sanders, Colby McKercher and Arie Schoenmaker. Inset: North Launceston president Thane Brady. Pictures by Phillip Biggs, Paul Scambler
Tasmania's four AFL draftees James Leake, Ryley Sanders, Colby McKercher and Arie Schoenmaker. Inset: North Launceston president Thane Brady. Pictures by Phillip Biggs, Paul Scambler

With so many individuals and associations publicly celebrating, it's one of few things that unite the footy community.

As the dust settles on the celebration it's an appropriate time to examine the plans of the AFL for talent development, particularly in the current best performing area, Northern Tasmania.

he Examiner’s Rob Shaw, Josh Partridge, Brian Allen and Ben Hann unpack and discuss the sports news across Northern Tasmania.
  • Under-18 Devils representatives will be underpinned by regional academies.
  • From 2025 onwards, Devils graduates will supply Tasmania's adult rep teams VFL/W and AFL/W
  • Devils and academies underpinned by community football rather than TSL.
  • AFL no longer needs TSL clubs to participate in talent development.

Benchmarking the top current academy Gold Coast achieving four in the initial draft round, it demonstrates how successful the Launceston area is and how it's likely with all the added investment maintaining four draftees per year across the state is a reasonable expectation.

I've witnessed Gold Coast and Brisbane Lions academy players representing their QAFL clubs. The competition standard is excellent in all three grades. Three of Gold Coast Academy draftees came from one QAFL club, Palm Beach - Currumbin.

Similar to the proven endeavour of an apprentice working alongside and learning from mature experienced tradespersons, likewise academy players in Queensland rub shoulders with former AFL players and state representatives.

From the age of 15 or 16, our four draftees enjoyed a similar experience playing with and against AFL and state rep experienced players in the TSL.

The regional model will hit the hardest on the 15 and 16-year-old academy players who in future will not have a fast-paced, high-skilled development league option that has proven to be a fantastic bridge between under-age and senior competition.

In future, 15-year-old talent will be caught between playing under-16s where their development opportunities are limited or jumping into NTFA seniors.

Even the supporters of the AFL three-region model beginning in 2025 concede the new look NTFA will be dominated by the two former TSL clubs for at least five years due to the difference in standards.

Through cutting off the experience of playing weekly against the best players in the South, the fact is the community competitions are just small ponds with the odd big fish.

Simply the player pool isn't sufficient in small regions such as ours to drive competitions sufficient to at least maintain the current TSL standard that all four of our draftees recognised as playing a major part in their journey to the AFL.

The next five years will be a critical time for Tasmania to develop players for our AFL/W and VFL/W. How does that reconcile with stripping away opportunities and standards for the young talent coming through?

Academies develop talent - clubs develop people!

It's good enough for the AFL to continue to pump millions into Queensland footy to grow participation and talent, yet here in Northern Tasmania our football community will be cut adrift.

The best young talents looking to be drafted out of the North-West Coast continue to pursue TSL opportunities demonstrating a vote of confidence for the TSL program's value.

The plan of the AFL is to arrogantly tackle talent development alone.

Academies alone will take full control and when 95 per cent of the squad either drop out along the journey or are made redundant through age, the only available competition outside of the three regional academies will be community footy.

Academies are simply self-serving player factories for the AFL who will take zero responsibility nor provide any beneficial support to people not drafted.

The AFL refuses to provide the footy community with details of why we don't need a QAFL model, and why we should destroy a Devils-TSL club model that's working so efficiently on a small change investment compared to Queensland.

The AFL cannot sell the dream that three equal regional competitions will be superior to investing in the TSL, or that the new model will better the results clubs already achieve in regards to draft numbers and supplying welfare and support.

What about the 95 per cent of graduates out of the academy and Devils programs that are not drafted?

After committing most of their teenage years to forging a career out of footy, will they be good boys and girls and settle into a decade of local senior community football?

Player drain will only escalate, placing more strain on overall player numbers and the loss of future leaders and coaches.

Thane Brady is North Launceston's president.

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