The AFL Draft is be­com­ing big­ger event ev­ery year. It’s hard to be­lieve how much it has changed since my draft year, back in 1993. It was the first time it was tele­vised, and I re­mem­ber not want­ing to go – I was more ner­vous about not be­ing picked up. Only be­ing 17 at the time, I was a bit naive; look­ing back on it, I was prob­a­bly in­vited for a rea­son!

But in the moment, you don’t think that way. I was elated I was picked up early, by the Bull­dogs with the 11th pick, so I could en­joy the rest of the draft. I got the tap on the shoul­der to talk to Sandy Roberts on stage. I was wear­ing the worst shirt in Australia, I reckon. What was I think­ing?

I had no prepa­ra­tion for that ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s not what the young kids get to­day through their clubs. I’m in­volved with the AFL Academy, so I see how the guys are pre­par­ing them­selves for the draft. I also helped de­vise a drill that they use at the draft com­bine for the prospects, which is called the Brad John­son goal-kick­ing test: a cou­ple of set shots, snaps left and right, and then a goal on the run when they break 50. We made sure we put a time on it, just to add that lit­tle bit of pres­sure; one minute to do the test. That last shot, they’ve got some fa­tigue in their legs.

From what I see in these kids, there’s no ques­tion the skill level in their games has gone through the roof. Clubs will sit there and maybe ex­pect more at times – it is case by case, but these days, the guys we’re in­volved with that end up be­ing drafted are at the top end of skill level.

The thing I see that needs to im­prove the most is skill level on the op­po­site side of the body. They spend a lot of time mas­ter­ing their dom­i­nant side, which is great. But I think some at­ten­tion needs to go back to the op­po­site side, and the coach­ing through the ranks needs to push that again. We were drilled fa­nat­i­cally that we needed to be ex­cel­lent on our dom­i­nant side, and you had a good op­po­site you could use. That’s where the shift needs to come back to, rather than tac­tics and struc­tures – go back to skill de­vel­op­ment.

I’m im­pressed at how bet­ter-pre­pared young foot­ballers are, which is why I think 18 is the right age for the draft. These teenagers have been com­ing into the AFL, hold­ing their form and stay­ing in the side. They’re more ready; some still have to play a year in re­serves, be­cause you’ve got guys com­ing from all over Australia with dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences. You’ve got guys from WA and SA who have played se­nior foot­ball, against men. You’ve got the TAC Cup. Maybe some of the north­ern states are just playing against kids their own age and have to make the step up.

I sup­pose that’s where the ar­gu­ment goes back­ward and for­ward. Is 18 the right age? It is for some, and 20 is the right age for oth­ers. But 18 is the right age to be in an elite en­vi­ron­ment – even if it takes guys a cou­ple of years, they’re get­ting the best chance be­cause they’re get­ting the best train­ing.

When I joined the Dogs at 17, I still had to com­plete year 12. But what I was told, and I think it’s true for ev­ery draft pick, is when you walk in, you can’t wait for things to hap­pen. Train with the best, find some guys who are a bit older, who have played some se­nior foot­ball and who can help you un­der­stand pro­fes­sion­al­ism. You think you know it all at 18. But it’s a whole new world.

I’ m im­pressed at how bet­ter-pre­pared young foot­ballers are, which is why Ithink 18 is the right age for the draft.

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