Yarra Man: Make the TAC Cup an under-23 competition

By Tavis Perry

I’ve often wondered if the AFL has got it right with the TAC cup. There’s no doubt that most of the players who are drafted come out of this competition, but I wonder if the AFL could utilise the TAC Cup better as a breeding ground for potential players. I think it would better serve its purpose as an under-23 national competition.
There’s no doubt that clubs put a significant focus on their recruiting departments. And the longer the draft has been in operation, the more accurate the recruiters seem to have become at selecting the best talent. Over the past three years a massive percentage of the top 10 in the draft, in particular, have gone on to become regular senior players.
A popular word in AFL circles is “rebuilding”. It insinuates that the team in question is off-loading older players and giving their kids senior games. Sides implement this in the knowledge that they are going to languish near the bottom of the ladder for a while, but then improve as their kids develop together.
I don’t think this process makes a lot of sense. Sydney seems to have a more logical process in place, where they recruit players with senior AFL experience who’ve lacked opportunity at their previous AFL club. Players like Rhyce Shaw and Martin Mattner have slotted straight into their side and made an impact, at basically the same cost to the club as a teenager out of the TAC competition. This ensures that they remain competitive and have a more structured approach to which juniors they try to develop.
It’s hard to argue that the top 10 to 20 picked in each draft is likely to forge themselves a successful AFL career, but the rest of the players drafted seem to require substantially more investment from the club, and even then are no certainty to get one game, let alone a hundred. There are a variety of reasons for this, notably the unpredictability of how much physical development they have left, the limited information clubs have on how motivated they are to play at the elite level, and the fact that most of the players drafted have limited life experience and some don’t appreciate the opportunity presented to them.
An under-23 competition would be of a lot higher standard than the current under-18 competition. It would help give recruiters a better awareness of how potential draftees were likely go at AFL level. Players would also be more physically, emotionally and mentally developed and therefore have a greater ability to “walk” straight into an AFL side, meaning the investment of each club would be less. Of course, the elite 17- and 18-year-olds who are good enough to make an under-23 side could still be drafted, but clubs would have a more accurate idea of the player and person they would be recruiting if they held off until the player was older.
The suggestion that Richmond should retire most of their players over 30 is fraught with danger. There’s no doubt the players in this age bracket are on significantly higher wages than any draftee, but at least the club and coach knows exactly what their output is going to be. Giving them another season may increase their motivation and, subsequently, their performance.
So apart from losing a raft of experience, Richmond would also lose the chance of short-term success. If they happen to draft kids, invest a lot of years in development, and get the same output from those kids as they’ve had from Jarrod Oakley-Nicholls, Jay Schultz, Dan Connors and Tom Hislop the consequences could be dire.
Surely it’d be in Richmond’s interests to recruit players who are slightly older, more developed and more likely to make an immediate impact. This is what an under-23 competition would provide.

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