Great Expectations – The AFL draft is just a lottery

For all the scouting, for all the analysis and for all the speculation, the AFL Draft is still very much a lottery. And one that puts great expectations on young men who are still only 17 years old.

The 2012 AFL Draft took place last night on the Gold Coast and the leadup had the usual ‘toing and froing’ over who will go when and to what club. The footy media ran phantom drafts and supporter sites were full of discussion and excitement about this kid and that. Stars were born last night apparently and every club rolled out the usual proclamations afterwards about getting what they wanted and believing they had picked up a few bargains.

There’s no guarantees in AFL football though and history is littered with high-end draft picks who never got a game or who didn’t live up to the expectations of the media and supporters. For years to come, there will be even more speculation about the success of each pick with an inordinate amount of footy media space questioning why Club A went with Player B instead of Player C. Ah yes, it’ll keep many a footy reporter busy and in employment for years to come all that talk.

The thing is, we’re talking about 17 year old boys here. And all this coverage and all this spotlight puts enormous pressure on these kids to deliver. Because in many cases they are expected to change the fortunes of entire clubs that are over a hundred years old and are made up of forty-odd players and immeasurable numbers of support staff. Not only that, they are expected to have an impact almost immediately and if they don’t, then obviously Club A picked the wrong kid and it was a waste of a good draft pick.

It’s quite ridiculous and very unfair if you ask me as many 17 year olds don’t have and can’t have the maturity, determination and dedication needed to be a successful AFL footballer. Its just human nature. Certainly I didn’t at 17. Perhaps even at all. But every year so much pressure and expectation is put on kids this age to be the next star and to be a club’s saviour. Especially as the average career of an AFL footballer is less than four years so a teenager drafted at 17 is more than likely to have finished his career by the time he is 21. Still very young.

It’s also complete folly to put so much trust in draft picks and the nuances of 17 year old footballers. I should know, I’m a Melbourne supporter. As has been widely documented, the Melbourne Football Club had a blind faith in the draft and young kids bringing it success but look what that has achieved. Or more to the point, look what that hasn’t achieved.

Conversely, look at someone like Jack Watts. He’s copped all sorts of criticism for apparently not living up to ‘our’ expectations but he is still only 21 and might have another ten years as an AFL footballer. Brendon Goddard was in the same boat for a number of years as well before he eventually became one of the top three players in the league by the time of his mid-20s.

Yes, teenagers can’t instil success without some sort of example being provided to them by older and more experienced players on what it takes to be an AFL footballer and to be a successful club. Clubs like Sydney and Geelong have understood that from the beginning and have reaped recent success as a result.

That’s why I don’t fall into the camp that expects Gold Coast and GWS to dominate in a few years time as I just can’t see the draft and the draft only delivering a premiership in such a short period. It’s blind faith to think otherwise and I think some harsh lessons are in for those supporters who believe that their latest 17 year old will deliver them the ultimate success.

It’s a lottery that’s for sure, and it would be wise for all this excitement and all this speculation to be reigned in a little. But hey, considered and rational analysis doesn’t sell newspapers or get x number of website hits so I’m not expecting any massive shift in the coverage any time soon.

But beware the faith in a bunch of 17 year olds delivering an AFL premiership for your team. Trust me, I’ve had all sorts of experience in that and have the emotional scars to prove it.



  1. Ben Footner says

    Every club got either a gun, a steal, or a bargain. Who’d a thunk it.

  2. Skip of Skipton says

    I had been reading up on all the prospective top picks on the Herald-Sun, Age and AFL websites, and was pleasantly surprised when Geelong’s #16 was the only kid in the top 30 or so I hadn’t heard of. In Wells we trust!

  3. I probably wouldn’t have given up number one draft spot for Lance Whitnall, he is getting on a bit and a bit out of shape but still going ok for the mighty Glenroy.

    Sheeds works in mysterious ways but thought you could have got him in the second round.

  4. Skip of Skipton says

    Obscure Humour 101 is your field ‘snorter? Dig it! I work with a woman whose surname is Whitfield, might aswell be Colquhoun or Garlett for all she knows.

  5. Lance was never that skinny Snorter. :)

  6. Im extremely happy with Collingwood’s selection :)
    if they can play as cute as they look we are set for a very good future…and if not they can always form a boyband!

  7. Skip of Skipton says

    Boyband? No. Nirvana cover band. Grundy is Novoselic. Kennedy is Dave Grohl, and with a touch of peroxide Broomhead is Kurt. It’s so obvious.

  8. Barkly St End says

    Lotteries are fun.

    There can be only one winner.

    And over at Whitten Oval, we are convinced that we have struck gold with our four picks, and that we are definitely the winners on the night.

    Ain’t no one that can tell us otherwise.

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