Is there still a spot for the small man in modern AFL?

In recent times, AFL recruiters seem to be ignoring the performances of small players at junior level and overlooking them in the draft. But is there still a spot for the little man in the modern game?

Heightism is defined as a prejudice or discrimination against someone based on their height. Therefore, I pose the question: are the majority of AFL recruiters heightists?

It is obvious that they adhere to the belief that a good big man will always beat a good small man, but do the vertically challenged get a fair opportunity to prove whether or not they are good enough to make it at the top level?

Recruiters at AFL clubs seem to have an unhealthy fixation with drafting tall players, especially in recent years. As a result, star junior football prodigies who stand less than six feet tall are often overlooked in the process.

Some eventually find themselves on AFL lists through sheer persistence, often after being selected as rookies.

Unsurprisingly, it is these players that once slipped under the radar that often have a bigger and more immediate impact than their taller counterparts.

Some of the not-so-lucky ones form terrific careers in top state leagues, but unfortunately a lot of others lose the passion and determination to play AFL and fall completely through the cracks despite bucket-loads of potential.

Perhaps if these players were given a chance to show their wares, they could have made a name for themselves.

Some of the all-time greats of the game as well as many current starts are of short stature.

Brent Harvey may only be knee-high to a grasshopper but he has no problems taking a game by the scruff of the neck and turning it on its head.

In fact, the champion Kangaroo has been doing it for well over 300 games across 17 years and is still executing his silky skills and blistering runs down the field today.

He is just one of many short players that have had, and continue to have, a big impact in the AFL. Even Gary Ablett Jr, commonly referred to as the best player in the league, is only 182cm.

Furthermore, tall players, especially those selected in the earlier rounds of the draft, often get a lot more time on a list to prove whether or not they will make it in the game.

Smaller players are often not afforded this luxury and there is much more pressure on them to perform early in their careers.

It reminds me of the quote from former Australian basketball player and coach Lindsay Gaze when he stated, “If you are short, you have two years to prove you are a player. If you are tall, you have 10 years to prove that you aren’t a player.”

While height is undoubtedly more important in the sport of basketball, the quote seems to reflect the attitude of those at AFL clubs.

However, there may be hope yet for smaller AFL hopefuls coming through the ranks. There appears to be a re-emergence of shorter players in the game, which was reflected in the number that were selected in last year’s national draft.

Ten players under the six foot mark were selected in the first round of the 2011 National Draft. Perhaps this will be a recurring trend in future drafts with the way the game is evolving.

With less interchanges and intricate game plans, it is all about a player’s aerobic capacity, speed and skills.

Therefore, there will always be room for the pocket-rockets with elite endurance, blinding pace and silky-smooth skills.

After all, they say footy is the game for all shapes and sizes…

Twitter – @JClark182

About Jackson Clark

Born and bred in Darwin, Northern Territory, I am a young, aspiring football writer that lives and breathes the game of Australian Football. I'm also a keen player and coach.


  1. Jackson – wonderful piece, and well overdue. Small blokes always cop the wrap whilst the useless tall timber lurches around the ground getting in the way of all the good players.

    The question is not, is there a place for small blokes in footy? The question is, will footy survive if we leave it to the towering lumps of lard who have their heads in the clouds? Footy without small men becomes outdoor basketball; and we all know what a horrible game basketball is.

    Viva la vertically challenged!

  2. Dips, short men a dime a dozen. Tall men, that’s where it’s at. Who’s going to choose a Milne when they can have a Tomahawk?

  3. Good thoughts, Jackson. Loved the Lindsay Gaze quote.
    Does anyone remember “The Goodies” episode about heightism. Set on a plantation in Africa, it was about “apart-height”. Bill consigned to the jungle with the natives. Tim and Graham on the verandah in pith helmets drinking G&T’s – “the jockeys are restless tonight”.
    I have no idea why some lines from 40 years ago keep going round in my head. Like ear worms for puns instead of songs.

  4. Nice piece , Jackson , but ….as you aspire to a career in writing , passing on to you some good advice i got from an English teacher long ago….Don’t write in “chunks.”
    e.g. “Brent Harvey may be only knee -high to a grasshopper but he has no problems taking a game by the scruff of the neck and turning it on its head .” Cliche overkill!
    Try and improve on this one : “Though a small man , Brent Harvey has often – through skill and courage -influenced games to his team’s advantage ” That’s not great either , but it’s a start. Good luck !

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