Local Footy: AFL recruiters’ broader vision brings local heroes into play

In 2004, Victorian suburban and country footballers would have thought it more likely to be drafted into an astronaut program than to be drafted on to an AFL list. Even the VFL was barely on the radar for AFL clubs. Few recruiting managers were prepared to look beyond the elite under-18 competition, the TAC Cup.

There was one exception. Midway through the 2004 season, Sydney recruiting boss Ricky Barham went to the Victorian country footy championships at Ballarat and saw a tall wingman and forward make a claim to become local footy’s Chuck Yaegar. The player was 20-year-old Luke Vogels from the Hampden league.

At the end of the year, Barham bucked recent convention and drafted Vogels from his Hampden league club, Terang-Mortlake, on to the Sydney rookie list, largely on the strength of his interleague performance.

Vogels made his AFL debut in round seven 2005 and created a huge commotion a fortnight later when he kicked two late goals to be the Swans’ match-winner against the Bulldogs. He played 17 games before being delisted after the 2007 season.

Vogels now plays for Eastern footy league club East Ringwood. At the weekend, he was not among the best players as East Ringwood lost to South Croydon by six goals, but his legacy to potential AFL players remains.

The prospect of compromised AFL drafts over the next few years has forced AFL recruiting staff to cast their nets wider. Country and suburban club games and interleague games are under scrutiny. Late last month, AFL scouts were dotted around the Lavington oval when the Goulburn Valley defeated Ovens and Murray in the match to decide the best league in country Victoria.

A few teenagers impressed in that match, especially Goulburn Valley half-back Tom Durward, a tall, athletic type from Tatura who was the GV’s second best player. On the same weekend, Ariel Steinberg, a 17-year-old full-forward from Mildura Imperials, kicked seven goals for the Sunraysia league in its victory over the Western Border league in the wet in Horsham.

This Sunday Durward and Steinberg will be in the Victorian Country Football League under-19 team that takes on the under-19s from the Victorian Amateurs at the Amateurs’ home ground, Sportscover Arena in Elsternwick. AFL recruiters are sure to be dotted around the ground.

AFL recruiters this season have already kept a close eye on Amateurs teenagers Dan Noonan and Dan Nicholson. Noonan is a key forward from Old Xaverians, while Nicholson is a wingman and half-back from the Western District. He went to school at St Pat’s Ballarat and, having come to Melbourne to study, is now in his second season with University Blues. Some claim the speedy 19-year-old is the best player in Premier Section.

In a recent game, Nicholson was tagged by an Old Melburnians player whose teammates called him Turbo. By the end of the game, Turbo was looking for a new nickname. Against Old Xaverians, Nicholson burned off opponents from the wing to the top of the goalsquare only to be denied the chance to kick the goal of the year when he was pinged for running too far.

Sunday’s under-19 game is a curtain-raiser to the senior match between the Victorian Amateur Football Association and an AFL Sydney team. Get ready for blast-off.

Leave a Comment