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If this year’s AFL draft can be defined by anything, it is the priority clubs placed on speed and the sudden plethora of players over two metres tall.
Nine of the 64 players drafted were over 200 centimetres, the tallest of them 207cm Taylor Goad, who was taken by North.
Tew Jiath has landed at the Pies, who like his speed.Credit: Getty Images
In part that speaks to the fact that it is the trend of the game – and of athletes getting bigger. Now key position players, not just ruckmen, are ideally hitting that two-metre mark. But it also reflects that next year’s draft is not known for many high quality talls, so clubs are getting in early.
But in this draft, nothing beat speed.
The constants in football are players who can get the ball, players who can run and footballers who can kick. As the game evolves – and the best teams change characteristics – there are swings between the top teams being those whose games emphasise ball use over the contest, or those who favour skill over pressure. Some games prioritise ball smarts over athleticism.
But players with run and speed are always valuable, and this year’s draft reflected that.
Collingwood, Melbourne, Carlton and St Kilda all said they plainly targeted speed as a priority in the draft.
The new premiers reinforced the importance of speed to their game on grand final day and were open about the importance they place on runners when it came to the draft.
“If players can’t run in our system they can’t play, and the two boys we have brought in [Harry DeMattia and Tew Jiath] certainly can do that. Both boys are impeccable characters [and] display leadership traits, which was a consideration as well,” Magpies list manager Derek Hine said.
“As recruiters we bring in the talent and speaking to ‘Fly’ [coach Craig McRae] and the coaches about how we want to play, [they say] if they can’t run and haven’t got the traits to assimilate into our program, then they are just not going to play and that’s why we are so confident with the boys we have brought in.”
Carlton’s midfield has been criticised in recent years for being one-paced. While it is high end when it comes to talent, it is at the low end for line-breaking speed.
Billy Wilson was taken by the Blues with pick 34.Credit: AFL Photos
The Blues admitted that they unabashedly focused on bringing in speed with their two picks, Ashton Moir and Billy Wilson.
While Wilson has played a lot off half-back, it was a few games played on the ball that turned list manager Nick Austin’s head as that elusive type all clubs search for – the inside-outside midfielder with toe.
“With Billy, we’re welcoming someone who’s got elite disposal and leg speed, which is something we targeted this off-season,” Austin said.
“The speed is a real point of difference for us. He’s listed as a general defender, but we love what he did as an inside midfielder in the back half of the year and through the finals. Played pure inside, he did some fantastic things and super clean, he burst out of packs with speed and his ball use was terrific. And that’s a point of difference for us as a midfield.”
Coach Ross Lyon’s stamp was on the selections at the Saints as they try to overhaul their list.
They prioritised speed as well, but they also made a very Lyon-type selection with Arie Schoenmaker, a laddish player from Tasmania whose ability is not in doubt. But Schoenmaker was banned for 10 weeks at the start of the year by the Tasmanian Devils team for an incident on a pre-season camp and he dropped through the draft to be the third-last player taken at pick 62.
Lyon has often been willing to embrace players that other clubs might baulk at. He is happy to throw his arms around players, understanding the game demands all types of personalities, characters and backgrounds.
As list boss Stephen Silvagni said, Schoenmaker has been given his chance
“We had him fairly highly rated, he obviously has a weapon in terms of his kick – he would be in the top two or three kicks in this draft.
“He has had some adversity in terms of early on in the year [when he was banned for 10 weeks]. He had to go back and prove himself again and that’s a good sign. He is a young boy, he is 18 years of age and we are giving him a chance and hopefully he takes that chance because he has got some talent.”
The bigger overall priority for Silvagni, though, was addressing a need to bring in players who can run. All of their selections outside of Schoenmaker – Darcy Wilson, dynamic small forward Lance Collard, Angus Hastie and Harry Garcia – were players with the ability to run and carry.
“We looked to bring some speed through our list. Speed and run, but also we want to be able to bring ball skills in terms of kicking ability.
“We ended up bringing some really good athletes into the club who can really run.
“We have brought some runners in to the side. We feel as though we have some running capacity now and the game has been going that way for quite some time.”
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