Divergent: Examining the draft problem in Tasmania

Adelaide's new SANFL development player, Oliver Davis, playing for the Tasmania Devils. Picture: Tasmania Devils/Solstice Digital

An underlying tension exists in Tasmania, why does one of the nation’s oldest football states only produce a couple of AFL draftees each year?

In three of the last five years (2016, 2019 and 2020) a Tasmanian’s name has not been called out in the National Draft, with players later selected in the 2019 and 2020 Rookie Drafts.

The establishment of a full-time Tasmania Devils program in the NAB League and a partnership with North Melbourne’s VFL side (which sees select TSL and Tasmania Devils players line-up for the Kangaroos each week) has only raised expectations going forward.

It leads people to constantly question the quality of the TSL and the viable pathways for young players within the state.

The drafting of players is a pertinent goal for any club, league or state, but in a football heartland like Tasmania, the lack of draftees is an ever-present issue that will not go away.

A problem like this naturally invites a diversity of opinions from key stakeholders involved in the game, but the differences that this can create underpins a level of dividedness that permeates through the state.

Standard or perception?

Depending on who you ask, the issue is either the standard of the TSL or AFL recruiters’ perception of the league.

Glenorchy coach Paul Kennedy has likened the TSL’s current situation to what the VFL experienced several years ago.

When Kennedy was playing for Frankston, VFL players were not seen as draftable by AFL recruiters either.

But as more players got picked up and performed at AFL level, the perception of the VFL changed, to the point that now players are being regularly drafted.

Kennedy said not a lot had changed with the VFL itself, it was just the perception of the league.

“Obviously the TSL is a little different to what the VFL was back then. But I guess the issue is the perception of AFL scouts, not the reality of the players playing in it,” Kennedy said.

“The good talent here is really good and they’re at the top level of players in the VFL and SANFL.”

Kennedy hoped that the VFL program with North Melbourne, which was only established this year, will get Tasmanian players noticed and raise the profile of the TSL.

“That program, if it can get some guys drafted and get those guys in front of those eyes, all of a sudden you’ll get a situation in Tasmania where people are like, ‘I want to be in the TSL, because I might get added to North Melbourne’s VFL list’, or if it becomes a Devils team over time, ‘I can get added into that team and then get drafted’. It’s like that missing link in the pathway of Tassie footy,” he said.

Kennedy spoke passionately on the current pathway in Tasmania (the TSL, NAB League and North Melbourne’s VFL program) and how the three entities need to be brought together.

“It’s so important that we bring the pathway in Tasmania together.

“At the moment, you’ve got the Devils pathway, which is just for such a small number of players and it’s just focussed on getting players drafted.

“But if we’re getting two players drafted a year and a huge chunk of the money that the AFL puts into Tasmania is going to that small part of it, are we really getting bang for our buck?

“We need to do it better. At the TSL clubs we have seven mini-centres of excellence. We can integrate the Devils, the TSL clubs and what North Melbourne does, we can do that so much better.

“So that there’s aspiration, young players can see where they’re going. At the moment, there’s so many young kids with potential and they might play in a Blue v Gold game and not get picked, and out of that they’re like, ‘footy’s done for me’.

“We’re failing young people by not giving them a proper pathway where they can see where football can take them. Even if they don’t make it to that highest level, they learn those lessons, they develop as people in a high-performance environment, and that helps them in all areas of their life.”

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What is the best way to develop players?

There is an increasing belief from people within and outside of Tasmania that players need to leave the TSL and move interstate if they want to get drafted.

North Hobart assistant coach Oli Di Venuto believes the messaging coming out of the Devils needs to change, both for the development of young players and the betterment of the TSL.

“The philosophy around the Devils program is about getting blokes drafted, which is true to an extent, but for me, it’s about getting those kids to play 150 TSL games,” Di Venuto said.

“The messaging coming out of there (the Devils), they’ve got 12 potential kids to get drafted next year, like realistically, that’s not happening.

“But they’ve put it out there, so you’ve got 12 kids in that program who think they’re going to get drafted, they miss out.

“So then instead of staying around in the TSL to figure their games out, they’re going to the mainland and they’re probably not ready to go yet.”

Di Venuto suspects that young players are being told to head interstate if they are not drafted.

“In my opinion, I’m assuming they’re telling them that they need to go to the mainland if they want to get looked at.

“All I heard last year was we didn’t get more drafted because they played in the TSL and didn’t play NAB League. That’s just crap, absolute crap, your development’s going to improve by playing against men, not kids.

“I’d like to hear why the TSL’s not rated as a comp to get drafted from. If this is what recruiters are saying, why?”

Kingborough coach Trent Baumeler agreed that the issue is not with the TSL.

“There’s no issue with the product. You’ve got to dig a bit deeper and look,” Baumeler said.

“It’s whether recruiters, AFL clubs, whether they actually want to do their job and watch the games and see where the talent is.”

Moving forward

Tasmania’s current draft problem is underpinned by differences of opinion.

The lack of Tasmanian draftees is either due to the quality of the TSL or AFL recruiters misguided perceptions of the league.

The best way for a player to develop is to either stay and progress in Tasmania or head interstate immediately.  

Differing views and approaches are only natural, as every player’s journey is different, but the current discourse surrounding the future of young Tasmanian players remains conflicted and divided.

At the very least, there seems to be an ideological divide between the Devils program and TSL clubs on the best way to develop players.

Tasmanians have succeeded when they have gone to the AFL or a higher state league level, showing that the talent is there, but the solution for the best pathway going forward remains ununified.

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About Hamish Spence 41 Articles
Hamish writes about Aussie Rules, cricket, basketball and all things Tasmanian sport for The Inner Sanctum. His experience includes working for organisations like 10 News First, AFL Tasmania, The Mercury, the TSL, the Hobart Hurricanes and Draft Central. He recently finished a media degree at The University of Tasmania.

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