It is a major problem facing all second tier football clubs.
The last few years have seen AFL clubs become overly reliant on state league talent to top up their lists, with the often false dawn of a second opportunity at the top level having a significant effect on some of the country’s proudest football competitions.
Whether it be the pre season draft plucking 13 of the best state league players in the nation away from their finals pushing teams in 2019 or the continuous offers of pre-season training positions to this top end second-tier talent, many have labelled the system a farce and completely unnecessary.
One club that has felt the full brunt of AFL intrusion over recent years has been South Adelaide, which in the space of just two seasons lost stand out big men Keegan Brooksby and Michael Knoll to teams in need of insurance at the ruck position.
Having rebounded from those two blows and building an impressive list for the 2021 season, the Panthers again find themselves at risk of losing their number one ruckman with former Crow Paul Hunter being offered an opportunity to train with St Kilda.
Speaking with The Inner Sanctum, chief executive officer of the South Adelaide Football Club Neill Sharpe says losing marquee players such as Hunter is something state league teams have become resigned to.
“I suppose we are getting a little bit used to it given the recent history,” Sharpe told The Inner Sanctum.
“I think it’s initially deflating but then you have to get on with it, it’s something that doesn’t seem to be going away so we just have to deal with it as best we can.
“It’s flattening for our coaching staff, our players and our supporters when it does happen, and is definitely met with frustration by a wide number of people from South Adelaide.”
Although he does not question the merit of giving players such as Hunter a second chance, Sharpe says the supplementary selection process has rarely given prospects a genuine opportunity to contribute.
“The difficult part is you want to see players such as Paul get another opportunity at AFL level,” he said.
“The other side of it however is that history shows us that those players taken in this process are more about insurance and less about genuine opportunity.”
Given the licence to invite players to train at any point through the pre-season period, star state league recruits such as Hunter, Jordan Gallucci and Majak Daw have been forced away from the clubs that fought incredibly hard to secure their services.
Sharpe believes this system provides AFL clubs an opportunity to be lazy in their drafting processes, much to the detriment of second tier competitions.
“It gives AFL clubs a mulligan for something they missed out on by doing their work 12 months before,” he said.
“I don’t see how it has enhanced the game in any form, there are a couple of good examples of guys who have come in and played a lot of footy but you would think if club’s were doing their jobs prior to that these players would have been picked up in November drafts.
“I suppose my concern for a competition like the SANFL, which is still very parochial, is what impact it will have on the clubs in this league if it does keep happening.
“I can see the short term benefits [to the players], but I just wonder what damage it does to the state league competitions who have a bit of pride in what they are looking to do in the long term.”
The impact of this recruiting by AFL clubs is best seen through the results of the 2019 midseason draft, where a number of teams in the middle of strong seasons had their campaigns heavily disrupted by the departure of key players.
“At that time [halfway through the 2019 season] we were sitting second or third on the ladder and had the state ruckman [Michael Knoll],” he said.
“Following that in 2019 we missed out on the finals so that’s the impact it had on us, there were a couple of examples of guys who played some good footy [from that draft] but if clubs did their jobs to a certain level prior they should have already been on lists in the first place.”
However, despite the risks associated with recruiting top end state league talent, Sharpe says the Panthers recruiting strategy will not change as a result of this current landscape.
“We do talk about it [players being taken by AFL clubs] and think about whether we have to go about things differently,” he said.
“At the end of the day though, you take the best players available, you can’t crystal ball what’s going to happen and say let’s pick a bloke that’s not good enough to make sure we don’t lose any talent.
“We are always keen to get the best players even if it does shoot you in the foot sometimes, we just hope that it comes off more times than not.”