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In search of the next Great Crows Hope

Football

For the first time, Adelaide will have the much-valued number one pick at the AFL national draft in December. Michelangelo Rucci examines the pressures facing the Crows draftee and the options for club recruiters.

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Just before Christmas, a teenager will set up home in Adelaide carrying with his bags more expectation than when Wayne Carey came to town in 2002 as the “Great White Hope”.

He will have never voted in a state or federal election, yet he will have weekly “approval  ratings” as measured by ranking points from AFL statistics or rating points from unforgiving talkback callers on Adelaide radio.

He will be the first-ever No.1 draftee to start his AFL career in South Australia, specifically as a Crow.

AFL draft expert Cal Twomey is nominating a West Australian teenager, 18-year-old tall forward Logan McDonald, to answer Adelaide’s call at No.1. His form in senior WAFL football this season is an encouraging pointer. From nine games, he kicked 21 goals and led the WAFL leading goalkicker race for the Bernie Naylor Medal late in the shortened season (former Port Adelaide player Mason Shaw won the award with 23 goals).

Twomey describes Logan as the “best-performed draftee in the country this season”. Some judges say Logan was a critical player in ending a 22-year finals drought for the Perth Football Club.

At 196cm, McDonald draws comparison – under Twomey’s close watch – to Richmond and former Gold Coast key forward Tom Lynch.

“Hard working, strong in a contested mark and solid in his goalkicking,” read the scouting notes on McDonald.

So the football resume is ideal, particularly for an Adelaide team needing to ultimately replace former captain Taylor Walker as a key forward in the next 12 months.

But what will be “other factors” that will shape the player who not only carries the No.1 draft pick tag, but also the hopes of a big football club, a major city and a state on his back?

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire made a cutting observation on how the No.1 draft tag weighed down the Melbourne Football Club’s great hope from the 2008 AFL national draft – Jack Watts, who retired at Port Adelaide last month.

“Poor old Jack was a marketing campaign; he was everything, the archetypal Melbourne person they were going to build their club around,” McGuire said.

“Private school, blonde, good looks, tall, strong marking … all those things that they love. The Melbourne fans had unrealistic expectations right from the word go – and that is the thing we have to be careful with, how we market (No.1 draftees).”

Adelaide will have its first test with a No.1 draftee (although it did recruit the 2006 top pick Bryce Gibbs from Carlton in the 2017 trade period).

The two men who will immediately shape this significant moment are Crows recruiting manager Hamish Ogilvie and the No.1 pick who is presented at West Lakes in early December.

InDaily this week spoke to two South Australians who have carried this expectation – 2003 No.1 pick Adam Cooney, the only top pick to finish his career with the Brownlow Medal on his resume, and former Crows recruiting chief James Fantasia, who managed Adelaide’s list-management strategy from 1995-2006.

TOP DOG

ADAM Cooney left SANFL club West Adelaide to join the Western Bulldogs as the No.1 pick – a priority call – in the 2003 AFL national draft. He played AFL seniors from the start of Season 2004 and was selected in 19 of a possible 22 home-and-away games while the Western Bulldogs ranked 14th of 16 teams after being wooden spooners in 2003.

Cooney played 219 games with the Western Bulldogs from 2004-2014 and finished with two seasons and 31 matches at Essendon. He was an All-Australian and Brownlow Medallist in 2008.

“I knew I was going to be called with the No.1 pick,” Cooney told InDaily. “But I didn’t work hard enough before I got to the Western Bulldogs. When I was finally drafted, I thought it was just going to happen for me.

“I was a bit lazy – and that set me back a couple of years.

“So my best advice to whoever gets that No.1 pick – or any draftee – is get fit. They’d know that now…”

One player from each AFL national draft is immediately branded with a tag that never goes away – “No.1 draft pick”.

“You do feel more pressure than any other draftee,” Cooney said.

“You are expected to perform straight away as the No.1. Everyone expects you to be a star straight away. The No.2 draftee is not facing that much expectation,” adds Cooney, following McGuire’s lead in underlining the differences in the demands on Watts at No.1 and West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui at No.2 from the 2008 AFL national draft.

“And if you can’t live up to that expectation early on, you are going to doubt yourself.

“For some players, carrying the No.1 tag is harder than for others. If you are a key position player, you are going to take longer to develop – but the expectation is to play well straight away.

“If you are a midfielder, you’ll probably get your 15 touches in a match. You can immediately tick that off the list. But as a key forward it will more difficult to meet your early goals. You’ll be up against an experienced defender. At 18, that is going to get rough – and will dent your confidence.

“And you are going to be part of a team that has been struggling … how are you going to dominate a game when the team is probably looking at three or four wins for your first couple of years?

“But you still will be pinned with the expectation of delivering new hope for the club.”

Cooney knows there are differing levels of “high expectation” on the No.1 draftee depending on the club he joins – and the city he carries on his shoulder.

“I would not have coped in Adelaide as the No.1 draft pick,” said Cooney who remains in Melbourne working a successful television and radio career. “Small town and too many distractions for me (at home in Adelaide).

“In Adelaide, the first six to seven back pages of the newspaper will be Crows and Port Adelaide. In Melbourne, there is a filter as the news cycle works its way around all the AFL clubs.”

YOUR CALL

JAMES Fantasia played SA league football for Norwood and Woodville in the 1980s before moving to the AFL system as the Adelaide Football Club recruiting manager in 1995, working with a much smaller staff than AFL clubs have today.

Fantasia’s resume also includes working at the Western Bulldogs (2007-2013) and Hawthorn as the AFL clubs’ football bosses. He also had worked at the SANFL as its general manager of game development.

Fantasia is now the chief executive at SANFL club Norwood.

If the No. 1 draftee is under pressure to live up to expectation, imagine the stress faced by an AFL club recruiting manager to not err with what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the draft table.

“I would have loved to have had that moment,” says Fantasia.

“Didn’t get too many early draft calls because we were eager to trade in my first five years while we built those premiership sides (1997-1998). Those two premiership teams include 13 players we traded into the club across two years.

“I did get three early (top-10) draft picks. Two of the three went wrong with talls (infamously with Laurence Angwin who never played an AFL game for Adelaide after being the No.7 pick in 2000; and John Meesen at No.8 in 2004). If I had my time again, I’d not select those talls again.”

The third top-10 pick was the No.2 call with Carey in 2002, the season the North Melbourne premiership key forward spent out of football after his off-field indiscretions forced him to leave the club he had turned into an AFL powerhouse.

“Wayne Carey fitted our immediate needs,” said Fantasia. “And we had on our rookie list three players who would have commanded first-round draft picks – Ben Rutten, Nathan Bock and Martin Mattner. We were looking after our immediate needs and the rookie list already catered for our future.”

Fantasia admits he was impatient with drafts. “I was about winning it now, and I was happy to trade a draft pick to get a player who would make us a better chance to win the premiership immediately,” said Fantasia.

“But I also would have loved the No.1 pick.

“Imagine what it would have been like in 2001 sitting at the draft table contemplating whether you call Luke Hodge (as Hawthorn did) or Chris Judd (as West Coast did at No.3).

“West Coast’s recruiting team had no choice after Hodge went to Hawthorn and Luke Ball to St Kilda (at No.2). But the recruiting guys at West Coast would think they had won that by getting a Brownlow Medallist and premiership captain.

“Hodge is a premiership captain for Hawthorn. All three – Hodge, Ball and Judd – are stand-out players.

“In the past 15 years, with the onset of full-time list managers at the AFL clubs, the draft calls have become better – and so are the players being drafted.

“The clubs are working with more data. There is a plethora of information on players now. Everyone is being judged with more and more testing. And the players are being developed with stronger programs. All this is leading to better outcomes.”

Fantasia notes the data also has revealed “the draft is more important than ever to building premiership success”.

“And not with one super pick, like Hodge or Judd,” said Fantasia. “They have 20 years of information to work through now. And the most important note from all that data mining is you need a cluster of three or four picks inside the top-35 to build a premiership contender – and you need to trade in proven players; that is easier now with free agency.

“Port Adelaide certainly did that in the 2018 national draft with Connor Rozee (No. 5), Zak Butters (No. 12) and Xavier Duursma (No. 18) and you see how important they are today. The Crows are working the same blueprint today (with potentially five top-30 draft picks in Ogilvie’s hands).”

But how will the No.1 draftee cope in Adelaide?

“That is one of the absolute critical pieces,” Fantasia said. “Adelaide is a fishbowl. Part of the nature of AFL football in Adelaide is the big news item day after day after day.

“It is more detrimental in Adelaide than anywhere else in the AFL, even Perth. Players cannot get away from that intense scrutiny and focus on their performances. If the No.1 draftee – who already has a fair bit of attention on him – is not up for that in Adelaide, it will wear him down.”

Compromised draft

ADELAIDE will call at No.1 on Monday, December 7. So compromised is the draft – particularly with “next generation academy players” – that the No.1 draftee could finish up at the eighth-ranked Western Bulldogs.

The best teenager in the draft pool is key forward Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. He is aligned to the Western Bulldogs by the next generation academy rules. Adelaide could call the Victorian left footer at No.1 and have the Western Bulldogs claim him (with a 20 per cent discount in the new bidding-matching system used at the draft with academy and father-son picks).

Draft pick No.1 is valued at 3000 points. The Western Bulldogs, who have stockpiled early draft calls, would have to come up with multiple picks worth the discounted 2400-point value if Adelaide calls Ugle-Hagan at No. 1.

So technically, the Crows will have the first call at this year’s draft but start season 2021 with the No.2 draftee. He will still be facing enormous expectation, particularly in Adelaide.

TOP PICKS

Earliest picks, top-10 calls, by Crows and Port Adelaide in AFL national drafts.

CROWS

No. 7, 2000: Laurence Angwin

No. 2, 2002: Traded to North Melbourne for Wayne Carey; pick used to recruit Daniel Wells

No. 8, 2004: John Meesen

No. 10, 2007: Patrick Dangerfield

No. 10, 2008: Phil Davis

No. 9, 2018: Chayce Jones

No. 6, 2019: Fischer McAsey

POWER

Conceded first five picks in 1996 in trades for inaugural AFL squad members Ian Downsborough, Gavin Wanganeen, Matthew Primus, Adam Heuskes and Scott Cummings.

No. 6, 1996: John Rombotis

No. 7, 1996: Bowen Lockwood

No. 9, 1996: Mark Harwood

No. 9, 1997: Chad Cornes

No. 5, 1998: Michael Stevens

No. 7, 1998: Josh Carr

No. 6, 2002: Steven Salopek

No. 5, 2006: Travis Boak

No. 4, 2008: Hamish Hartlett

No. 8, 2009: John Butcher

No. 9, 2009: Andrew Moore

No. 6, 2011: Chad Wingard

No. 7, 2012: Ollie Wines

No. 5, 2018: Connor Rozee

NUMBER ONE PICKS

No. 1 draft picks since the VFL-AFL national draft was re-established in 1986

1986: Martin Leslie* (Brisbane)

1987: Richard Lounder* (Richmond)

1988: Alex McDonald (Hawthorn)

1989: Anthony Banik (Richmond)

1990: Stephen Hooper (Geelong)

1991: John Hutton (Brisbane)

1992: Drew Banfield (West Coast)

1993: Darren Gaspar (Sydney)

1994: Jeff White (Fremantle)

1995: Clive Waterhouse* (Fremantle)

1996: Michael Gardiner (West Coast)

1997: Travis Johnstone (Melbourne)

1998: Des Headland (Brisbane)

1999: Josh Fraser (Collingwood)

2000: Nick Riewoldt (St Kilda)

2001: Luke Hodge (Hawthorn)

2002: Brendon Goddard (St Kilda)

2003: Adam Cooney* (W Bulldogs)

2004: Brett Deledio (Richmond)

2005: Marc Murphy (Carlton)

2006: Bryce Gibbs* (Carlton)

2007: Matthew Kreuzer (Carlton)

2008: Jack Watts (Melbourne)

2009: Tom Scully (Melbourne)

2010: David Swallow (Gold Coast)

2011: Jonathon Patton (GWS)

2012: Lachie Whitfield (GWS)

2013: Tom Boyd (GWS)

2014: Paddy McCartin (St Kilda)

2015: Jacob Weitering (Carlton)

2016: Andrew McGrath (Essendon)

2017: Cam Rayner (Brisbane)

2018: Sam Walsh (Carlton)

2019: Matt Rowell (Gold Coast)

2020: Adelaide

Count, club by club – 5: Carlton; 3: Brisbane, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda; 2: Gold Coast, Hawthorn, West Coast; 1: Adelaide this year, Collingwood, Essendon, Fremantle, Geelong, Sydney, Western Bulldogs; 0: North Melbourne, Port Adelaide.

*South Australian draftees – Leslie and Waterhouse from Port Adelaide; Cooney from West Adelaide and Gibbs from Glenelg. 

Original VFL drafts for non-Victorian talent had Melbourne draft Alan Johnson at No.1 in 1981 and Footscray claim Andrew Purser in 1982 before these drafts were struck down.

For the rest of the AFL season, you can read news and insights from Michelangelo Rucci – SA’s most experienced and credible football writer – every Friday in InDaily.

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