Being a Gold Coast resident for the better part of 15 years has allowed me to examine the evolution of the AFL and it’s lower leagues on the glitter strip. When I first moved up from Melbourne, our great sport had barely made a drop in the ocean that was long dominated by the two rugby codes. Any time a family member or myself would bring up the AFL, it would be immediately shot down or followed up by remarks like “aerial ping-pong” and “the AFL is a girls sport.”
Fast forward to November 21, 2013 and one of the biggest events on the AFL calendar is taking place in the very same city that a mere decade ago could not tell the difference between a handball and a monkey wrench.
The who’s who of the AFL congregated at the Gold Coast Convention Centre to witness the 2013 National Draft. A night which would change the lives of 50 to 60 of the brightest young talents in the country. The room was packed to the rafters with recruiters, coaching staff, journalists and fans, all building in excitement for the moment when the first picks would be announced.
The ground floor of the arena was a hotbed of statistics, analysis and intense discussion between some of the biggest names in the sport. Stephen Silvagni frantically double checking his notes, Andrew McKay comparing possible prospects with Mick Malthouse, Jason Dunstall and his fellow Fox Footy panelists getting the last few touches of makeup. What was once a non-event that had no attention whatsoever had now become a nation-wide occasion.
One observation from the top deck where all non-AFL attendees were seated was that a number of junior clubs from the Gold Coast and outlying areas had brought along their players to watch. This is an excellent idea and it was apparent that many of these youngsters were in awe at the presentation of future stars to their respective clubs.
The top ten picks were paraded on the stage and the main attraction was the towering key forward Tom Boyd, who handled the daunting mantle of number one pick with grace and modesty. He has a brilliant media sense and seems like a genuinely down-to-earth guy who will be a force in years to come.
After the initial ten draftees had their special moment it was down to business with each team rattling off their selections in quick succession. A significant cheer traveled around the arena when Dayle Garlett’s name was read out by Hawthorn at pick 38. The audience obviously realised the tumultuous journey he had been on to make it to the AFL. There was a definite tension as the recruiters meticulously analysed their preferences, with each request of extra time signalling a dramatic rush through the team’s camp.
You never fully understand how important draft day is until you are in the same room, watching the future of the competition unveil itself before your eyes.
Perhaps the most exciting moment of the night occurred when Sydney’s staff read out the name of Aliir Aliir. The West-Australian key defender – who only two years ago was in the AFL World Team – will no doubt be the story of the draft. He gets his opportunity to become only the second ever AFL player of Sudanese heritage, and if he is half as dynamic as Majak Daw, then Aliir is sure to entertain the masses.
Despite so many lives changing, so much movement occurring and an unbelievable depth of talent on show, in just over an hour it was all done. The draft is truly a blink and you’ll miss it occasion, but it is an event that is so important to all 18 teams. Not only has it significantly improved the recruiting process of our game, but on that night, Australian Rules Football ruled the land of sun, surf and schoolies.