Tim Watson is the exception which proves the rule.
The AFL draft age debate has for a long time oscillated between two fixed positions: the free-market idea that no Tim Watson should ever be denied the opportunity to play as early as possible, and the counter view that holds that young men can be broken and lost, through early exposure.
It was in the pre-draft age that Watson started his brilliant career with Essendon at 15. He went on to play 307 matches and, seemingly, lost nothing through the experience. Interestingly, his son, 2012 Brownlow medallist and current Essendon captain Jobe, did not blossom until he had been in the system for five or six seasons.
One of my former coaches, Paul Roos, is adamant that today's draftees are rarely prepared for the realities of AFL football. For every instant star there are so many more casualties.
Garry Lyon hinted at this recently when he wrote in this newspaper of the grounding he believes Jesse Hogan will benefit from for a season with Casey in the VFL.
Hogan, selected through special circumstances at 17 years of age by Melbourne but unable to play AFL until 2014, has been such a star for the Scorpions that it is impossible not to think he could have made a serious impact in the AFL this year. Lyon did not dispute this but argued that Hogan will be better equipped for a long AFL career for being able to draw on the confidence gained from battling away against men for 12 months.
All that I have seen over 13 years in the system tells me that Roos and Lyon are right.
I was in Sydney when Jesse White arrived in 2007. He was a talent who didn't know it. Tall, powerful, agile and quick, Jesse trained and played the game like I suspect footballers did 100 years ago. To his new teammates it seemed as if the game to Jesse was a quaint pastime, not a profession.
Six years later, at the end of last season, he was still grappling unsuccessfully with its harsh realities. Not surprisingly, the Swans offered him up to Adelaide as a sweetener to a deal for Kurt Tippett that, fatefully, fell through.
Today, as Fremantle coach Ross Lyon has put it, White would be on the recruiting wish lists of every club in the country. He kicked four goals against Richmond last Sunday, the most recent performance in a string of games unlike anything seen from him before. What I would say about this abrupt turn of events is that Jesse White is just 25 years of age and that in 2006, when he was drafted and drawn away from the Gold Coast pleasure strip, he wasn't ready for the game.
Sam Dwyer is a year or so older than Jesse and has just made his way into the AFL system with the Magpies. Was he ready earlier? Perhaps. His distinguished VFL career suggests so. Unquestionably though, Sam's long journey prepared him to make an impact with us that has made his story one of the best of 2013 and will probably see him win our best first-year player award.
Most draftees are picked up in their teens, via the national, pre-season or rookie drafts. Some might get a scholarship. Nearly all have to leave the family home to accept the opportunity. Then there are the players, like Sam or Sydney ruckman Mike Pyke, who make it through a journey a bit differently to others.
I sat down with Sam a little while ago to hear more of his story. It includes eight years of VFL football with Port Melbourne. An apprenticeship as an electrician completed. His own apartment. Independence. Travel.
Being a footballer you need to be prepared to make sacrifices and if you want something badly enough, you will make big sacrifices over and over again. For Sam it was giving up a secure job, the wages of a sparkie and the extra he earned from Port Melbourne to go on to a rookie list paying less than half of what he had been earning.
There was never really a decision to make, he says. He could not have forgiven himself for leaving the dream out there, untouched. I put a lot of what he has been able to achieve in a short time with us down to maturity and the knowledge of what he wanted and who he is, things many draftees are years from working out when they first arrive at their clubs.