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Draft dodgers

Bright future: Troy Menzel dominates when he plays and now just needs to find success in the draft.

Bright future: Troy Menzel dominates when he plays and now just needs to find success in the draft. Photo: Penny Stephens

MOST years, there is one of them. This year there are two - Troy Menzel and Jake Stringer, talented teenage footballers who would be certain top-10 draft picks if not for significant injuries that have left recruiters wondering if their bodies will let them do what they want to do at the next level up.

Menzel was 16 when he had LARS surgery on his right knee, more than two years ago. This year, between managing a groin injury and damaging the posterior cruciate ligament in his opposite knee, he kicked 15 goals in two games for South Australia's under-18 team and played his first senior games for Central District. Wherever he plays, he needs only a few minutes to make the other side feel nervous.

Stringer was 16 when he was injured, too. Playing for the Bendigo Pioneers at the start of last season, he had a compound fracture of his leg, breaking both the tibia and fibia. He was back by the start of this year but his season was a bumpy one: he's kicked plenty of goals and proved he can play as a marking forward, but has been sore at times, limped around and had to answer a 1001 questions about his awkward running gait.

There will come a point, early enough in the draft, when both Menzel and Stringer become irresistible. They are too talented to leave sitting on the board for too long. Their injuries are unique to them, as is their attitude in overcoming them, or in dealing with any future mishaps.

How long will it take Stringer to run like he used to? Will he ever? Can he become the midfielder he wants to be? Could his improvement in fact be rapid, working with physios every day?

Then there is Menzel. When will his LARS ligament give in on him? How many other AFL players have come back well from two knee reconstructions? Would it be enough to get eight years from his enormous talent, as opposed to 10, 11 or more? He could be the best player in the draft.

Time will tell, but both boys should also feel encouraged: as recent history shows, pre-draft injuries don't always stick around, or come back time and again.

(Pick 3, West Coast, 2001)
The Carlton captain popped a shoulder for the first time when he was nine and by the time he was considered one of 2001's star draftees he had had reconstructive surgery on both sides. His last two junior seasons were often interrupted - until he had the operations - and his durability was of concern to some clubs, albeit in a minor way given he was still considered a clear top-three pick and some people's No.?1. As West Coast coach John Worsfold put it after the draft, Judd's shoulders didn't worry him at all, because they had already been fixed. It's hard to recognise Judd, who turns 30 next year, without tape wrapped around both shoulders, but aside from surgery last February to repair an impingement, he hasn't seemed to have any issues with them.

(Pick 7, Geelong, 2006)
Adam and Troy's tough younger brother was ready to be drafted at the end of 2005, but was just a little too young. Selwood missed much of the next season after knee surgery and, while most people had no doubt he would come back and play, there were fears about what the damaged, then removed cartilage would mean for the teenager's longevity and how badly it would affect his pace. Selwood didn't have to wait too long on draft day, snapped up by the Cats after Bryce Gibbs, Scott Gumbleton, Lachie Hansen, Matthew Leuenberger and Travis Boak were chosen. Since? Well, he's not fast. But he's played in three premierships, become Geelong's captain and played 135 games in six years, missing only a handful of games. Any club would have him.

(Pick 26, West Coast, 2010)
Darling would have been one of the first few players picked in the 2009 draft, had he been eligible. Finished at school, he trod water for much of the next year, didn't grow, didn't dominate games like he had and was involved in some off-field scuffles that made recruiters nervous. There was more to it than that, though: Darling spent several days in hospital after he was hit from behind outside a hotel in Subiaco early one Sunday morning about two months before the draft. He had bleeding on the brain, bruising at the front of his head and a fracture at the back of his skull. Clubs were divided on whether it would be an ongoing issue for him, some sure it wouldn't be and others warned off picking him by their medical staff. Darling missed just two games in his debut season last year, and none this year, kicking 53 goals to more than double his first-year tally. So far, so good.

(Pick 15, Geelong, 2005)
The brilliant, blistering Varcoe was considered a potential top-five pick when The Sunday Age surveyed recruiters early in 2005. Then he broke his left foot playing his second senior game for Central Districts and didn't reappear for the year. It was a terrible injury, involving separated bones and damaged ligaments and it took Varcoe most of the year to get answers on what exactly he had done and how he could get back. He still had his foot in a moon boot at the draft camp in October, there was serious concern he might never play again, and some clubs went completely cold. Varcoe was ultimately drafted to a club - Geelong - that could afford to give him some time but that also made a brave, bold call. It took him time to get his foot right, but after making his debut in early 2007, he slowly started to turn himself into the line-breaking player he had promised to be. The foot hasn't caused Varcoe any problems since but his other one has: the 24-year-old broke down with a stress fracture last January, had three operations on it this year, and his one senior game late in the year was cut short.

(Pick 22, Hawthorn, 2005)
Muston was an interesting case and different to the likes of Judd and Selwood who had form on the board. He didn't play any TAC Cup football as a 17-year-old and the 2005 season was just six weeks old when, after playing some fast, explosive football through the Murray Bushrangers' midfield, he had his knee reconstruction. Clubs knew before the draft that Muston's graft hadn't taken properly and that he'd need a second reconstruction before he could even get started. Unfortunately, his troubles didn't end there: Muston had a third reconstruction early in 2008 and, while he eventually got to the start line grabbing 31 possessions in his first game midway through 2009, his explosiveness wasn't there any more, hindering his hopes of making it as a midfielder. He was delisted at the end of 2010.

(Pick 8, Essendon, 2010)
Word of Heppell's supposed groin problem surfaced only just before the draft. It wasn't exactly considered an injury: Heppell had reported no real symptoms of osteitis pubis and had just won the Morrish Medal at the end of an excellent season for the Gippsland Power. The thing that concerned some clubs, after he had the usual array of draft camp scans, was whether his body would be able to handle an AFL workload and even get through a pre-season without breaking down. In his two years at Essendon, he's been fine: Heppell played every game in his debut season, winning the Rising Star award and missed only two this year as he started to spend more time in the midfield.

(Pick 14, Western Bulldogs, 2008)
Cordy's draft year ended very early, when he had a shoulder reconstructed. The injury didn't generate huge debate among clubs at the time, given the ruckman was tied to the Western Bulldogs as a father-son pick, although it didn't deter St Kilda from nominating its first-round pick for him. It took Cordy a long time to trust his body, to build some size and to start doing the things that had come naturally to him as a nimble, agile kid: understandable, given his shoulders used to pop out while he was doing chin-ups and that he used to dread competitive training drills, because he knew he would get hurt. During his second season, Cordy had surgery in which pieces of his collarbone were placed in both shoulders, limiting their range of movement but making it impossible for them to be broken or pushed out of place. After a two-game start in 2011 he played another dozen this year and started to show what his 202 centimetres might be capable of.

(Pick 15, North Melbourne, 2007)
Like Cordy, Tarrant had shoulder problems before he was drafted in the first round. Opinions were a little more divided on where he would slot into the draft order, but the Roos saw him as a clear first-round pick, given tall, marking forwards are not easy to find. Tarrant snuck in two games in 2010, his third year at the club, and upped that to seven the following season after overcoming more injuries: all up he's had four shoulder reconstructions, three on his left side and one on his right. This year he played 16 games, kicking 23 goals and looked like a more confident player, one who was starting to work out how he could have an impact on games and show his teammates what he could do.

(Pick 27, Brisbane Lions, 2009)
Bartlett ruptured his left knee in the last half-hour of training before the Geelong Falcons' first-round game of 2009. The year before, he had made an impression as a bold, fast, catch-me-if-you-can onballer, qualities that set him apart from many of the other midfield prospects around him. He was seen - provided he cleaned up his kicking and worked on a few other things - as a potential top-10 pick when he was injured. Chosen, ultimately, at the end of the second round, Bartlett had only just come back through the Lions' reserves side in 2010 when his opposite knee collapsed, ending another season. He has spent the past two seasons back in the the reserves side: if he makes it at AFL level the club suspects it will be as a bullocking small forward, rather than the explosive onballer he had hoped to become.

(Pick 14, Melbourne, 2007)
Grimes' draft year ended a little early when he was diagnosed with stress fractures in his back. By then, the super-steady onballer and leader-in-the-making had proven himself as a first-round talent. That's where he was picked and, ever since, Grimes has adapted to life on the half-back line with ease and been appointed the Demons' co-captain. Remarkable, really, given he has missed enormous amounts of football since arriving at Melbourne with hip, back, groin and hamstring problems, as a well as a navicular stress fracture that cut his 2011 season well short.

(Pick 6, Hawthorn, 2005)
Dowler is another different case: the floating forward didn't have any football-related injuries, but arrived at the draft in a wheelchair after receiving three pelvic fractures in a car accident and spending five days in hospital less than one month out. Hawthorn (which also chose Xavier Ellis, Grant Birchall, Max Bailey, Muston and father-son Travis Tuck that day) stuck with its plan to draft him and Dowler recovered in time to play two late-season games in 2006, one more in 2007 and 13 in 2009, including a run of six early in the year. He wasn't held back by his pre-draft problems, but couldn't find a way to impose himself at AFL level and was delisted at the end of 2010.

(Pick 19, Essendon, 2011)
Kavanagh's form at the 2010 under-16 championships meant he was seen as a possible top-five pick heading into his draft season last year. But two bad hamstring tears meant he missed the AIS-AFL Academy's games in Europe at Easter, then Vic Metro's matches in the mid-year under-18 championships. Kavanagh played nine games in the second half of the year but by then other players had pushed past him and clubs were wondering if he would be durable enough to cope at the next level. He's still a work in progress, but played a full season this year, had no hamstring problems, got a one-game taste of senior football and is a player the Bombers need to start pushing up next year.

HuffPost Australia

AFL 2016

Round 1
Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
BRI vs NTH 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:25ES
FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs COL 13:45MCG
RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
HAW vs STK 14:10AS
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs GWS 13:10ES
FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs STK 13:45ES
ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 13:10G
CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs NTH 15:20ES
PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
BRI vs COL 19:25G
RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs ESS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs HAW 13:45G
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
STK vs FRE 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs PTA 13:10MCG
WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
BRI vs FRE 16:35G
GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 13:10ES
RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:40G
FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
GCF vs STK 13:40MS
SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
ESS vs STK 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 15:20ES
BRI vs GWS 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs STK 19:25ES
GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
BRI vs PTA 19:25G
NTH vs STK 19:25ES
Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 19:50ES
Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CAR 13:45G
HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs SYD 19:25ES
PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
COL vs GCF 19:25ES
PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
BRI vs GEE 15:20G
ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
STK vs BRI 12:00ES
ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brisbane Lions 0 0 0 0 - 0
Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
Collingwood 0 0 0 0 - 0
Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
View all

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