Josh Simpson. Photo: Ken Irwin
JUST three indigenous players were recruited to AFL clubs in this year's national draft and another was redrafted by his club just months after Adelaide recruiter Matt Rendell was sacked for warning the AFL clubs were increasingly wary of recruiting indigenous players.
Fremantle selected Josh Simpson with its first-round draft pick, at pick 17; Gold Coast chose Tim Sumner, brother of former Sydney player Byron, with pick 55; and Geelong chose Bradley Hartman with pick 77, while West Coast redrafted Brad Dick with pick 79. It was a stark drop from several years ago when 25 per cent of the draft was indigenous.
This year the talented but troubled Dayle Garlett, considered a top-10 player on talent alone, was not selected at all in the draft. Similarly Shannon Taylor, Chris Yarran and Marvin Morell, all footballers with the ability to play the game at elite level, were also overlooked.
AIS head coach Michael O'Loughlin said that while the numbers were low they did not indicate a trend and he was confident they would turn around.
''I don't think it is a trend. For me you just take the best player available whether they are black, white, blue, green - you just take the best available and I think clubs got what they wanted,'' O'Loughlin said.
''I don't see it as a trend at all. People like to make things bigger than what they are. I don't think it is, especially when you have some amazing role models running around at the moment playing AFL footy.
''But it is a brutal game. It is a cut-throat industry and if you are not prepared to do the work it does not matter if you are black, white or what you are, you get found out in this game.
''I think we had three indigenous boys picked up, next year it might be 10. Those three boys will go on and do what they do and keep chipping away and inspire other boys to play AFL football.''
O'Loughlin said being ignored in the draft was perhaps the wake-up call players like Taylor and Garlett needed.
''Both those guys were in the AIS at one stage as well, both played state 18s and, if anything, it is a wake-up call to those two guys to realise the opportunities could really slip away from them if they don't put in.
''These two are very well known in recruiting circles and in talent IDs. They have a lot of work to do to try and get a second chance at playing.''
O'Loughlin said he was confident the figures would swell again in the next few years as players who persisted through the difficult AIS programs were graduating ready to join the AFL system.
''This game is a brutal game and it is a big investment by clubs in being able to do that and I am not worried … because the programs that we run at the AFL, and the people in charge like Chris Johnson and Andy McLeod - the opportunities for these guys to pursue their dream is there if they want to do it. But I keep going back to the fact it is hard work to succeed at this game and if you don't do it you don't get picked up. It is as simple as that.
''That is what I am teaching the boys in the AIS: if you don't pull your weight you get found out and you get told so. I don't think it is anything to be worried about because I know what our programs are delivering and in the next year, two, three, four years we will see more and more boys being drafted, hopefully.''