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Long-term view for AFL move on rugby

Date

David Polkinghorne

The AFL is confident it will reap the benefits of its move into traditional rugby territory in two years' time despite no clubs recruiting any ACT or NSW youngsters at last month's draft.

National talent manager Kevin Sheehan was not worried by the draft duck and thought it would be rectified in Tuesday's pre-season and rookie drafts.

Sheehan said the AFL's move into rugby country had a long-term view and it would take time before the results were felt.

He said the berth of Greater Western Sydney and the introduction of the academy system, which splits the ACT and NSW between the Giants and the Sydney Swans, would start to have an impact in 24 months.

There are about 800 youngsters aged 11 to 18 involved in both academies.

Sheehan pointed to the ACT and NSW making up 10 per cent of the 30 16-year-olds in the level-one AFL AIS Academy squad. He said that crop would be eligible for the 2014 draft. Ainslie's Liam Griffiths is one of the three from the region who Sheehan was hopeful would be starting out at an AFL club in two years.

''You can see those 16-year-olds are two years away, so that's a good indication that there's some good players [from NSW and ACT] just around the corner in the next 24 months that will be coming through. And we're not dismissing what might happen with the rookie draft on Tuesday as well. There's a good chance that some of those boys that were overlooked may well make it onto rookie lists at either Sydney or the Giants.''

While no one was drafted, Sheehan said Swans rookie Harry Cunningham, from Wagga Wagga, was promoted to the senior list in the draft.

He added the unlisted players who have been given permission to train with AFL clubs gave an indication of who was being considered for Tuesday's pre-season and rookie drafts. There are five from NSW training with the Swans and Giants, but no one from the ACT.

Eastlake forward Liam Flaherty was widely regarded as Canberra's best prospect at November's draft, but he was not training with anyone.

If Sheehan's theory is correct, it seems unlikely Flaherty will be selected on Tuesday.

''Once the draft's over, the clubs then have the chance to train some of these boys [that weren't taken], so there's been quite a number in training with the Giants and the Swans,'' Sheehan said. ''They get that insider knowledge on how they're progressing, and they keep that information very much to themselves.

''You wouldn't be surprised to see a couple boys to get up for sure.''

With the Giants' entry into the AFL this year, there was a game in Sydney or Canberra almost every week during the season.

Sheehan said that exposure to the game would start to bring new people to the sport. Being able to watch their heroes would inspire a new breed of future players, which would bolster the draft numbers further down the track.

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