COME the end of a year like no other, there is likely to be a greater amount of hard luck stories and near misses than ever before, especially after the recent cuts to AFL list sizes. But for all that doom and gloom, the 2020 AFL Draft intake is also poised to provide some of the best stories of positivity as elite level hopefuls rise from the adversity this year has put forward.
In Draft Central’s newest series, we take a look at some of the draft prospects who remain in contention to fulfil their draft dreams despite missing out on invites to their respective states’ draft combines, or being overlooked as top-agers. 19-year-old talents are next to go under the microscope, and there are plenty of prospects around the mark having come on strongly after initially being overlooked. Of course, those from Victoria were unable to add to their resumes in 2020, but some have put strong runs on the board already.
Profiles for many of the players mentioned below can be found in our free to download AFL Draft Guide.
One over-age prospect has already realised his AFL Draft dream, with Gold Coast Academy graduate Hewago Paul Oea recently placed onto the Suns’ Category B Rookie List. ‘Ace’, as he is better known, is a Papua New Guinea native and earned an International Scholarship before his promotion. Last year, he remained one of the many Northern Academy products who were unlucky to be overlooked at the draft table. Former teammate Josh Gore was another, a small forward who has an uncanny knack of finding the goals. After a terrific senior QAFL campaign with Broadbeach, he could well remain in contention.
Sydney also has access to some fine over-age talent, of whom stood up during this year’s Academy Series. Sam Gaden put together a strong top-age campaign in 2019 before injury hit, but the strong and versatile bigman served a reminder of his talents this year. Likewise, Jackson Barling booted three majors in Game 1 of the Academy Series to put his hand up, while Sam Thorne‘s impact at ground level was evident as he shone in midfield. Both are solid operators, with Barling arguably the more flexible of the two, while Thorne is a reliable small with less expansive upside.
Still in NSW/ACT, the GWS Academy continues to produce some strong talent, albeit not quite in the same ballpark as Tom Green last year. Diminutive ball winner Harry Grant was impressive in his outings for the Giants Academy this year, as well as at his state’s draft combine come season’s end. The 173cm midfielder is tough and deceptively strong over the ball considering his size. Liam Delahunty is one who was widely considered unlucky last year, with his athleticism, marking ability, and versatility at over 190cm all desirable traits. He was set for a switch to the Northern Knights and North Melbourne VFL side before COVID intervened.
Continuing the Allies theme, Tasmania had a couple of 19-year-olds on the cusp after promising 2019 seasons. Jared Dakin attracted some interest after a couple of strong showings towards the end of last year, and his more recent TSL form saw him earn a late call-up for his second combine appearance in as many years. He is a tough inside type with terrific defensive attributes and a solid athletic base. Tall utility Jake Steele was another late inclusion to this year’s combine and has showed his wares on every line thus far. His competitiveness and versatility are key pillars of his overall game.
Of the other states in action this year, Western Australia has one of the deepest over-age pools and many of the prospects in this category boosted their standings in 2020. Max Spyvee is at the pointy end of that list, having burst onto the League scene and earned best afield honours in game two of the WA Under 18 All-Stars fixtures. Fellow Claremont product Kalin Lane, a 204cm ruckman, showed a similarly impressive rate of improvement and looms as a developable ruck option. Nick Martin was another tall to stake his claim having led Subiaco’s League goalkicking charts, while the likes of Conor McPartland and Callum Johnson found mountains of the ball at Colts level before earning promotions. Johnson’s West Perth teammate Brady Alvaro also showed handy balance through midfield, rotating in off the wing.
South Australia’s stocks have also proven to be quite strong, with plenty of mature-agers also entering the draft radar. In terms of 2001-births, Glenelg pair Callum Park and Luke Parks were outstanding after being overlooked in 2019, slotting straight into the reigning premiers’ League side and providing great intercept/rebound value from defence. Parks is also a former Swans Academy member. South Adelaide’s Beau McCreery was another to impress with his goal sense and defensive pressure, while Lachlan McNeil was a key part of Woodville-West Torrens’ premiership midfield, and Nic Couroupis earned an All-Stars call-up for his form across multiple levels. North Adelaide defensive pair Dyson Hilder and Karl Finlay also rotated through the senior squads having been key members of the SA Under 18 squad as top-agers.
Last, but certainly not least are the Victorians, who typically make up over 50 per cent of the overall draft pool. There were a bunch of over-agers set to prove doubters wrong with another strong NAB League campaign but alas, that was not to be. Darcy Chirgwin would be near the top of that list, and the tall inside midfielder has not given up on his AFL pursuit having added nearly 10kg to his frame. He was set to rejoin the Geelong Falcons after a stint with Sandringham as he boarded at private school. Jay Dahlhaus, the cousin of Luke was also set to go around with the Falcons again, keen to impress after injury scuppered his top-age season. He earned a NTFL Rising Star nomination recently for Southern Districts, bringing his forward creativity and pressure to the Top-End.
A December-birth, Isaac Wareham also had his top-age run foiled by untimely injuries and could have developed quickly this year. Gippsland’s Jai Newcombe could have been a feel-good story having missed the cut in multiple preseasons prior to his selection in 2020, and the Power are high on his talents as a big-bodied inside mid. Another fast developer is former volleyballer Blake Kuipers, who represented Vic Country last year and has great potential as an athletic key position utility. On the Metro scene, Felix Flockart was set for a big year after impressing in the 2019 APS competition, but is still very much a raw prospect. Would-be Sandringham teammate Oscar Lewis has similar upside, but as a running outside midfielder with good height. Lachlan Gawel, who would have switched from Eastern to Northern, is forward with high class, but like many on this list, was looking to prove his value with a consistent season.
Featured Image: Max Spyvee was best afield in game two of WA’s Under 18 All-Star fixtures | Credit: @WAFLOfficial via Twitter