Tag: afl recruiting

The race to be number one: What separates Daicos and Horne?

IT’S the great debate surrounding this year’s AFL Draft. Nick Daicos and Jason Horne, the race to be number one. On June 1, Draft Central released its first monthly Power Rankings edition for 2021 and there were plenty of questions raised about the pointy end of the list. Daicos has arrived on the scene with plenty of fanfare and has since dominated both the media landscape, and on-field arena. But one prospect remains in the way him being the outright frontrunner this year – Horne.

We take a look at some of the key arguments to spawn on either side of this debate, essentially answer the question of why Horne topped our Power Rankings list and if Daicos stands a chance of snatching the crown come July’s edition.

Nick Daicos
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro

DOB: 3/01/2003
Height/Weight: 183cm/72kg
Position: Midfielder

Season Averages:
2021 NAB League

4 games | 35.5 disposals | 22.3 kicks | 13.3 handballs | 6.5 marks | 3.8 tackles | 6.0 inside 50s | 2.5 rebound 50s | 2.3 goals (9 total)

Jason Horne
South Adelaide/South Australia

DOB: 21/06/2003
Height/Weight: 184cm/78kg
Position: Midfielder

Season Averages:
SANFL League

8 games | 15.0 disposals | 10.6 kicks | 4.4 handballs | 4.4 marks | 3.9 tackles | 3.4 inside 50s | 0.5 rebound 50s | 0.6 goals (5 total)

MEN AGAINST BOYS

The first place distant draft watchers often look when comparing players is the stats sheet. While it’s a fairly useful performance indicator, in this case it needs much more context than is afforded through pure numbers. Daicos is miles ahead of Horne on that basis alone, averaging 20 more disposals and managing just under double Horne’s goal tally in half the amount of games. He leads the NAB League for total disposals, kicks, and goals, while also topping Oakleigh’s charts in a number of other categories. His numbers are ridiculous, there is no denying it, and Horne’s don’t make for bad viewing either.

The difference is the level they’re playing at. Victoria’s elite talent pathway proudly boasts about providing over half of the total draft pool each year, and while that is fact, the standard of the competition has been a touch sub-par in 2021. That is not to discredit Daicos, talent pathway staff, or any of the footballers who have stuck true to their dream throughout a difficult period, but the game of catch-up remains evident after a year away from competitive action and incredibly rushed preseasons.

On the other hand, Horne’s 2020 campaign was merely disrupted, as opposed to cancelled. He got a taste of senior football as a bottom-ager and is better for it now, performing consistently in what is arguably the nation’s strongest state league at the moment. The 17-year-old has fallen below 10 touches just once in eight games and has impacted with more permanent midfield time. He also performed brilliantly in the SANFL Under 18s competition for two seasons as an under-ager.

Through no real fault of his own, Daicos is yet to get an extended run at senior level. He was due to slot into Collingwood’s VFL set-up during the NAB League’s month-long break, but a lingering corked thigh and overall management of his workload meant that did not come to fruition. The saying goes you can only beat who’s in front of you, and Daicos is doing that, but the different levels these two are competing at is a big factor in what their numbers look like.

THE ACADEMY GAME

So these two compete at different levels currently, but what happened when they ran out on the same field this year? The pair was chosen to represent the AFL Academy in a showcase game against Geelong VFL in April, often seen as a good sighter for the year’s talent. The Under 19 Academy was trounced by 130 points, with few prospects truly able to enhance their credentials on what was a tough day at the office.

Daicos was the AFL Academy captain and carried the role with aplomb having also experienced leadership with Oakleigh in the NAB League. Horne has too, at representative level no less, but Daicos got the nod here. The second big tick for Collingwood’s father-son hopeful was that he ended the game as the Academy’s clear highest ball winner. Not only that, but his 26 disposals were double that of Horne.

Now the context of competition is out of the equation, surely it’s conclusive that Daicos is the better-performed prospect – on pure numbers. It’s not quite that simple, as you’ll find below.

>> Scouting Notes: AFL Academy vs. Geelong VFL

IMPACT PER POSSESSION

It’s all well and good winning bucketloads of the ball, but what are these two doing with it?

Horne’s lower disposal rates in comparison do not necessarily indicate lesser impact. 15 of his disposals are arguably more damaging than if Daicos had the same number, but the latter’s sway on the game comes through sheer accumulation and an uncanny knack for knowing when and where his next possession will come. Horne’s penetrative kick and bullet-like passing can be a real weapon, matched with the positive intent to put the ball in ominous areas. His knack for taking eye-catching overhead marks and laying crunching tackles also point towards his undeniable status as a high-impact player.

Daicos is usually a wonderfully clean and clever user of the ball, with the added trait of bringing his teammates into the play. He constantly looks to give and go; kicking short and running hard to get the handball back, or chaining by hand up the field to help bring some fluency to his side’s play. It means he is a productive and creative type in midfield, just in a different way to Horne. He is better able to find the ball in all areas of the ground with his work-rate and smarts, but is that kind of accumulation always as impactful as possible? The verdict is out, but he can certainly have an overwhelming effect on the game with his rate of accumulation, popping up everywhere.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Judging such high-level AFL Draft prospects to the most minute details is often a fickle exercise which does little to actually highlight what they do so well. In this case, it works to better understand some of the key parameters and contexts required to make such judgements. At the end of the year when both likely attract top two selections, and throughout their careers the discussion will rear its head – again and again. Walsh/Rozee, McCluggage/Taranto/McGrath, Hodge/Judd/Ball – all examples of exactly that. It never goes away, but hopefully now there is a better understanding of which factors weight in the favour of both Daicos and Horne, for fans, pundits and recruiters alike to make their own judgement calls. It’s all subjective.

Analysis | The importance of fitness testing in modern football recruiting

THERE has been plenty of debate when talking about potential AFL prospects pertaining to the differences between judging ‘athletes’ against ‘pure footballers’. There is an argument that fitness testing should be taken with a grain of salt and that the eye test is most important, but when it comes to players being drafted – especially in the first round – prospects are often at the pointy end in at least one fitness test.

For anyone still unfamiliar with the main fitness tests conducted during preseason and at the AFL Draft Combine, they are as follows:

  • Agility Test
  • 20m Sprint
  • Standing and Running Vertical Leap
  • Yo-Yo Test
  • 2km Time Trial

Last year’s number one pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan excelled in the 20m sprint and vertical leap tests, with his on-field speed off the mark and jump at the ball highlighting just why he excelled at those tests. The combine, if anything, gives reassurance that those traits are indeed elite and will help try and separate talents like Ugle-Hagan from any other key forwards in that year’s crop. Athleticism is very important in modern football, with players quicker and bigger than what most talented youngsters are used to at the development levels. One club which has seemingly identified this in modern times is the fast-rising Essendon Football Club.

Since 2014, Essendon seems to have had a clear strategy with the types of players they have looked at with their high picks. Below is a list of the Bombers’ top 40 selections since 2014 and which tests those players excelled at. In a lot of cases, they were top 10 in those tests at the end-of-year combine.

2014:

Pick 17 – Jayden Laverde
(Didn’t test but athleticism was a highlight of his game)

Pick 20 – Kyle Langford
Agility

2015:

Pick 5 – Darcy Parish
Average in most tests

Pick 6 – Aaron Francis
(Didn’t test but like Laverde, athleticism was a highlight in games)

Pick 29 – Alex Morgan (Since delisted)
20m Sprint, Vertical Leap, Agility

Pick 30 – Mason Redman
3km time trial

2016:

Pick 1 – Andrew McGrath
Vertical Leap, Agility

Pick 20 – Jordan Ridley
20m Sprint

2017:

Nil

2018:

Pick 38 – Irving Mosquito
Vertical Leap

2019:

Pick 30 – Harrison Jones
Vertical Leap, Yo-Yo, 20m Sprint

Pick 38 – Nick Bryan
Vertical Leap, 20m Sprint

2020:

Pick 8 – Nik Cox
20m Sprint, 2km TT

Pick 9 – Archie Perkins
20m Sprint, Vertical Leap

Pick 10 – Zach Reid
Vertical Leap

Pick 39 – Josh Eyre
20m Sprint, Vertical Leap

There is one big outlier here and that’s one of this year’s Brownlow contenders in Darcy Parish, who was only average in test results during his draft year. This could be seen as the biggest clue as to why athletic testing shouldn’t be so important, but it can also be argued that one of the main reasons for Parish’s form is due to improving his running capacity to an elite level.

Even their most recent mid-season selection, Sam Durham tested well for vertical leap and endurance, so its no surprise at least in Essendon’s case that athletic traits are a huge influence in whether the player gets taken. The current favourite for the Rising Star, Nik Cox has taken the competition by storm with his mix of athleticism and height, with that height another factor in the early Essendon selections. It was a matter of time before Cox got his nomination for the Rising Star award and in retrospect, we should have all seen his selection by Essendon coming considering all the traits he possesses are key indicators in the Bombers’ recent draft strategy.

Using this history, we can even try to narrow down the possible field of players that Essendon will look at with its first round pick in 2021. A trio of Sandringham Dragons instantly come to mind with Campbell Chesser, Josh Sinn and Finn Callaghan. All three players tested well for the 20m sprint and vertical leap during preseason, highlighting their power and athleticism. With all measuring at over 185cm, they even fill a midfield need for the Bombers. They have another prospect right under their noses in Josh Goater who made his Essendon VFL debut not long ago and is an athletic beast. His speed and leap tests were all elite and at 190cm, he would be another Essendon style selection.

The modern footballer is taller, faster and can run all day, and it is getting harder and harder for pure footballers to make it at the top level. If young, pure footballers can start to develop athleticism in their game, even if it’s an elite endurance base, that’s at least a start in the right direction.

Height used to be a detractor for clubs but now with the likes of Caleb Daniel, Kysaiah Pickett, Brent Daniels and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, that is no longer the same obstacle for potential draftees as it used to be – though you also need to have that speed and class. If you are small and have the athletic traits and determination to make it as an AFL player, then you will be on the right track. If you are tall and have those traits, your chances of making an AFL list are even higher.

Fitness testing is an important tool, not just for clubs and recruiters, but also for up and coming players – especially those at the very early level. I’m hopeful coaches of junior football are able to set up some of these tests to help young players find their best traits, enhance them and embrace them. Understandably, it takes time, money and effort on their part and not every junior club or parent has that available. Programs such as Rookie Me, the official fitness testing partner of the AFL, allow junior athletes to experience professional environments at an early age, proving another handy head-start for budding footballers.

Image Credit: Graham Denholm/AFL Photos