The AFL draft’s ‘stay home’ factor

19 September 2023

Written by: Blair Burns

With the 2023 number one draft prospect Harley Reid reportedly wanting to stay in Victoria, do high-end picks have too much of a say in where they go in the draft?

There are teenagers all across the country who would move to another state in a heartbeat if it meant they could live out their childhood dream of being drafted to an AFL club.

However, these days it’s not unusual for top-end AFL draft prospects to inform clubs of their desire to remain in their home states. While only a small majority of draftees are doing this, these requests are more prevalent than they were 10 to 20 years ago.

Some people believe honesty is the best policy and support the few players who have done this. On the other hand, some view this as a form of draft tampering which can deter clubs from picking them. Either way, there is an abundance of other draftees ready and committed to go to any club or state if the opportunity comes their way, so is it fair for some top-ranked teenagers to essentially choose where they want to go?

Discussions around draft prospects informing clubs of their preferences has become topical again amid recent reports and rumours that the projected number one pick in 2023 Harley Reid would prefer to remain in Victoria despite the West Coast Eagles currently holding the first selection.

One of last year’s draftees, Bailey Humphrey, is a young player who has experienced both the elation of hearing his name on draft night and the feeling of uncertainty when packing his bags for a move interstate. The Moe product was selected by the Gold Coast Suns with pick six in the 2022 AFL national draft.

The AFL draft was first introduced in 1986 and is the major list management tool to ensure the league remains even and fair. Humphrey feels there has been a rise in teenagers going against the norm.

“I think it’s a got a lot worse with the people warning clubs before the draft saying I don’t want to go, a lot more people are doing that,” he tells upstart.

“To play at any club or any state, they shouldn’t take it for granted … I was extremely happy to go anywhere.”

Humphrey believes that draftees shouldn’t have a say in where they are recruited.

“At the end of the day, AFL is going to be their job, so I think a lot of kids have got to start realising that they are extremely lucky to get the opportunity to play AFL footy,” he says.

Humphrey’s selection by the Suns has proved successful. He recently signed a four-year deal to remain at the club until 2028.

AFL journalist Sam McClure suggests  that situations where players state their preferences are starting to become more common as star teenagers start to have a bit more of a status in the public eye. While conversations like this could possibly reduce the number of players that return to a home-state club as soon as they can, it could also pose a problem for interstate clubs with certain players considered a risk to select.

This ‘go home’ factor has been prominent since 2010, after a number of players drafted in the top five moved back to their home state, generally following their initial two-year contracts. Izak Rankine (2018 draft), Luke Jackson (2019) and Jason Horne-Francis (2021) are just some examples.

However, Connors Sports player agent and Reid’s manager Nick Gieschen tells upstart that most players are thrilled to be drafted anywhere and requests from players are definitely not a regular thing.

“I get there’s been a few examples of it and there’s a lot of talk about it with Harley but in general I don’t find it’s an issue … the draft is a national comp, and you go into it realistic about all possibilities,” he says.

“I reckon there is probably only five percent of players that would even think about having these discussions … but it does happen from time to time.”

Conversations about this phenomenon began with Bailey Smith, drafted to Bulldogs in 2018, and Archie Perkins,drafted to Essendon in 2020, who made their preferences to stay in Victoria clear in the lead up to their drafts.

“At the end of the day the club has the power to pick a player and back their own environment, so the player feels comfortable to stay long term,” Gieschen says.

There is no doubting that moving away from home can be daunting and Humphrey says from his experience, interstate clubs will go that bit further to ask more questions in pre-draft meetings to ensure a good fit.

“They have to dig deeper into the personality of the player to find out if they’re going to go home or not and see what sort of person they are,” he says.

“I think there was a couple before me that got picked up like [Harry] Sheezel and [George] Wardlaw. They didn’t want to go [interstate]. They’ve got their lives already there in Melbourne.”

While it isn’t common, it’s possible that the actions of just a few of the top draft prospects who have greater authority could increase the likelihood of the next draft class to consider the same options.

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