Former West Coast player Luke Partington with the 2019 Magarey Medal. Picture: @SANFL
LAST year’s drafts and the introduction of the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP) and the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft drastically thinned the mature-age prospects pool.
On top of that, most AFL clubs are set to leave a list spot open after this week’s drafts to invite players to train with them over the summer with the chance to sign in the SSP.
>> The 2019 NAB AFL Draft runs from November 27-28. Follow all the latest news in the draft hub
Those in the know aren’t expecting many footballers aged 19 years or older to realise their AFL dream by Friday but a select few have reason for optimism.
AFL.com.au has identified some of the likeliest mature-age options from right across Australia who could find a home in the 2019 national, pre-season or rookie drafts.
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JAKE RICCARDI (Werribee, 7/11/1999)
The 20-year-old key forward is as close to a certainty as you’ll find here. Essendon and Collingwood are among several clubs showing genuine interest in Riccardi, who booted 38 goals from 20 matches in his first full VFL season. Only ex-Hawk Jordan Lisle kicked more majors. Standing 195cm, Riccardi boasts excellent hands – he took eight-plus marks five times – and his leading patterns have improved out of sight. His development under Mark Williams and Jack Fitzpatrick since finishing at NAB League club Calder Cannons last year has impressed all the right people. Won the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal – awarded to the VFL’s most promising player – and is aiming to be the 14th straight recipient to reach elite ranks. Riccardi’s teammates Ryan Hebron, Tom Gribble, Ryan Kemp, Louis Pinnuck, Bior Malual and Darcy Bennett are outside chances.
LUKE PARTINGTON (Glenelg, 5/3/1997)
Partington played six games for West Coast in 2017 but was delisted at the end of last year. The inside midfielder didn’t give up on his dream, choosing to head to the SANFL to play for respected ex-AFL assistant coach Mark Stone. The knock on Partington has typically been his kicking but in an extraordinary purple patch he not only won a stack of the Sherrin – averaging 33 disposals across 11 games, and 29.1 overall – but proved he could be more efficient. That period was also the bedrock of his Magarey Medal triumph as the SANFL’s best and fairest winner, and he went on to play in the Tigers’ premiership. It’s believed Hawthorn recruiters flew to South Australia recently to interview Partington, who is likely to be off the board in the national draft.
BEN SOKOL (Subiaco, 28/10/1995)
Sokol might be on the older side at 24 but he could hardly have done more in the WAFL this season. The 186cm forward won the Bernie Naylor Medal as the competition’s leading goalkicker and was best afield with six goals in the Grand Final. Sokol slotted six or more majors in five of his last six appearances and also managed four for the WAFL in its seven-point representative loss to the SANFL. Is strong at ground level and a handful in the air, too. Melbourne was keen on him throughout the year but has ruled him out after drafting a small forward in the first round of Wednesday night’s draft opening. Even still, most good judges think he will be on an AFL list somewhere next season.
JAKE BARTHOLOMAUES (Sydney University, 27/8/1997)
The former Sydney Swans Academy member has put together strong back-to-back NEAFL campaigns, including winning the competition’s most valuable player award in 2019. Bartholomaues had no fewer than 21 possessions in any game this season and averaged 27 overall. The 22-year-old finished in the top five in the NEAFL for disposals, clearances, tackles and contested possessions. Bartholomaues trained with the Swans in the weeks leading up to the draft, and his hopes are bolstered given he can join them as a Category B rookie (having lived in Sydney for at least the past three years). The catch is he must make it through the national draft to qualify for that status, on top of Sydney lodging the appropriate forms by 10.45am AEST on Thursday.
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FRANK ANDERSON (Northern Blues, 5/8/1997)
Anderson’s first VFL season fresh out of Eastern Football League club South Croydon saw him touted as a NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft chance. That followed him receiving a state draft screening last year despite playing local football at the time. A two-week ban and club bye preceding the mid-season draft possibly hurt the 186cm midfielder’s hopes, but his form spiked to career-best levels in the second half of this year. Anderson won 25 or more disposals four times in that period, and he’s also proven capable as a run-with player. Many clubs – most notably Melbourne – have turned to talent from their VFL affiliate in the past, so Carlton looms as one possible home for him.
BRAD CLOSE (Glenelg, 30/7/1998)
Emerged on the radar in the second half of the season, impressing recruiters with his work-rate, defensive pressure and selfless play up forward and on a wing in his second SANFL season. Close’s numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page – an average of 16 disposals and 13 goals overall in 21 games – but his traits are what will earn him a spot on an AFL list. Had season-highs of 25 disposals and four goals against Norwood in round 13. The 21-year-old North Gambier product will likely endure a nervous wait until at least the rookie draft – and might even have to earn his chance on the training track over the summer – but has been linked to Geelong.
MITCH HIBBERD (Williamstown, 23/9/1996)
VFL side Williamstown was one of the best draft stories last year, with Ben Cavarra, Lachie Schultz and Brett Bewley all landing at AFL clubs. Mick Gibbons joined them later via the SSP to give the Seagulls a four-pack of AFL newcomers. Ex-Kangaroo Hibberd, who was delisted last year after four senior games, is hoping his performances as an inside-outside midfielder for the same club will springboard him back to the big time. The 23-year-old running machine averaged almost 25 touches and kicked 10 goals this year to show he still has more to offer. Played predominantly off half-back at AFL level, so recruiters – including the Cats – will see him in a new light now. Willy’s other draft hopes are spring-heeled forward Nick Ebinger and 200cm forward-ruck Joel Ottavi.
SAM LOWSON (Coburg, 24/10/1995)
Was expected to be snapped up in this year’s NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft until he sustained a syndesmosis injury the weekend before. That was enough to dash the small forward’s hopes – and the two-month layoff that followed didn’t help his longer-term cause. Some recruiters lost interest when Lowson won only two combined possessions across his first two matches back. Lowson has since revealed his frustration at not being at full capacity at that stage but by the last round of the season he had 11 tackles and a goal against Footscray. His 13 goals in the first four rounds should still be in the memory bank, too. Could Brisbane take a punt on him?
ANGUS HANRAHAN (Sandringham, 9/8/2000)
The younger brother of Hawthorn’s Ollie was overlooked at last year’s drafts, with the biggest query centred on his contested ball-winning ability. That was still part of the commentary when he missed out again at the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft. Those experiences may end up being the best thing that ever happened to Hanrahan, whose form explosion since has set him up to be a likely national draftee. He averaged 27 possessions in the last eight games of the year – many of them contested – and also bobbed up to kick a few goals, too. Also made a pair of VFL appearances.
COOPER SHARMAN (Oakleigh, 25/7/2000)
Burst onto the scene earlier in the year while playing local football for Balwyn under the tutelage of Rodney Eade. The lightly framed teenager’s eye-catching leap and performances in general saw him rushed into Oakleigh’s NAB League line-up as an overage player. Sharman responded with 14 goals in eight matches for the Chargers, including four among 18 disposals against Eastern Ranges, and along the way he tested at the NAB AFL Draft Combine as well. The Swans are among the most interested in him but multiple clubs have tracked him since he emerged – and he might be gone before the national draft ends.
RYAN BENNELL (Peel Thunder, 11/1/2000)
Wasted no time making an impression in his first senior WAFL season, kicking nine goals in his first five matches for Peel Thunder after crossing from Swan Districts. The 174cm forward’s form was so good that he earned a late call-up to Western Australia’s team for the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships. Bennell’s performances weren’t quite as good in the second half of the year but he was a strong performer in the agility and 20m sprint tests at the state combine. Could appeal to a club in need of a goalsneak with upside.
KEIDEAN COLEMAN (Brisbane NEAFL, 31/3/2000)
The Lions Academy member was a NEAFL regular this past season, following the disappointment of being overlooked in last year’s drafts. Coleman played 18 games in various roles but mostly in attack after spending time down back last year. He became the first Academy player to make the competition’s team of the year, averaging 17 disposals, four marks and 3.5 inside 50s per game. Coleman has a knack for doing something special and also kicked 11 goals for the season as part of Brisbane’s all-conquering NEAFL premiership team. He trained with the Lions leading up to the drafts and should end up at the Gabba.
Picture: Sharon Vella/NEAFL
MATT McGUINNESS (Lauderdale, 13/7/2000)
Tall Tasmanian utility who is in North Melbourne’s Next Generation Academy zone and showed considerable improvement this year after being overlooked in 2018. McGuinness qualifies for Category B and the Roos have nominated him, although that doesn’t mean he is certain to end up there. The 192cm teenager is still quite light but has bolstered his frame significantly this year, uses the Sherrin well and is flexible enough to play on tall and small opponents. There could be three Tasmanians drafted, with dual underage All-Australian Mitch O’Neill and inside midfielder Jared Dakin – despite shoulder surgery largely wiping his year out – in the mix.
CODY HIRST (Sydney/Eastern Ranges, 19/1/2000)
Hirst’s story is well told by now: picked up by the Swans in the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft, only to be discarded just months later. Was always viewed as a long-term project in attack or on a wing but his experience in an AFL system should hold him in good stead if he is to score a second chance. The shame of it all is he looked likely to be a national draftee early in the season, which would have granted him an automatic two-year contract. Hirst’s speed and agility are two of his greatest strengths and he’s already proven he can cope living interstate.
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