Although conscious that anything can happen at the AFL National Draft, AFL Tasmania’s southern Talent Manager Mathew Armstrong is hoping the two-day event will have a strong Tasmanian flavour.
Armstrong has played a key role with the state’s current crop of draft prospects, working with them for a number of seasons as part of the Tasmanian Academy and Mariners programs, and although unable to put a magic figure on the number of Tasmanians that will be drafted, the Tasmanian Football Hall of Famer is confident that a handful of Tasmanian prospects will find a new home at an AFL club by week’s end.
“Like anything, I have seen a few of these (drafts) over the journey and you can’t guarantee anything – there’s no doubt about that,” Armstrong said.
“I would love to see four (draftees), I really would. I think we can certainly get three, with the fourth one maybe late in the draft or as a rookie.”
North Melbourne Next Generation Academy member Tarryn Thomas and Mariners captain Chayce Jones have both been the centre of fervent discussion for a lengthy period in anticipation of this week, and Armstrong concedes that the hype surrounding the talented duo is warranted, with Jones rumoured by many in recent weeks to be a potential top 10 selection, like Thomas.
Chayce Jones doing Chayce Jones things 😳
What an effort from the @LauncestonFC star! 🔥
— Bupa TSL (@TasStateLeague) August 20, 2018
“I rate Chayce very highly and I have for a long time. His performance at the national combine was elite.
“He is a terrific young man and a lot of the clubs realise he is of high character and that he is a quality human being – he has the capacity to play 200 games at AFL level and be a leader at an AFL club early on in his career,” Armstrong said.
Thomas has similarly excited fans and recruiters across the country for years, with the North Launceston talent boasting an enviable trove of game-breaking and match-winning attributes that were on clear display as he went on to claim the Harrison Medal as the best player at the under-18 Division 2 National Championships.
However, in a warning to opposing AFL clubs, Armstrong insists that Thomas still has the potential to get better.
“Tarryn is a great kid, and if North Melbourne do pick him up, they have a very quality player,” Armstrong said.
— Bupa TSL (@TasStateLeague) September 16, 2018
“I still think Tarryn, believe it or not, can improve another 20-30% yet once he gets his body strong enough to last an AFL season year in, year out.
“I hope they (Chayce and Tarryn) both get taken in the top 10-15, then with Fraser Turner potentially going around the 40 mark.”
Turner, of TSL club Clarence, is another player that has raised plenty of interest among AFL clubs, with his elite running capacity catching the eyes of eager recruiters according to Armstrong.
“He (Fraser) is probably the one who has come out of left field with his running capacity.
“Especially with the rotation system now, clubs need more athletes who can stay on the field for longer periods of time so they can rest the other blokes, and Fraser is one of those players who can do that.”
With Armstrong hopeful that Thomas, Jones and Turner will land at AFL clubs, he is also optimistic that one or more of Nic Baker, Rhyan Mansell and Matthew McGuinness will also be picked up, with the latter two part of North Melbourne’s Next Generation Academy.
Baker was an integral member off Tasmania’s under-18 success as both a versatile defender and midfielder and impressed when tested at the Draft Combine earlier in the year – highlighted by a top 10 effort in the ‘kicking’ test – and for the TSL Grand Final-bound Lauderdale Bombers.
Mansell and McGuinness also impressed for Tasmania and the Allies, and as members of North Melbourne’s NGA like Tarryn Thomas, have both been nominated by the Kangaroos, meaning the club has the option to match any bid made by another club.
Mansell is known for his dogged competitiveness, as highlighted by several strong tackling performances for the Allies and North Launceston, while McGuinness is a more than handy versatile tall option with the capacity to play a key role at either end of the ground.
“I don’t know the way North Melbourne or other clubs are thinking and the way they are going to go, but these players have done well at the National Championships and for the Allies, so it would be great for them to be picked up, whether it is in the draft or as a rookie,” Armstrong said.
Tasmanian Jay Lockhart is also a strong chance to land on an AFL list after dominating his first season at Casey in the VFL after a successful 2017 TSL campaign with the Northern Bombers.
“Jay has had an exceptionally good year. He has worked at his endurance and is exceptionally hard at it. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he gets an opportunity,” Armstrong said.
Although there is set to be plenty of happiness this week, Armstrong is more than aware that the news won’t be quite as good for everyone.
“To the young kids it is very difficult, it’s their dream. It is a difficult time of year for young boys as they are off doing their exams and things, and then the draft coming up is really difficult.
“We try to plan ahead and try not to get their hopes up – our message for them is to wait for the day. They’re all pretty smart now and they realise that it is tough to get drafted.
The calibre of this Tasmanian talent is further enhanced by the overall depth of the 2018 draft, with many considering it to be a ‘Super Draft’, akin to 2001 where the likes of Luke Hodge, Luke Ball, Chris Judd, Jimmy Bartel, Nick Dal Santo, Steve Johnson, Dane Swan, Gary Ablett and Sam Mitchell (among others) were picked up.
Armstrong has had a closer view than many to the riches of the 2018 batch of draftees.
“I have been fortunate enough to coach in the futures games that are held before the AFL Grand Final in recent years.
“Last year, when I was able to train with and coach this group, I knew it was special. This is a very talented group, the top 15 particularly so.”