Yesterday marked an important day in the path to the AFL for some of Tasmania’s best young footballers, with testing for the NAB AFL Draft Combine held in Hobart.

Oliver Sanders (North Launceston), Will Splann (North Hobart), Baker Smith (Clarence), Tyler McGinniss (North Hobart) and Sam Banks (Clarence) were all invited to attend the national draft combine, with a state-based model used for this year’s testing.

While Banks was sidelined through injury, the remaining four players and unofficial invitee Baynen Lowe (Burnie) were all put through their paces by the Tasmanian Institute of Sport in a series of exercises designed to assess their physical strengths. With a 20-metre sprint, agility test, stationary and mobile vertical jumps and a two-kilometre time trial, as well as a range of physical measurements, the players were able to showcase their athletic prowess in a number of areas.

Speaking before yesterday’s testing, Tasmania Devils Southern Talent Manager Mathew Armstrong emphasised the importance of the information gained for AFL clubs and recruiters. “Having not seen these kids as much in the last couple of years, the data is very important now,” he said. “Some of these boys didn’t do the testing earlier on in the year through injuries and whatnot… other boys have been tested before and they want to know if they have improved.

“If you’ve got someone of a similar stature in another state then it may come down to the testing data, this kid’s maybe a little quicker, a little bit stronger, a little bit taller.”

With the NAB League season cut short and less games for players to prove themselves, events such as the draft combine take on some added significance. That is especially true as players look to enter the modern AFL, where Armstrong says the traits on display are more crucial than ever. “The game’s all about speed and power now, so this sort of testing tells the recruiters or their staff at the AFL clubs how much speed and power the boys have got,” he said.

New Tasmania Devils Talent Manager and Head Coach, Jeromey Webberley, knows firsthand the experience of the combine and the AFL Draft pathway. Webberley was selected by Richmond in the 2009 National Draft and spent three years in the AFL system, and he has high hopes for this year’s crop of prospects. “All of those guys are here because they’ve got some interest from AFL clubs, so they’ve obviously performed throughout the year and if they go well today then there’s no reason why they can’t [play in the AFL],” Webberley said. “There’s no guarantees in the AFL Draft, but these guys are obviously here for a reason and it’s going to be exciting to see who goes in the draft.”

Webberley was also keen to emphasise, though, that AFL and AFLW draftees aren’t the only measure of success for the program as he steps into his new role. “Yes, the end goal is to get players drafted, but the reality is that the program should be so much more than that,” he said. “At the end of the day, if they get drafted, fantastic. If they don’t, then the girls and boys go back to their local club or their state league club and they become leaders in our community.”