While the 2012 National Draft is now over, Blake Gray and Mitchell Wood reflect on 10 of the greatest draft steals of the modern era.
1. Taylor Walker (Adelaide)
Pick No.75, 2007
By pick No.75, a player must be just about ready to give up on their AFL dreams. But since Taylor Walker’s name was called by the Adelaide Crows in 2007, there has been no looking back for the young forward from Broken Hill. Walker has established himself as an elite forward and has attracted a following with his outgoing personality and flamboyant mullet. In 2012, he finished with a goal average of 3.3 (63 in total) and if it wasn’t for some reckless tackling and suspensions, he may well have taken home the Coleman Medal. At just 22, ‘Tex’ has a bright future ahead of him, and at pick No.75, the Crows found themselves a bargain.
2. Adam Goodes (Sydney) Pick No.43, 1997
42 picks went before Adam Goodes in the 1997 National Draft, although not one of them has a record that even comes close to replicating that of the Sydney Swans champion. Goodes is a two-time Brownlow medallist, a dual premiership player including one in which he captained, a three-time club best and fairest winner, a four-time All Australian, a Ron Evans medallist (1999 AFL Rising Star award winner), a member of the Indigenous Team of the Century and the Swans’ games record holder. Regarded as one of the best players of the modern era, there is no doubt that a number of teams would alter their draft selections of 1997 if they had their time again.
3. Dane Swan (Collingwood)
Pick No.58, 2001
The 2001 National Draft was noted for being the “superdraft”, in which a number of high-quality players were selected. In saying that, of the 57 previous picks before Swan, only three of them have gone on to win Brownlow Medals. He became a Brownlow medallist after notching up a remarkable 34 votes in 2011. ‘Swanny’ is a premiership player (2010), a four-time All-Australian and has won Collingwood’s best and fairest on three occasions. At 28 years of age, he still has plenty of great footy ahead of him and will be remembered as one of the all-time draft steals for the Collingwood Football Club.
4. Brent Harvey (North Melbourne)
Pick No.47, 1995
It’s hard to think that the best player to have come out of the 1995 National Draft was taken at pick No.47. Brent Harvey has enjoyed a successful career in the game since joining the Kangaroos during the height of their dominance in the mid-1990s. The little speedster has almost achieved it all. Among his many achievements include the E.J. Whitten Medal in 1999, four All-Australian selections, four-time winner of the Syd Barker Medal (North Melbourne’s best and fairest award) and he played a vital role in North Melbourne’s 1999 premiership win over Carlton. A natural leader, ‘Boomer’ captained his beloved Kangaroos from 2009-11. His durability and superior fitness has helped him remain in the game for such a long period, as next year will mark his 17th year as an AFL player.
5. Ryan O’Keefe (Sydney)
Pick No.56, 1999
His most recent accolade speaks enough of the services of Ryan O’Keefe. He was adjudged the 2012 Norm Smith medallist after a Grand Final performance to be remembered, in which he finished with an astonishing 15 tackles to accompany 28 disposals. O’Keefe was a work in progress for almost the first four seasons at the Sydney Swans, as he never quite stood out. In 2004, he began to make his mark and has since been an important part of a successful Sydney Swans side. He was monumental in both premiership years of 2005 and 2012, and was also selected as an All-Australian in 2006 and 2007. O’Keefe was awarded the Bob Skilton Medal (Sydney’s best and fairest award) in 2009 and finished third in 2012 after another fantastic season.
6. Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn)
Pick No.36, 2001
Sam Mitchell was chosen at pick No.36 by Hawthorn in the famous “superdraft” of 2001. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t taken in the first-round. He broke into the senior side in his debut year on the back of some brilliant performances with the Box Hill Hawks in the VFL. The clearance king was a consistent performer throughout the demanding years of 2002-06 and was rewarded with the captaincy at the end of 2007. The following year, he would lead the Hawks to their tenth premiership, as they defied all odds against the Cats. His 11 years in the game has seen him win the Peter Crimmins Medal (Hawthorn’s best and fairest award) four times, the Rising Star award in 2003 and finish runner-up twice in the Brownlow Medal.
7. Brian Lake (Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn)
Pick No.71, 2001
Although Lake was recently traded to Hawthorn during the 2012 trade period, he will be remembered for his defensive work at the Western Bulldogs throughout his 10 years at the club, in which he was named All-Australian on two occasions in 2009 and 2010. He was a key tool throughout both of these seasons and assisted in their successive top-four appearances. For a number of years, Lake has been a more than serviceable defender, often guarding the best forwards each week and has had some memorable duels with the competition’s best key forwards.
8. Andrew Swallow (North Melbourne)
Pick No.43, 2005
Andrew Swallow’s first few years in the AFL system was reflective of his pick No.43 selection in the 2005 National Draft. His poor disposal saw him manage only three games in the 2008 season, missing out on North Melbourne’s finals campaign. The rest is history, as he turned things around the following year by winning the club best and fairest. He now has three Syd Barker Medals to his name, going back-to-back in 2011 and 2012. The slick midfielder was appointed captain of the Kangaroos at just 24 years of age, when he succeeded Brent Harvey at the start of 2012. At the completion of the 2012 season, he is in now in the same category as those that went in the top five – Marc Murphy, Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas.
9. Corey Enright (Geelong)
Pick No.47, 1999
The 1999 National Draft will be remembered for Richmond using pick No.3 on Aaron Fiora ahead of Matthew Pavlich. However, the late selection of Corey Enright at pick No.47 by Geelong is not to be overshadowed. He has been a steady and underrated contributor for over a decade off the half-back flank, limiting the impact of his opponents and setting up the midfielders with his reliable decision-making. Enright was influential in the Cats’ premiership seasons of 2009 and 2011, winning the Carji Greeves Medal (Geelong’s best and fairest award) in both years. The 244-game veteran has three premiership medallions and is a four-time All-Australian. A favourite son down at Kardinia Park, he has given Geelong excellent service since first coming to the scene in 2001.
10. Jack Darling (West Coast Eagles)
Pick No.26, 2010
The surprise of the 2010 National Draft was seeing Jack Darling slip to pick No.26. It was expected that he would be a top-five selection, but a series of off-field indiscretions in 2010 resulted in most clubs not wanting to take the risk on the promising junior. The West Coast Eagles showed faith in the key-position forward and his debut year left every club that overshadowed him feel remorseful. He was a regular selection, experiencing finals football and making his presence felt in the Eagles’ forward line. The strong marking forward kicked 53 goals to top West Coast’s goalkicking in 2012 and his combination with Josh Kennedy is likely to cause a number of difficulties for opposition defences in the future. He has the ability to be anything and is well on track of becoming one of the powerhouse forwards of the competition.