Dayle Garlett: Overlooked in the draft. Photo: Joe Armao
MINDFUL of clubs voicing concern about the challenges facing indigenous youngsters, the AFL will tackle Aboriginal participation at a meeting on Friday.
And the Victorian club renown for promoting indigenous players, Essendon, has arranged a meeting on Thursday between Aboriginal veteran Nathan Lovett-Murray and the AFL at which Lovett-Murray will put forward his ideas about how the pathway for indigenous players to the AFL can be improved.
This follows Essendon's decision - and of the other 17 clubs - not to draft talented Aboriginal teen Dayle Garlett.
The percentage of indigenous players in the AFL, according to the league's figures, is about 9 per cent after the national and rookie drafts, down from a peak of about 11 per cent.
The AFL says it is ''satisfied'' with the collective number of eight new players recruited in all drafts/trades out of more than 100.
While just three Aboriginal players were recruited in the national draft, the AFL pointed out that a further three Northern Territory kids - Jed Anderson (Hawthorn), Jake Neade (Port Adelaide) and Dom Barry (Melbourne) - were taken in pre-draft trades. Two other indigenous footballers were selected in the rookie draft, Brett Goodes to the Bulldogs and Zac Williams listed by Greater Western Sydney as a zone player.
AFL talent identification manager Kevin Sheehan confirmed that finding ways to improve the pathway for indigenous players - and others from ''challenging areas'' where there might be less opportunity - would be discussed at the AFL's game development meeting on Friday. The meeting, chaired by game development head Andrew Dillon, will be attended by the league's head of indigenous football executive Jason Mifsud, and its leading AIS-AFL Academy coaches and indigenous legends Michael O'Loughlin, Chris Johnson and Xavier Clarke.
The meeting is a scheduled one, but the issue of indigenous struggles has been elevated by Liam Jurrah's personal crisis, the contentious comments of recruiter Matthew Rendell earlier this year and the inability of talented indigenous teens, especially Garlett, to find a club. The unwillingness of clubs to revive the career of Liam Jurrah also highlighted some concerns.
One concern raised by some clubs is the impact of a reduction in rookie list spots from six to four this year. Some argue that reducing rookie spots hurts indigenous players on the fringes of the draft selection because clubs are more willing to punt on less expensive rookies, who can be taken for just one season, rather than two.
Asked about the impact of the game's increased rigours on indigenous players, Sheehan said: ''We're getting close to 20 years of being a full-time professional game and so I think there's quite a lot of groups that can be disadvantaged by that and I wouldn't discount those brought up in rural areas as well as indigenous, as well as multi-cultural - those who mightn't be used to the demands of full-time employment at a fairly demanding level and all of the, well, the impact of sports science … different things that are now used to extract the best out of the athlete at high-performance level, which AFL clubs are demanding [from] people of varying backgrounds. We need to cater for that.''
Sheehan said the Friday meeting would be a review of game development and talent identification. ''Our game development will review its year and look at our plans for next
''And … we'll strongly put our case for improved programs for the capturing of all those from what [you] would call the challenging areas - which includes indigenous and includes multicultural and includes those from rural areas as well, people that haven't got simple, straightforward pathways through into the competition.
''We'll look at all those issues and the indigenous will be well represented because people like Jason Mifsud will be there, Mick O'Loughlin, Chris Johnson, Xavier Clarke's another, all working within game development and they'll all have their views.
''And right at this moment, Essendon today contacted us, and Adrian Dodoro and Nathan Lovett-Murray want to present some ideas in the indigenous space to us tomorrow, which we'll take on board and share that with our people on Friday.''