The Origin of an AFL Footballer

Since 1986 hundreds of players around the country have waited on baited breath, hoping that just one club thinks they’re worthy enough to play in the AFL and grants them the opportunity of a lifetime.

These 18 and 19-year-olds are seen as the shining white hope for fans of struggling clubs trying to get off the bottom of the ladder, while fans of clubs currently near the top of the ladder have their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to quietly develop until they can one day take over from their champion players and maintain the teams’ success, or even make an immediate impact as a complimentary piece.

From the moment the final siren sounds on the last Saturday in September (or first Saturday of October like this year) focus starts to intensify on the teenagers who have been identified as possessing something unique that will allow them to succeed in the top tier of Australian Rules football. They are tested on their vertical leap, speed over 20-metres, 3km time-trial and an array of drills to test their football skills. However, one thing that seems to be overlooked when draft time rolls around every year is what club are these kids coming from?

I set out to try and discover where most of the AFL’s players are coming from and to try and uncover whether a player’s club of origin can tell us anything about whether they are worth taking a shot at with a draft pick.

If numbers are anything to go by, there appears to be several clubs who seem to have a significantly higher chance of producing an AFL-calibre player.

The Geelong Falcons have had a staggering 93 players drafted, while the Calder Cannons and Murray Bushrangers who also play in Victoria’s TAC Cup have had 75 and 74 players drafted respectively. In fact, TAC Cup clubs dominate the top 10 with the Northern Knights, Eastern Ranges, Oakleigh Chargers and Dandenong Stingrays all having over 55 players drafted.

What might be most impressive about the Geelong Falcons having 93 players drafted is that they were only founded in 1992, meaning they missed the first six years of the draft. When taking that into account, the Falcons have an average of 3.1 players drafted every year. However, they’re not the leaders when it comes to highest average of players drafted per year. That honour belongs to Calder, who since joining the TAC Cup in 1995 have had an average of 3.75 players drafted.

The first non-TAC Cup teams to appear on the list are Claremont and East Fremantle with 62 players drafted each, while Port Adelaide’s SANFL team rounds out the top-10 with 56 players drafted.

Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia are generally hotbeds for AFL talent as it’s the most dominant sport in those states, but it is surprising to see the top-10 is 70% Victorian even when taking into account that the league was previously the Victorian Football League. WA and SA are known for producing highly touted players so it comes as a shock that the list isn’t much more even.

The first non-Victorian, Western Australian or South Australian team to appear on the list is the Tasmanian state under-18 team (formerly the Tassie Mariners in the TAC Cup) with 37 players drafted. However, Tasmania is also regarded as an AFL state. You have to move down the list to find the NSW-ACT state team (who also play in the TAC Cup) to see a non-AFL state to appear with 28 players drafted. Both Tasmania and NSW-ACT are state representative teams however, which balloons their statistics and would pale in comparison to the numbers produced by the Victorian, WA or SA state teams. North Hobart are in fact the most drafted local club when ignoring state teams, with 15 players.

It is almost impossible to overstate the influence the TAC Cup has had on the AFL, and the numbers show this.

TAC Cup drafted players graphed against players drafted from the rest of the country

Incredibly, 28% of all players ever drafted have come from a TAC Cup team, which is even more remarkable considering it’s inaugural season was in 1992, six years after the AFL introduced the draft. What’s even more incredible though is that a stunning 4% of the players drafted since 1986 have come from one team; the Geelong Falcons.

This paints a pretty clear picture that the Geelong Falcons are the top of the totem pole when it comes to developing players that AFL recruiters see as worthy of using a draft pick on.

However, just because they’ve had a lot of players drafted it doesn’t mean they’ve been producing highly touted players. Many of these players could’ve been selected in the very late rounds of the draft, so in order to check this I graphed which clubs have produced the most number one and top-10 draft picks.

Club of origin for each player drafted at number one

Looking at where the number one draft picks come from doesn’t provide too much of a conclusive result. Dandenong currently have the most with three, but six other teams, including Geelong, have had two players selected, while every other top selection has come from a different club. The most impressive figure to come out of this is that Eastern Ranges two number one draft picks came in back-to-back years (Jonathon Patton in 2011 and Tom Boyd in 2012) and staggeringly they were both key-forwards.

However, looking at the clubs with the most top-10 selections paints a much clearer picture.

The leading clubs when it comes to players selected in the top-10

Unsurprisingly the Geelong Falcons come out on top with 15 selections in the top-10, meaning 6.2% of their players drafted fall somewhere between pick one and pick 10. The Murray Bushrangers and East Fremantle find themselves in second place on 14.

What this shows us is that quite clearly the Geelong Falcons are the very best when it comes to producing high quality footballers every year, and should be the first place recruiters look every season. It’s impossible to tell whether the region the Falcons are in or the quality of staff at the club is the more significant reason for their success (it’s most likely a combination of the two), but it is easy to tell that they produce great footballers like clockwork.

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