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Academy prospects on tour

January 25, 2017 2:23 PM

Jack Clayton and Connor Ballenden at the world class IMG Academy facility in Florida. (Photo: Callum Twomey)

Jack Clayton and Connor Ballenden at the world class IMG Academy facility in Florida. (Photo: Callum Twomey)

Two Hyundai Help for Kids Lions Academy prospects are using the world class IMG Academy facility in Florida as a way to bolster their 2017 NAB AFL Draft campaigns.

Ruck/forward Connor Ballenden and half-back Jack Clayton recently spent time at the facility, doing speed and running technique training and were also involved in the Gatorade Sports Science Institute testing. The players were then interviewed by all 13 clubs represented by recruiters on the tour, including Brisbane Lions National Recruiting Manager, Stephen Conole.

At 198cm Ballenden has been part of the club's local academy since he was 12 years old, and the Lions will get first access to him at November's NAB AFL Draft, while Clayton is eligible to join the club under the father-son/academy bidding system.

“The program follows on from their Darwin camp in early December, and the players' AFL Club training programs in mid-December, so in a football sense this is the opportunity to further develop the individual development programs that the boys are working through,” said Conole.

“Just as importantly, the trip allows the players a multitude of off-field experiences, including the travelling overseas component, living within the IMG community and working amongst athletes and coaches from numerous sports on site at the IMG Academy.”

Conole said he had been impressed with not only how they’d approached training but also how the players had tackled each challenge thrown at them.

“Both Connor and Jack have fitted in with the group very well, trained with purpose and good intensity and have definitely not looked out of place at all.

“Connor has some genuine presence amongst the group, and Jack’s enthusiasm and energy amongst the squad has been evident,” said Conole.

“Importantly over and above this though, both boys have shown themselves to be good quality young men with respect for those in and around the program.”

Ballenden and Clayton will return to the final phase of the pre-season program with the Hyundai Help for Kids Lions Academy as they prepare for a busy year of football. Academy games commence late March as part of the newly revamped Division 2 National Championship Program.

Stephen conole and connor ballenden

Brisbane Lions National Recruiting Manager, Stephen Conole speaks with Connor Ballenden. (Photo: Callum Twomey)

Conole said the program was not only beneficial to the players but also provided a barometer to measure the talent of this year’s draft.

“For myself it is a great opportunity to get a detailed overview on a large group of players who will form the majority of this year’s draft, giving us a great start into the 2017 season with all the players on tour from around the country, not just our Academy products.

“Obviously a key component is the footballing aspect of the camp – the opportunity to view the players through main training sessions, craft sessions and the physical performance components of the week. However equally important is getting a feel for the players beyond their football – for example, how they interact with their peers and coaches, how they cope with the day to day requirements of the program, their professionalism and attention to detail, how they work within group dynamics, how they respond to external people who interact with the group and the challenges around the scheduling and travel that the program throws at them.

“We believe the trip has definitely given us a good insight into many of the boys that have entered the club through the past couple of seasons (Schache, Hipwood, Keays, Matheson, Skinner, McCluggage, Berry, Witherden) and again it looks like another exciting season for this year’s group of AFL Academy products.”

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