After months of whiteboard brainstorming sessions, road trips to regional ovals and more cuppas and scones with the families of potential draftees than can possibly be good for the waistline, the Lions recruiting team will welcome two new players to the den tonight.
Lions National Recruiting Manager Stephen Conole and his team enter tonight’s NAB AFL Draft with picks 14 and 18, the first time they’ve held two first rounders since 2017.
And despite another draft class hit by COVID-19 cancellations, Conole is convinced he’s seen enough to know there will be some very good players available when it is his turn to call out a name.
“We are really confident that we are going to get a couple of really good players in that group which is why we didn’t trade them (picks) out,’’ he said.
“We are quite optimistic that we have got a really good feel for the kids.
“We are really comfortable with the draft pool and there will be no excuses.’’
Conole said an argument could be made to add depth to all three lines on the Lions’ list and although there is a club policy to draft the best available talent, and recruit to plug holes, he feels this draft crop is one of the more versatile of recent times.
“Players evolve and change all the time,’’ he said.
“And in the second half of the State League season coaches really throw the players around and start to experiment with them and give them a few more opportunities.
“So, where we have seen players play is a lot different to what we saw at 16s level.
“So, I think whoever we bring in, we won’t pigeon-hole them to playing one role.’’
Although the opportunity to watch the players was reduced by the restricted rep season, Conole and his team have tracked the progress of the entire draft cohort for several years now.
“There’s no shying away that it’s been more difficult,’’ he said.
“We’ve had a couple of little bonuses in this group in that the U16s carnival two years ago was a really high standard. The boys actually played at the Gabba in the last games, and it was a really high standard so that gave us a starting base.
“There has been a few boys that had injuries and that has been unfortunate, but the boys that didn’t have injuries got somewhere between six and nine games in this year, that is a reasonable enough sample size to get a feel on them.’’
It is the time of year where every media outlet publishes a phantom draft and fans have a reasonable understanding of the talent on offer.
While Conole feels the top ten is reasonably settled, he expects the remainder of the first round might offer some surprises.
“I think there will be some boys coming in and out,’’ he said.
“I think the top ten or so look pretty set, there’s a group there that seem to have held their ranking so I don’t think there will be too many changes there.
“But once it gets to our selections I think there will be some differing views on players and that’s one of the great things about the draft, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder somewhat.
“You just hope the player you pick is a good fit for your footy club, you can’t ever concern yourself with what other players do at other clubs, as long as you get your selection right.’’
He said that there was once a time when prospective players were unsure about a potential move to Brisbane.
However, thanks to the work done by Senior Coach Chris Fagan, CEO Greg Swann and the entire footy Club, the Lions were now a destination club.
“It is quite a small industry the AFL and I think all the work the team in Brisbane have done over the past few years has been outstanding,’’ he said.
“We have lengthy discussions with parents and players and stakeholders, and the Club is seen to be in a very good space at the moment and the boys we speak to are really enthusiastic about coming up.’’