Out of the 11 Queenslanders drafted last week, 10 were products of the Brisbane Lions or Gold Coast SUNS Academies.
Eric Hipwood, Ben Keays, Corey Wagner, Wylie Buzza, Rueben William, Mabior Chol, Josh Smith, Josh Wagner and Matt Uebergang have all been through the Hyundai Help for Kids Lions Academy, and Jesse Joyce was picked by Gold Coast out of the SUNS Academy.
“It was absolutely fantastic, not only for our academy program but Queensland footy in general. To see the boys get picked up shows that what we are doing here in Queensland is producing results, and the players are getting the ultimate reward for their efforts,” Brisbane Lions Academy Manger Luke Curran said.
Curran said while it was great to see the likes of Hipwood, Keays and William getting to play their footy in Queensland, it was also a feather in the cap to have interstate interest as well.
“It was great to see these three remain in Queensland. It gives the younger boys something they can touch and feel. Hopefully next year the boys that are coming through the Under 18 program can play NEAFL footy with those guys. A lot of these guys played with or against them this year, so it’s a really tangible outcome that they can see, ‘okay that could be me in 12 months or 18 months time,” he said.
“But I think [the boys going to other states] is really positive, and it’s a real milestone for our program. We have had boys previously come though and go on to play at the Lions like Jonno Freeman, Harris Andrews and Liam Dawson, so it’s a definitely progression with Corey going to the Kangaroos and Wylie going to Geelong.”
Gold Coast SUNS Academy Manager Jason Torney said it was fitting that Jesse Joyce was drafted to the club he has walked the corridors of for years.
“Jesse came into our program as a ‘future star’ when the whole academy started five years ago,” Torney said.
“He was a little fella back then, had really good skills, and showed really good composure even as a young kid.
“He grew late, started playing senior football in his 17th year, which was a big help to him, and his year this year has been seen a massive amount of improvement.”
While the interest and hype surrounding these players ramps up in their draft year, the process of getting them to that point begins a lot earlier.
Both the SUNS and Lions programs start from Under 13 and 14 level, and go right through to the Under 18’s, meaning some kids can spend a large chunk of their upbringing working closely with some of the states best.
The selection process starts early, but each player – no matter what age – is judged off a set of fundamentals.
“We have some key criteria that we look at. Outside of the standards we look for in respect and humility and attitude, we look at ball use efficiency, contested possession, game sense, their defensive awareness, and competitiveness. If you have all those five, or building towards being good at all five, you are a massive chance of being in the academy, but also developing,” Torney said.
In programs tailored to suit the individual’s age group, the Academies work hand in hand with each player’s club, region and the Queensland State Academy to ensure the principles are the same, and they are all working towards the one goal.
Torney said that the draft results, combined with the success of the Queensland Under 16 and Under 18 teams this year proves that there is a lot of talent floating around Queensland.
“The Academies have been up and running for five years. The Lions went back and worked on their 14 to 15 year olds and are reaping the rewards now. The Academies are definitely providing a talent pathway for the talent in Queensland. Coupled with the success of the 16 and 18’s carnival, you have to stand up and take notice at what the kids are doing in the program,” he said.
He is hopeful 2016 can be as positive as 2015 was.
“I don’t want to put too many names to it, but the next two years we have got a fairly good group of kids coming through and we have got our fingers crossed that we will have a bit on the table over the next two years,” Torney said.
His Lions’ counterpart echoed Torney’s thoughts
“We think there is a couple in the next year that are involved in the national program, Jacob Allison and Jack Rolls have had a pretty good year this year, but after that a lot can change in 12 months, so we are looking at next year and then not looking too far ahead after that,” Curran said.
Preparations for 2016 are well underway for both Academies, with their summer training programs in full swing already.
By Andrew Wiles