Saturday, January 14, 2012

Carlton Draftees Meet & Greet

Just prior to Christmas, the Carlton Football Club held a 'Meet & Greet' of the 2011 National AFL Draftees, to introduce the three new boys to the Blues' members and supporters. The afternoon was also designed to provide behind the scenes insights into the complex and exhausting recruiting process.

A group of about 50 people enjoyed a lunch hosted by respected AFL journalist and Blues aficionado Tony DeBolfo. Some past Carlton greats, along with current staff, spoke at length about the current state of play down at the Blues, as well as the recent selections of draftees Josh Bootsma, Sam Rowe, and Dylan Buckley.

Tony DeBolfo's first guest was former Blue captain Andrew McKay, who was recently appointed to the position of General Manager of Football Operations down at Carlton.

Andrew spoke about his memories of being drafted by the Blues during the 1992 National Draft, when he in fact missed hearing his name called out on the radio due to a mixup with the state time differences! Andrew was drafted following a stellar year in the SANFL, where he finished second in the Magarey Medal count to winner Nathan Buckley (whose name should never appear on a Carlton blog again!).

Andrew also shared a story of how he was fined $10,000 by the AFL for 'trying to prejudice the national draft', as a result of him writing to some AFL clubs prior to being drafted, stating that he was not interested in joining them. I'm not sure if he or Carlton paid the fine, but in any case it was a worthy investment considering McKay's distinguished and successful career at the mighty Blues!

McKay on the dash - probably carving up Collingwood

Andrew's advice for the new draftees was to try to have something 'outside of football'. This would be particularly beneficial when, as a player, you are experiencing something negative, for example a form slump. An outlet that is beyond your football world can help to 'keep your head right' when the football is not going all that well. I'm not sure that this was ever an issue for Andrew himself, however it was sound advice. Andrew, of course, studied veterinarian science whilst playing football, and was successful in this field also. He admitted that giving up his veterinary work was the hardest decision he faced when weighing up accepting the Carlton job.

Other Andrew McKay thoughts:

On his impact in his role as Football Operations GM:
"I can't see any big changes in the near future. Things are going well at the moment."

On Chris Judd:
"He's a bit slower than the old #5!" (McKay was a former #5)
"He is probably the best modern footballer going around."
"Juddy was kicking a footy without an arm sling, days after his shoulder operation."

Post shoulder operation - Chris Judd is back in training

On life after football:
"I miss the excitement of playing in the AFL."

On Carlton's current injury list:
"Warnock is back from his shoulder operation and will start full training in January. We expect him to be right for Round 1."
"Waite is back training also, and should be right for the NAB Cup."

Waite Training - Jarrod Waite has started pre-season training at Visy Park

The next speaker was Carlton's National Recruiting Manager, Wayne Hughes. Wayne is the brains behind the massive undertaking that is the Blues recruiting process. He puts in an enormous amount of hours each week, and works almost a full 12 months each year. His job has taken him around the world, and he has even been fortunate enough to spend time with the New York Jets recruiting team, learning invaluable tips from them.

Wayne spoke at length about the recruiting system, and how his year is broken up between football clinics, competitions and various other activities. When asked if his role at the club is in fact more important than coach Brett Ratten's, Hughes joked, "Yes, of course it is. It's just not reflected in the salary!"

Carlton's recruiter extraordinaire - Wayne Hughes

Other Wayne Hughes thoughts:

On the impact of the concessions allocated to fledging AFL clubs like Gold Coast and GWS:
"Carlton will spend more time looking at mature age players nowadays, although we have been successful at doing this in past anyway. Players like Mitch Robinson, Michael Jamison and Jeff Garlett were all mature aged players when we picked them up."

On the film 'Moneyball', in which actor Brad Pitt manages a professional baseball team:
"I loved that film. I just don't think the same tactics in the film would translate to the AFL. I could see it possibly working in cricket, though."

On the impact that free agency may have on list management:
"It will depend on Carlton's tactics at the time. I learnt from the New York Jets people that you can either defend your current list, attack another teams list, or do a combination of both. Carlton will probably use a combination of both approaches. There will also be reliance on player loyalty."

On NFL players looking to switch codes and trying out for the AFL:
"There is some interest in America. The AFL is in fact currently running a program to look for potential recruits."

Wayne provided his thoughts on the three players selected in the 2011 National Draft:

On Josh Bootsma:
"A skilful player. Josh makes good decisions with the football. We picked him first because we thought that he would get picked up early."

Josh Bootsma in full flight at training

On Sam Rowe:
"Sam stood out last year when he was playing for Norwood in the SANFL, when I was over there watching (Nick) Duigan. We think Sam may make an immediate impact to our team."

Sam Rowe's attempt at 'Tebowing'

On Dylan Buckley:
"He's a tough little bugger. When I went to introduce myself to him after a game, Dylan, who was wearing a helmet during the game said, 'The helmet is because I've got a bit of a hole in my head - not because I'm a weak prick!' "

Dylan Buckley - a "tough little bugger"

Following Wayne Hughes was legendary Carlton small man, Jimmy Buckley. Jimmy had been asked to talk first hand about Carlton's famed history and culture, but also provided insight into recruit Dylan Buckley, who was taken under the father-son rule.

Jimmy, who is looking more and more like actor Richard Dreyfuss these days, stated off the bat that he has never tried to interfere in his son Dylan's choices regarding his football. Jimmy told the crowd that although he had always let his son "run his own race" as a footballer, he felt very proud that Dylan had been picked up by the Blues. He has let Dylan know that there is "no better place to be than at the Carlton Footy Club". He said that he knows Dylan will always appreciate the opportunities that the club will offer him, as well as the friendships and experiences he will have at the Blues.

Jimmy Buckley - 164 games for Carlton
Richard Dreyfuss - 0 games for Carlton

Some more of Jimmy's comments regarding Dylan:

"He's good when he's got the ball, and good when he hasn't. He reminds me a bit of North Melbourne's Wayne Schimmelbusch."

"He was always a good kid. Never gave me any trouble."

"He is very independent. Even picked his own manager."

"He owes me about 18 months of board!"

Jimmy also mentioned that the injuries that Dylan has had over the past year or so were the only disappointing aspects to his early career so far. He added, jokingly, that Dylan's injuries are probably the reason that Carlton recruiter Wayne Hughes "got him so cheap".

Son of a gun

But anyway, enough from the old - let's hear from the new!

Sam Rowe was the first of the new draftees to speak. Born in Wodonga, Victoria, but recruited from Norwood in South Australia, Sam told us that he was very happy to be at Carlton after a long football journey. Sam had grown up playing local footy and cricket in Walla Walla, and although "nothing ever happens there", he "loved the place and wouldn't have wanted to have grown up anywhere else".

Sam told us that, although arriving as a mature aged recruit, he believes that his football journey so far, and the experience he has had, has helped prepare him for getting to Carlton. He admitted that he wishes he had done some things differently at the Swans (Sam spent 2 years at Sydney), but "I definitely learned from my time up there".

After four years playing in the SANFL, Sam had believed that his opportunity to play football at the highest level had passed him by. Now that he has been given another chance at 24 years of age, he admitted that he has "the hunger and desire needed to play".

Of the Carlton football club, Sam had observed that "the boys, staff and club have all been fantastic". He said the club facilities were "as good as any I have seen, and the High Altitude Room is amazing".

Incidentally, Sam's mum had made the trip down from Walla Walla to be at the lunch, and Sam mentioned that when he was selected by Carlton, his mum was "very excited that I am closer to home now".

Sam Rowe - staring at his knee

The second of the draftees to speak was Dylan Buckley, who along with Josh Bootsma had come straight from a weights session to join us.

Dylan began by thanking the Carlton football club for showing faith in him early on, and for committing to him before this year. He joked that even though he had an injury plagued season in 2011, Carlton had already signed him, "I'd be here whether they liked it or not!".

Dylan singled out current Blues' stars Kade Simpson and Marc Murphy as players that he wants to model himself on, and admitted that he wanted to learn as much as he can from them.

On his recent injury troubles, Dylan advised that he is now injury free, and is ready to begin full training with the team. He admitted that the training was something that he was still getting used to, and wanted to build up his stamina. He told us that in the previous week's laps of Visy Park, "Jamo (Michael Jamison) was literally pushing me around the track when I was getting tired".

Dylan told us that he was offered his dad's old #16 jumper last year when Shaun Grigg left the club, however he wanted to forge his own identity and didn't want to be known as the 'son of' Jimmy.

Dylan's goals for season 2012 were to have a consistent year working with the Bullants. He understands that he needs to "earn my stripes, cos there will be no special treatment for me".

Dylan Buckley - good even without the ball

The final draftee to get up and speak was Western Australian Josh Bootsma. Josh's father, Brad, had played 23 games for the Fremantle Dockers during 2000/2001, however this was not enough to qualify him for the father-son drafting rule.

Josh, an apprentice electrician, advised that although he had been approached and spoken to by "15 different clubs", it was "unbelievable to come to this club".

Josh said that the support from the players and staff at the club had been amazing, and the other WA boys "have made settling in very easy".

Josh's number one goal is to put on weight, and for the season ahead, he stated that he is "looking forward to playing with the Bullants".

Josh Bootsma - caught by Kade Simpson

We were treated to a highlights reel on the big TV screen of the three new draftees. There was certainly enough on display to see why these three boys were on Carlton's radar during the past year or two. Both on and off the ball play was highlighted, and there is some genuine talent in this group of guys.

This brought the speaking formalities to a close. The club held a raffle (with the winning tickets being drawn by Sam Rowe's mum!), after which it was time to tuck into some lunch and chat with other supporters. There was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the room, and I don't think it was just because of the dessert. It seems that all Blues fans and members are looking forward to an exciting and successful 2012!

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