The Tasmanian Spectre Hanging Over the 2023 AFL Draft

Tasmania have long been the redheaded stepchild on the AFL side of the Barassi line. The AFL expanded its reach from the old VFL to New South Wales when South Melbourne moved to Sydney in 1982 and then launched the AFL with Brisbane and West Coast in 1987. Adelaide followed in 1991, with each state receiving a second team as well.

While the Northern Territory is the only other footballing hotspot not to be represented, it’s always been a bit of a problem when it came to both size and weather. Tasmania is different as it’s the furthest thing from the NT as a climate, but the AFL never seriously considered adding the Apple Isle to the AFL aside from a futile push to move a team like North Melbourne there.

But to their credit, after relentless campaigning, Tasmania finally has its team. Bids in 1994 and 2008 came and went, but their push has been rewarded at the perfect time given the exciting crop of youngsters primed to enter the league in 2024.

But should your team be wary of this?

It can’t be stressed how incredible this year has been in the U/18 championship. The Allies, an amalgamation of Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, had never won more than a single game in a year. This year has been different, with the Allies running the gauntlet and beating everybody en route to their first-ever title.

Tasmania has been well represented in this team. The state will definitely boast two top-10 selections in midfielders Colby McKercher and Ryley Sanders and a potential third in defender/forward James Leake. In addition, utility Arie Schoenmaker is a shot to be a top-20 selection and small forward Ian Callinan should be picked up later on in the draft.

In short, this is the finest crop of Tasmanians ever to come through the draft system. Combined with the quartet of Suns that will be bid on in the draft, you could go as far as to say this is the best crop of Allies talent than every other season combined.

And depending on your point of view, this is the best or the worst thing possible. That sound you currently hear is the sound of the football administrators in Tassie salivating with enough intensity to increase the depth of the Tasman Sea considerably.

Tasmania will join the league in 2028, and begin to participate in the 2027 offseason. The team will come armed with priority draft picks (not as many as Gold Coast and GWS received, but a decent amount), with an interesting catch.

According to the AFL guide for Tasmania entering the AFL: Four to five first-round picks will be given to the team in the 2027, 2028 and 2029 national drafts. Of those picks, the club must trade two picks each draft to bring in experienced players. Should one or both of those picks not be traded, it would roll into the following season as an additional selection.

In addition, according to the Herald Sun, the AFL will likely provide them with a war chest of $1 million outside the salary cap to sign these players.

The timing of this can’t be more perfect for the people responsible for the team. The bumper crop of talent will be decently experienced, and you can bet every dollar of the Tasmanian war chest that the five names of the 2023 Tasmanian draft crop are circled in red ink. The chance to get their hands on talent that’s been AFL-developed for them is going to be tempting to say the least.

It should be noted that this isn’t going to scare off too many teams. Colby McKercher is almost destined to go to North Melbourne while Ryley Sanders should find himself a Hawk or a Bulldog in 2024. Leake, Schoenmaker and Callinan aren’t as easy to predict (there is supposed strong Demons interest in Leake, however), but they should all be on AFL lists in 2024.

But should the teams be concerned? In the view of this writer, it comes down to culture. It’s always been my logic that if you’re afraid to look for interstate talents because you think they will leave, then it’s a problem with the club and not the system. The AFL adding a third year to draftee contracts does help the clubs, but it still doesn’t change that the onus is on the club to create a strong culture.

That won’t keep 100% of players, of course. However, there’s no doubt that some clubs currently struggle immensely to keep or lure players, while there are others that do so quite well.

There are other Apple Isle talents in the AFL, of course. Guys like Lachie Cowan and Tarryn Thomas will also appeal to Tasmania, but it’s the 2023 crop that could be extra special. Teams will be aware of that and would at least be well compensated, but it’s the looming spectre of the 2023 draft that might have some fans worried about who exactly comes to the team.

Do you risk eating the poisoned apple of the 2023 draft? McKercher, Sanders, Leake, Schoenmaker and Callinan are excellent prizes, should you survive.