AFL national draft goes virtual

Australia’s top underage footballers will learn their playing futures via a television broadcast this year, with the AFL national draft to be held in a virtual format because of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

The 18 clubs will submit their selections online as AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan announces them on the broadcast from a central hub at Marvel Stadium.

The national draft will take place on December 9.

Adelaide have the first pick and could bid on highly-rated Oakleigh Chargers product Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, who is tied to the Western Bulldogs through their Next Generation Academy.

The Bulldogs will have the right to match any bid for the future star, who has been likened to Sydney champion Lance Franklin.

The unusual virtual draft scenario comes after 125 top junior players showed their wares in draft combines around the country in recent months.

They were unable to compete in their usual underage competition formats this year, with only limited matches allowed in some states throughout a 2020 season hampered by the global pandemic.

The national under-18s championships, which showcase the best young players from each state, had to be cancelled.

It leaves clubs facing an even more difficult task than usual to find the right players.

“It has been a challenging year for everyone in football,” AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan said.

“Our top underage talent have shown great resilience and perseverance and we admire and appreciate the continued positivity during a difficult year for our community.

“Due to varied restrictions across the country, it was great to see our leading contenders come together in smaller groups with many showing an athletic point of difference which could well help achieve their dream of getting into the AFL.”

Essendon have three top-10 picks (six, seven and eight) and the Crows have two (one and nine) as they look to replenish their lists with young talent.

The pre-season and rookie draft meetings will take place on December 10.

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