However those at the coalface in NSW are confident that the Giants and Swans academies will continue to produce players and that the game was tracking well.
Graham said the talent pool remained strong and they took heart from recent seasons and the players shaping up as likely prospects at next year’s draft.
Tom Green’s brother Joshua is a chance to be selected in next year’s national draft by the Giants and Jack Driscoll is also tracking well, while many recruiters believe Sydney Swans Academy prospects Braeden Campbell and Errol Gulden will be in contention to be drafted next year.
Graham said there was no need for concern as “the overall trend was positive”, with several players such as Liam Delahunty and Cooper Sharman considered close to being drafted this year.
Jason McCartney, who was recently appointed Giants football manager and who was their list manager during last week’s draft, agreed.
“It’s like anything. It works in cycles,” McCartney said.
The addition of Green means the Giants have 14 players from NSW on their list, while Sydney have seven. However the Swans have added players considered among the cream of the crop – Mills, Heeney and Blakey – on to their list in recent seasons with Mills winning the AFL’s Rising Star award.
The Giants added young ruckman Kieren Briggs to their list last year and were buoyed by Nick Shipley being rookie listed in 2018 as he was their first Academy graduate from Western Sydney to be drafted. Shipley played two AFL games in 2018.
While the return on investment was low in relation to players being drafted (Sydney and the Giants invest more than $1 million apiece into their academies) there is a view among recruiters that the northern academy systems are getting stronger, with Richmond drafting two players from the Brisbane Lions’ academy on Thursday night after the Lions did not match their bids.
The northern academies have been a significant source of debate in recent seasons with the AFL removing the Murray region from the Giants in 2017 after Victorian clubs kicked up a fuss with West Coast grabbing Jarrod Brander and Melbourne recruiting Charlie Spargo from that region in 2017.
The Giants were disappointed with that decision at the time, arguing that their work in those regions would build the talent pool and all clubs would benefit. However the AFL bowed to pressure and placed restrictions on players from the zone with the Giants now having just a Next Generation Academy (NGA) in that region.
There was a debate at the CEOs’ meeting last week about whether Next Generation Academies were actually fulfilling their objectives – to introduce new talent to the AFL pool – with representatives from the northern clubs suggesting the program wasn’t having the desired effect.
The AFL is also working to strengthen the NEAFL competition and create greater consistency around their list rules and other state league competitions.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.