Pioneers eagerly await today's AFL rookie draft 

Bendigo Pioneers Liam Byrne and Sam Heavyside are still in the mix to make it onto an AFL list via today’s rookie draft.

The 18-year-old midfielders missed out in last month’s national draft, but have been on AFL clubs’ radars.

South Bendigo’s Byrne had season-ending wrist surgery after round seven of the TAC Cup season, but has attracted interest from several AFL clubs.

“Liam’s been told that he’s a chance, but until it actually gets signed off we’re not going to pump it up too much,” Pioneers coach David Newett said.

“One particular club has told him he’s still a chance; we’re hoping, we’ve got our fingers crossed for him.”

Strathfieldsaye’s Sam Heavyside performed well at post-season testing with Essendon after recovering from a broken foot suffered during the national under-18s championships.

Newett said the 2011 Pioneers club champion was an outsider to be drafted.

“He went down and did some testing with Essendon, but he hasn’t been down there training with them so the likelihood of him going is probably remote, but not totally out of the question,” Newett said.

If selected, Byrne and Heavyside would join their Pioneers team-mates Oliver Wines and Jake Stringer at AFL clubs.

If not, the duo will have another crack at the TAC Cup with the Pioneers next season as 19-year-old players.

Each club can have five 19-year-olds on its list, with a maximum of three allowed to play per game.

Also vying to return to the Pioneers as over-age players are Sandhurst’s Harry O’Meara, Strathfieldsaye’s Ben Lester and Cohuna’s Ben Archard.

Golden Square forward Braydan Knox, Mildura’s Daniel Ludica and Swan Hill’s Dan McEwan are also in contention.

Ludica was previously listed by the Pioneers before needing a knee reconstruction, and McEwan is a late-developing tall.

The Pioneers will embark on two-days of trial matches at Robinvale this weekend to help trim its squad of 100 players to about 60 by January.

Meanwhile, Newett said he’s “very confident” Pioneers players have no “issues” with illicit drugs.

It was reported last week that an AFL club official raised the TAC Cup’s “drug problem” with Victorian Sports Minister Hugh Delahunty, saying some draftees knew of ways to avoid detection in drug tests and were using drugs in their first AFL seasons.

Gippsland Power coach Nick Stevens said “it’s a huge slap in the face for AFL Victoria and the TAC Cup competition” which had the same education for its players as the AFL.

Newett said the Pioneers players recognised they had too much to lose by taking drugs and were educated on the issue.

“From our point-of-view we’re very confident in our list that there’s not any issues there because basically Bendigo’s too small a place, we’d definitely hear of it and know of it,” Newett said.

“Our guys are really, really good, they’ve got too much to lose to go and do that sort of thing, they get educated about it as well.”

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