At least two Bendigo Pioneers graduates are expected to be selected in Friday night’s AFL National Draft in Sydney.
Ball magnet Kobe Mutch could be a top 20 selection, while Pioneers’ 2016 skipper Joe Atley has also been widely tipped to find an AFL home inside the top 40 selections.
Livewire Pioneers forward Kayle Kirby has attracted plenty of interest after kicking nine goals in two games for Richmond’s VFL side late in the year, while the draft bolter for the Pioneers could be athletic forward Fergus Greene.
Six months ago, Mutch looked set to be the Pioneers first top 10 selection in the AFL draft since Jake Stringer and Ollie Wines in 2012.
However, the midfielder from Gol Gol has slipped down draft boards in the past few months.
Mutch is zoned to the GWS Giants Academy and was expected to go to the Giants inside the top 10, but that now appears unlikely.
“I don’t know why Kobe’s name dropped off a bit,’’ Bendigo Pioneers talent manager Steve Sharp said.
“He only played four games with the Pioneers because he had commitments with the AFL Academy program, the New South Wales team and then the Allies team.
“He was rewarded with All-Australian selection at the national carnival.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong and you won’t find a better prepared player. He’s ultra professional in everything he does and he goes the extra lengths he needs to.
“He’s a great ball winner, reads the play well and has a terrific work rate. He’s a great team player. He’d be a great pick-up for any AFL club.
“I don’t think he’s over the line to go to the GWS Giants as an academy player. He could end up at a number of different clubs.”
Atley, from Rochester, hasn’t had the same hype as Mutch, but was ranked as one of the better inside midfielders in the TAC Cup.
“He’s a true leader,’’ Sharp said of Atley.
“He was a role model in the way he prepared and in the example he set around the place.
“He played Vic Country (at the national titles) and his strength is contested footy. He’s a contested ball freak.
“We tried him off half-back a little bit just to add something extra to his game and he played as a high half-forward for Geelong at VFL level.
“He unfairly gets compared to his older brother Shaun (North Melbourne running defender) because Shaun has high speed. Joe’s pretty quick himself and he’s worked really hard on his run and carry and explosiveness out of stoppages.”
“He deserves a spot on an AFL list.”
Kirby’s consistency at TAC Cup level has been questioned, but he showed in two VFL games with Richmond that he has the class to play at the next level.
The forward from Swan Hill kicked five goals on debut and four goals in his second game to spark the interest of recruiters, in particular the Tigers.
“Kirby is a real success story because he’s probably travelled 25,000km this year to play his footy,’’ Sharp said.
“With great support from his boss and his parents up there, he has come a long way in his footy.
“It’s been a challenge for him, so for him to get this far is a great achievement.
“He has worked tirelessly in the past six weeks. He has trained twice a day everyday and he’s dropped eight kilograms in weight. He’s in super condition.
“He deserves an opportunity at an AFL club. I don’t think there was a more exciting player in the TAC Cup this year.
“He worked really hard on his defensive game this year and it’s paid off. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t get drafted.”
Greene is the smoky for the Pioneers. Sharp admitted he had contact from a number of AFL clubs about the Pioneers and Sandhurst forward.
“Will Ferg get drafted? I really don’t know, but he has the X factor that a lot of clubs are looking for,’’ Sharp said.
“He’s super clean with his hands below his knees, he has a great vertical leap, can play as a lead-up forward or off half-back and he’s a good mark.
“He ran a 15.6 beep test at the rookie meet testing, which was after the state combine. I think that was the highest beep test out of any of the draft testing.
“That raised a lot of interest in him because a 15.6 beep test is elite midfield level.
“He ticks a lot of boxes and he might be one that gets picked up late in the draft or in the rookie draft.”
Greene wasn’t on the Pioneers list at the start of 2016, but forced his way onto the list thanks to strong performances in school football and with Sandhurst.
“Ferg had a navicular bone injury in 2015 and hardly played any footy,’’ Sharp said.
“He only played his first game with the Pioneers on June 25. He played five games with us… and he showed some great attributes. He has some real upside to his footy.”
After a tumultuous end to the season with coach Brett Henderson being sacked, the national draft has the potential to give the Pioneers plenty to smile about.
“Last year we had two players drafted, while Sandringham, Calder, Western Jets had one player drafted between them,’’ Sharp said.
“It’s not all about drafting, but for us to be talking about having three or four drafted this year is fantastic.
“I certainly think we’ll have two players drafted and if we could make it three or four that would be a great result.”
Club selections for the national draft: Adelaide: 13, 43, 53, 67, 89. Brisbane Lions: 3, 16, 21, 22, 76, 78. Carlton: 5, 25, 48, 63, 66, 70, 81. Collingwood: 28, 44, 51, 62, 65, 83. Essendon: 1, 20, 29, 41, 68. Fremantle: 7, 35, 40, 71, 79. Geelong: 24, 38, 42, 64, 72, 74, 91. Gold Coast Suns: 4, 6, 8, 10, 73, 77. GWS Giants: 2, 15, 37, 39, 45, 52, 55, 57, 58, 59, 60. Hawthorn: 88, 90. Melbourne: 47, 69, 84. North Melbourne: 11, 32, 33, 87, 92. Port Adelaide: 14, 17, 30, 31, 85. Richmond: 27, 56, 82. St Kilda: 23, 36, 61, 86. Sydney Swans: 9, 19, 46, 49, 93. West Coast Eagles: 12, 34, 54. Western Bulldogs: 18, 26, 50, 75, 80, 94.