BENDIGO Pioneers' talent manager Steve Sharp has implored his players chasing their AFL dream to not be disheartened by the cancellation of the NAB League season.
The NAB League season for both boys and girls was cancelled on Tuesday following the state government's state of disaster declaration at the weekend and tightening of restrictions that have put an end to community sport and training until at least September 13.
Having been initially delayed in March on the eve of the under-18 boys season starting due to the coronavirus pandemic, the competition was set to return in a shortened format on the weekend of August 22-23.
The Pioneers' under-18 girls got three games in earlier in the year and were to play another three games in September before this week's cancellation.
"It's disappointing the season has been called off, but it's part of the challenge that the community is facing," Sharp said on Wednesday.
"As far as the draft goes, we're looking at it as a bit of a disruption, but it's not disastrous in any means because I would expect we'll have some of our 18-year-olds get a chance as a 19-year-old.
"This year we had seven 19-year-olds on our list, but what it means is next year we may increase that number and, who knows, it may well be an under-19 competition.
"I really feel for the 19-year-olds we had like Aaron Gundry, Lachie Bond, Aiden Robinson and Will Shaw who have missed out on the opportunity this year, but having said that, there's always other pathways... if you're keen enough and want to work at it, who knows what the limit is.
If you're keen enough and want to work at it, who knows what the limit isSteve Sharp
"You've only got to look at Lachie Schultz and Marty Hore back in 2015.
"Neither got drafted, but one went to Williamstown (Schultz) and one went to Collingwood (Hore) and they are both now on AFL lists."
Schultz is now playing with Fremantle and Hore is at Melbourne, while Kieran Strachan last weekend made his AFL debut for the Adelaide Crows having used the Bendigo league with South Bendigo and VFL clubs Essendon and Port Melbourne as his springboard.
"There's still going to be a heap of opportunities for kids to get drafted and into the system, so we don't see the season called off as being a disaster," Sharp said.
The Pioneers had lists of 46 for their under-18 boys and 40 for their under-18 girls teams this year, with Damian Truslove (boys) and Cherie O'Neill (girls) both new coaches.
"We acknowledge this is extremely disappointing news for the players, coaches, officials, volunteers and fans of the NAB League competition and we commend every NAB League region that has worked tirelessly to find a way through," the AFL's head of talent and state league competitions Tristan Salter said in announcing the cancellation.
"Every step of the way our focus has been on the safety of players, coaches, volunteers, officials and our communities. Following the updated restrictions announced by Victorian state government, it provided too great a challenge."
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