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Dancing with the Devil: My first AFL Draft

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Sometime late last year I got in touch with a bloke called Ben.

NRLCEO had been floundering for a year or two and hadn’t gained much ground despite the founders paying a group of developers a lot of money to essentially take us backwards. Fantasy Footy sites are a complicated beast.

We got to a position where it was sink or swim for our game. With our passion and product, we felt like we still had something to offer, so we just couldn’t give up. So I got in touch with TheBench website through their standard contact form. I noticed he had an NRL player icon in his website header, but no NRL game. “Could we work together?” I asked.

Ben was interested and after a few long phone calls discussing the intricacies of fantasy sports in each of the codes a partnership was born. AFL and NRL. Side by side.

A couple of precursors need to come into play here. Firstly, I was born to two rugby mad Kiwi parents and grew up in a part of Sydney where Rugby League and Rugby Union dominates the landscape.

I probably couldn’t even tell you my earliest memory of AFL, because it just didn’t feature on my radar. The Sydney Swans just didn’t interest me and even if Tony Lockett signed a Sherrin and plonked it into my hands, I wouldn’t have cracked half a smile. I was much more interested in a slightly bent, torn copy of a Brett Dallas footy card.

Fast forward years of my life where I won’t bore you with the details. I ended up moving to Canberra and marrying a farmer’s daughter. Now the part of the world where she is from is AFL dominated. Quite simply, AFL mad. Sure, the Riverina has brought us some great cricketers and rugby league players, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the AFL Premiership flag was the Holy Grail. Craved almost more than rain by the hard working farmers.

There was one real problem. The blokes down that way only talk about three things; farming, the weather and AFL. I’m a pretty social guy, so I like to bring value to the conversation where possible and buggered if I knew anything about farming or the weather, so I figured I needed to learn a bit more about this AFL side show.

So my knowledge to this day is a few player names, a flimsy grasp of the rules and a couple of live games under my belt. So after many years and the long road around, that brings me to my very first AFL draft.

We opted for the 18 man squad, 9-a-side each week, basic model that offers the best introduction to AFL Fantasy footy on TheBench.

I tried to asked for tips where and when I could. Turns out a few more people than I first thought are AFL Fantasy Fanatics. Names like Abblett and Swan were thrown around as guns. I knew these names.

I spoke to Ben, the founder of TheBench. Surely his tips are as good as anyone’s. He told me look to the Ruckman to begin with, there aren’t many guns that stand out from the pack.

My brother in law, a mad Hawks supporter offered me names like Rioli, Roughead and Mitchell. But come the draft, I was all on my own.

So onto the draft. One of my mates over in the UK, the General Manager of AFL Europe no less, turned up a day early. So while the rest of us were still analysing who to pick, he was suited up and running off the Wifi of a small café in central London.

The next night all eight participants were keen, on time, and raring to go.

Round one came up and quickly Will Minson and Todd Goldstein went. My first two targets based on Ben’s advice and by all accounts the workhorse type players of TheBench. I quickly snapped up Matthew Leunberger. Sounds more like something I would get from Grill’d on a Friday lunch time, but my research tells me he’s a bit of a gun.

Names like Mumford, Roughead, Ablett, Jacobs and Swan disappear quickly in front of my eyes. It’s just like an NRLCEO draft, in Chinese. The old characters I know and trust are quickly taken away from me.

Round two comes along and my dreams of linking up to my rugby league lineage are shattered when the Hawthorn Ravens snaffle Kieran Jack from me as a tackler. I watch the Dane Tilse with talent of the AFL, Aaron Sandilands, get snapped up and quickly decide on Travis Cloke. My father in law is a Pies fan and I’ve heard this name many times before.

Once we get to round three I just can’t restrain myself. If I’m going to enjoy this, then I need to pick the players that I know, I think to myself. So welcome to Ferret FC Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin. We hope you have a long and profitable season with us.

Now we’re into Round four and my fellow competitors are starting to take their time a bit now. Early picks are done within 60 seconds, now we’re up to two or three minutes per pick. The Internet must be slow over in London, or the GM just wants to be thorough because the Vauxhall Deemans are taking their sweet arse time.

As I Google News Search the name Matt De Boer and nothing sinister appears I add him to the Ferrets rosters. He’s a “Freo Star” and has a Twitter account with 6,500 followers. Enough to convince me.

The next time around I wasn’t so sure of myself, so I quickly text a mate. “Tom Hawkins or Lindsay Thomas?” I ask. Turns out Hawkins is a very safe option at Geelong, so I ask for his signature on the cyber dotted line. He obliges. If I had of known that Thomas was the cooler of the two then I probably would have saddled him up, but the draft can’t wait forever.

Kane Cornes, Dean Cox and Matthew Stokes are the next three to join the club at Ferretville. I’ve been told I’ve got an ageing roster and upon checking Wikipedia, I have to agree. But I’m not building for the future, this is my Premiership window and I’ll use experience where I need it.

At this point a fellow coach proposes a mid-season draft. I take this as a point that he’s losing confidence. I’m still feeling ok.

My next pick is Dayne Zorko – mainly because of the name. It’s awesome. Turns out he’s pretty decent too. I manage to get a Tweet out to tell the world I’m doing my first AFL draft while I wait. No one really cares. The picks are coming slower now…

My next plan was to snaffle Cyril Rioli, but as was any draft things never go to plan. He goes the pick before me so I pick Nick Dal Santo. I find out post draft that a mate of mine thinks this was my worst pick.

The next round snuck up on me and for the first time I was unprepared. Most of the names started looking foreign to me. In the end over the next few rounds I pluck for Jonathan Giles, Tom Lynch and David Armitage.

Being a non AFL fan, when a player I recognised popped up on my list I decided to jump at it. Welcome to the Ferrets Jonathan Brown. I’ve been a long time admirer of Brown as a person for a long time and the guy is a beast.

By this stage the crew became restless. The draft was coming close to an hour and a half and everyone just wanted to nail it. I obliged with quick picks; Andrew Walker, Daniel Giansaracusa and Zach Clarke.

So there you have it. My first ever AFL draft done and dusted. I actually enjoyed myself. I wasn’t as stressed as my AFL draft so I could just sit back and enjoy it.

According to the other coaches I have the ugliest team in the comp. My reply was simply that this isn’t a beauty contest and if I come anything other than last I will consuder it a huge success.

The other coaches really enjoyed the draft. For many of them this was their first draft and I think I have seven new converts already.

So now when the AFL is on the box this year I’ll have a vested interest. Come on Ferret FC!

This post first appeared on NRLCEO.

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A Founder of NRLCEO. Jamie spends far more time on running the NRLCEO site than his own team on TheBench and is therefore a perennial struggler, much the the delight of his mates. Like his team, the Raiders, he can pull off a big upset one week and then disappoint for the next three weeks. Once tackled (flopped on) Vic Mauro. Web Geek by day, Web Geek by night, pyromaniac, stats addict and failed cricketer.

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