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Rookie draft, best stories, Matt Priddis, mature-age recruits, pathways to senior football, players who didn’t get picked

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There were 59 players who realised their AFL dream at the close of this year’s national draft, but more than 800 others who nominated for the draft are now faced with the prospect of another year of toiling in the hopes of landing a chance at the top level.

It can be a daunting prospect after such an intensive build-up to this year’s draft, but Wednesday’s rookie draft is a reminder of how the end is never truly the end when it comes to football.

Perhaps the perfect example came via the West Coast Eagles in 2006.

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That year, with pick No.31 in the rookie draft, the Eagles opted to take a chance on a 20-year-old who had been overlooked in three national drafts.

His name was Matt Priddis.

“I actually never spoke to any AFL club. I had no idea, I’d just nominated just because, just hoping,” Priddis told this month.

“I think it was my fourth year of nominating that I was rookied to West Coast. I’d never spoke with them so it was a really big shock.

“If anything, I would’ve thought that would have been the last club that picked me up because they had such an elite midfield at the time, with (Chris) Judd, (Daniel) Kerr, (Ben) Cousins and (Andrew) Embley.

“I just thought ‘Geez, if I‘m only here for one year, this is gonna be the best apprenticeship I could ever have.’”

Priddis managed just two senior games in 2006, but his work ethic coupled with an in-and-under skillset clearly showed enough promise for the Eagles, who elevated him to the senior list ahead of the 2007 season after a 2006 season in which he starred for Subiaco at WAFL level.

With Cousins and Judd both hampered by injury throughout the season, Priddis stepped into the engine room on a more regular basis and announced himself as a genuine linchpin of the side.

Still, 16 years on, Priddis hasn’t forgotten the pain he experienced after repeatedly being overlooked – a feeling many hopeful draftees are likely now grappling with.

“I think initially it‘s quite difficult. Your dream is to play AFL footy and you realise at that point in time it’s not happening just yet,” he said.

“I think the biggest thing is to just maintain the love for the game and understand the reasons why you play footy. That for me was the biggest thing. I just loved playing footy with my mates, it was a game I enjoyed, a great team game.

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“Just going back to whatever level and standard you were in at that point … I just wanted be the best player I could possibly be at the highest possible level I could play at.”

There’s even more reason for optimism in the time since Priddis was drafted, with the mid-season draft adding yet another pathway through to AFL level.

Rather than let the daunting prospect of another year of training and auditioning overwhelm him, Priddis instead reframed the next 12 months as an opportunity each time he was knocked back.

“I think you can use it as an advantage for sure because you can go away for a year, two years, three years, whatever it takes,” he said.

“You’re now seeing guys in their mid 20s getting opportunity. You get an opportunity to mature personally, but also as a footballer, you‘ve got time to work on the weaknesses that may be in your game, but also still improving your strengths.

“At the end of the day, it‘s your strengths that will get you drafted.”

Priddis’ strengths most certainly came to the fore once he was able to fully blossom at the Eagles.

He finished in the top 10 of club’s best and fairest for 11 consecutive seasons, including when he won the award – the John Worsfold Medal – in 2013.

In perhaps a fitting testament to his career, Priddis shocked the football world in 2014 when he won the Brownlow Medal – arguably football’s highest individual honour – despite being considered a rank outsider heading into the count.

Matt Priddis won the Brownlow Medal in 2014 (Picture: Mark Dadswell)Source: News Corp Australia

It was a testament to how Priddis, while not being the flashiest of footballers, had an impact and an output few others in the competition could match, let alone the Eagles as a whole.

With this year’s national draft coming and going for many without the result they were hoping for, Priddis can sympathise with them while also urging them to tackle what comes next with vigour.

“I think the first 24 or 48 hours it‘s pretty tough. I still remember sitting down with Mum and Dad and just having discussions about just maintaining the love for the game,” he said.

“Get back to just playing with mates and enjoying it. I think that’s how I got through. I was obsessed with training and pushing yourself and trying to get better.

“I just got back to basics and went back down to Subiaco pre-season and just went flat out into training. That’s how I dealt with it. Everyone is different.

“I just think getting around your mates and, and enjoying footy is the best way of dealing with that.”

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