In several countries Australian Football has moved beyond what could be considered the first and second phases of game development - expatriate Australians playing the sport and local adults then learning the game. With junior development beyond small groups now taking place in countries such as PNG, New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa, Tonga, China, the UK and Canada, budding young talent needs to be exposed to the highest levels of competition and training if they are to reach their full potential and attract the eye of AFL scouts. For the past couple of years there have been signs of some positive moves in this area but there hasn't been a breakthrough yet. We look at what's on the cards but by no means confirmed.
The Barassi Youth Tournament is one stage on which juniors can display their star qualities, and organisers plan to host it again soon after the 2008 International Cup. The drawback for that tournament is the cost of getting whole teams down to Australia, but it still provides an excellent chance of juniors to shine. Then there is the framework established by AFL Papua New Guinea, which has the best junior pathway, with AFL Queensland providing a superb pathway through participation of PNG under-age representative players and teams competing in Queensland state championships.
The other major avenues of potential are the Australian Institute of Sport camps, in which young Aussie talent goes through a system of training and trials. There are draft camps for prospective AFL draftees and a scheme for younger players. In a promising sign, seven international hopefuls also attended part of a 2005 camp, but in 2006 the only overseas attendees were the South Africans and New Zealanders as interested onlookers. While that was disappointing, the AFL had only just introduced some exciting new measures to allow AFL clubs to give scholarships to young international hopefuls. This gives clubs a chance to take a punt (that's Aussie for take a risk, not the American derogatory usage in NFL) on international prospects, and makes invitation to the AIS camp all the more important to give players exposure to AFL talent scouts.
The AFL's Talent Manager and well known supporter of international footy, Kevin Sheehan, explained that "The AFL will invite, through a rigorous application and screening process, up to 10 international scholarship prospects into a development camp with our best Australian under 17 players. Given the approval of the International Scholarship list was only ratified in August it hasn't allowed sufficient time this year to set up a comprehensive screening and application process - so this will start in 2007". That was said towards the end of 2006, and appeared in our article AFL encourages international apprentices.
At time of writing the AFL have yet to announce if any international players will attend a camp this year. There may be logistical reasons for it to not happen, and we haven't been able to confirm the plans one way or another. Our last information suggested that an invitation was still possible, so let's hope a handful of international footy's brightest young athletes get an opportunity to shine. But increasingly it seems they may have to wait until 2008.