Grassroots growth to produce more NSW Draftees

Originally published by the Daily Telegraph.

GIANTS coach Leon Cameron believes the enormous grassroots growth of Aussie rules in Sydney and NSW will turn into a production line for first-round AFL draft picks on a consistent basis.

The long-term success of the Swans and the rise of the Giants and their AFLW team have driven enormous increases in participation numbers and Cameron believes these new players will provide the top-end talent.

Since the Giants’ coach arrived in the harbour city at the end of 2012, the number of junior AFL teams playing in Sydney has increased by a massive 71 per cent.

Over the same period the AFL’s Auskick program has experienced a participation increase of 60 per cent. The big spurt in junior participation numbers has been the driving force behind approximately 150 sets of new goalposts sprouting up across Sydney since 2010.

“The bigger numbers of kids playing will see more of them progress through the academies and make it to under-18 level where they will get drafted,’’ Cameron said. “Maybe it will happen in 2020 or 2021 or later but it is clearly going to happen.”

Swans young gun Isaac Heeney said AFL was changing the shape of sport in NSW for the better.

“Sydney and NSW is rugby league heartland, but it’s changing,” Heeney told The Saturday Telegraph. “I feel very proud to be a part of that. AFL is such a family sport which definitely helps to spread it.

“Growing up, the Cardiff Hawks were like a second family for me, they were an amazing support in every way.”

When Heeney was a young lad in Newcastle nobody played AFL at his primary school and there was only one other boy at high school playing the indigenous code.

“No one knew AFL at virtually every school I went to from primary school up,” Heeney said.

“There was maybe one or two who knew anything about footy. It was rugby league, soccer and cricket at Black Hill Primary and then St Peter’s in Maitland where there was one other AFL player.”

Heeney has also watched the changes within his own extended family who virtually knew nothing about the game until he started wearing the red and white.

“They didn’t know what the sport was until I started playing at the Sydney Swans,” Heeney said.

“My mum’s family and my dad’s family barely watch any other sport other than AFL. Now my cousins are playing Auskick — it’s crazy. Even when I was at the academy they thought AFL was a silly sport and couldn’t work out what was going on.

“Now they keep up with the news better than I do.”

The Giants’ star forward Jeremy Cameron has witnessed an even more dramatic change out west.

When he arrived in Sydney seven years ago there were times when nobody would turn up to clinics.

“There have been times we’ve turned up and there hasn’t been anyone there,” Cameron said.

“It was very tough going out into the community, especially with a team which hadn’t started in the AFL. Even when we started playing it was difficult because we weren’t getting results on game day. There were some times when nobody showed up to clinics but that has changed. We’re getting really good numbers and lots of girls are turning up now.”

The GWS coach’s view of the changing face of the game in Sydney comes from every level. His two sons, Harry and Jack, are both involved playing for clubs in the inner west.

“I was shocked by the number of kids who turned up at Auskick at Birchgrove Oval,” Cameron said. “There were more than 500 and it was really well run.”

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