Welcome to the teenage revolution

West Coast's Chris Judd  
Wednesday, June 19

HATS off to the TAC Cup under 18 competition.

What an absolute winner it has been for the AFL.

You only have to look at the number of players drafted last year who have already played senior footy this year. They number 26 at the half-way mark of the season.

Twenty years ago you could count the number of 17 and 18-year-olds playing senior footy on one hand. How things have changed.

This could be the result of two things: either the competition is not as strong as it once was, or these kids are better prepared than ever before to walk into the big league.

It is more the latter reason for mine.

The kids of today have been groomed for the AFL for several years before they set foot inside the door.

Things such as training, diet, match preparation, discipline, travel and media training are all elements that are being addressed in the under 18 competition.

There was none of this 20 years ago when I was a kid running around with Nirranda, trying to avoid being king hit.

As a kid with a little bit of talent, I thought it was all-too easy against the older blokes.

After the game you'd have a few drinks, go out that night and rock up to training Tuesday night and run a few laps and not get serious until the Thursday night.

It was a big shock to the system when I got invited down to train at Geelong.

Give me bush footy anytime, I soon thought.

I couldn't move the morning after my first training session with the Cats. We ran 20 laps of fartlek training and my body was screaming.

It was almost unheard of in my day, to have a kid straight out of school playing senior footy straight away.

Tim Watson was probably the greatest exception to the rule. Generally, they simply weren't ready.

I was 19 and got a game in my first year but I broke down with calf injuries because my body was not prepared for the rigours of league footy.

Now that the pathway to the top is more defined, the kids that are serious about playing league footy have been trained up in mind and body.

The people behind the under 18 competition should be congratulated on their ability to get all these kids from the eastern states into the one competition and give them the grounding they need to make it.

Last year's draft is being dubbed the superdraft given the number of first year players who are holding down a senior game this season.

Mark McGough at Collingwood has the body of a seasoned campaigner, Chris Judd at West Coast has all the attributes, and Paul Medhurst is a dynamic forward who looks every bit a 200-game player.

Geelong invested heavily in the last draft and look to have unearthed some great players for the future.

James Bartel has great hands and would be one of the most fearless kids going around, Gary Ablett junior has silky skills and will only improve with maturity, while James Kelly at the weekend showed he knows how to find the footy.

The Cats have led the way by blooding five first-year players this season, followed by St Kilda with four and Essendon and Fremantle with three apiece.

The kids appear to have made the transition quite easily, yet truth be known, many years of ground work has gone into it.

For all their achievements this year, they will all have been counting down to the mid-season break.

Your first year seems like an eternity and when you get to those last six or seven games, you are one spent unit.

Don't be disappointed if these kids drop away completely in the coming weeks. They'll be back, bigger and better next year.