Phoenix Gothard, Jordan and Matthew Croft, Daniel Curtin. Pictures: AFL Photos

IT WAS a big two nights of Draft action, with 64 players finding a home. 

Crows, Dons make BIG night-one trade calls

Live trading was introduced ahead of the 2018 draft, but it came alive like never before on night one of the 2023 AFL Draft. Not one, but two blockbuster deals shaped the early stages of this year's draft. First it was Adelaide, trading picks No.11, No.15 and a future second-rounder to Greater Western Sydney for picks No.8 and No.17. That move up the order allowed them to snare gun WA prospect Daniel Curtin, who has rare attributes as a 197cm utility. The Crows will, however, hope to continue their climb up the ladder in 2024 so that the sweetener in that deal – the future second-rounder – doesn't become too valuable. The Bombers followed suit moments later, trading picks No.11 and No.31 to Geelong for pick No.10, allowing them to select high-impact forward Nate Caddy. It showed Essendon's faith in Caddy, with the club foregoing a reasonably valuable pick (No.31) to move up just one spot. 

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'Bidney' returns to force rivals to pay up

Last year, Sydney threw a cat among the pigeons by placing a shock early bid on Giants Academy prospect Harry Rowston, forcing their cross-town rival to pay more draft points than they would have anticipated to match it. In Monday night's first round, the Swans were at it again. At pick No.14, they placed a bid on Suns Academy graduate Jake Rogers, forcing Gold Coast to use picks 42, 47 and 49 to match. Not yet satisfied, the Swans then immediately turned their attention to making the Bulldogs pay up, placing a bid on their father-son prospect Jordan Croft at pick No.15. Eventually, Sydney used pick No.16 to bring in ruckman Will Green. Clubs often don't bother to make their rivals pay maximum points for Academy or father-son players – after all, it took until pick No.4 for a bid to come for Collingwood father-son superstar Nick Daicos in 2021. But it seems Sydney's recruiting unit has cheekily appointed itself as the League's Academy and father-son taxman.

Will Green poses after being taken by Sydney in the 2023 AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

All hail The Allies

Eight representatives from The Allies were snared in the first round in a sign of the game's growth outside traditional football heartland. While Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia invariably produce the bulk of draftees, the AFL would certaibly be happy with four Queenslanders, a New South Welshman and three Tasmanians being snapped up early, particularly with the Apple Isle only a few years away from fielding its own AFL team. 

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Father-son fever hits Marvel

One of football's most romantic traditions added another chapter with four father-sons picked up in 2023. First it was Jordan Croft (son of Matthew) to the Bulldogs with pick No.15. Croft's arrival continues the strong father-son connections at the kennel that has included names like Liberatore, Darcy, West, Wallis and Dunkley in recent years. Hawthorn was next when it matched a bid for versatile tall Will McCabe (son of Luke, who happens to be the club's current football director) at pick No.19. The Hawks doubled up, drafting Calsher Dear at pick No.56 on night two. Dear is an exciting forward who booted 41 goals from just five matches for local club Beaumaris, including one haul of 14, in the under-19 competition. He is the son of the late 1991 Norm Smith medallist, Paul. Melbourne is expected to add Kynan Brown (son of 146-gamer Nathan) in Wednesday's Rookie Draft. Brown is a dual-threat inside-outside midfielder who claimed Vic Metro's best and fairest.

Rise of the Phoenix 

Pure elation filled the room at Marvel Stadium on night one when Greater Western Sydney swung a huge surprise by picking Phoenix Gothard with pick No.12, leading to memorable scenes with exhilarated mates huddling around him like he'd booted his first goal. Top prospects were encouraged to bring up to 20 family and friends this year, with Gothard there as a guest of Murray Bushrangers teammate Connor O'Sullivan (drafted to Geelong with pick No.11). O'Sullivan quickly whipped off his polo so Gothard looked the part as he made his way up on stage to receive his new jumper from Giants champion Phil Davis. In fact, O'Sullivan was so thrilled for his mate that he had to quickly ditch a chat with Cats legend Joel Selwood to run off and celebrate. 


Cats claim mature-ager, Barwon Heads bolter 

Any fan watching this year's VFL Grand Final would've wondered how Shaun Mannagh wasn't on an AFL list. In a losing side, he kicked six goals from 28 disposals in Werribee's decider against Gold Coast. It wasn’t the first time Mannagh produced a Leigh Matthews-style stats sheet – he booted four goals from 40 touches in round three, three from 28 in round 13, and seven from 25 in round 15. On Tuesday night, Geelong pounced on the talented 26-year-old with pick No.36. Later, the Cats drafted local talent Oliver Wiltshire out of Barwon Heads, a 21-year-old midfielder who managed 51 goals in 18 games in the Barwon Football Netball League. He wouldn't be Geelong's first local footy success story from the region – five-time All-Australian Tom Stewart played multiple seasons for South Barwon after missing out in his initial draft year. Geelong made it a mature-age trio at the death, also picking 20-year-old Lawson Humphries from WAFL club Swan Districts. The Cats were the only club to opt for mature agers. 


Power switched on by Roos' fire sale

Port Adelaide was nowhere to be seen on night one of the draft, with their first pick locked in at No.69. Well, that was until the Power's bargain trade with North Melbourne, in which the Power traded a future fourth-rounder for the Roos' pick 48, using it to draft Thomas Anastasopoulos. North had already drafted five quality players on Monday so opted out of Tuesday night's proceedings, but staged something of a Black Friday sale by trading No.48 for a pick that is unlikely to serve much purpose for the club in 2024. 

Tall timber aplenty 

As many as nine players listed at 200cm-plus were picked up in a notably tall draft. That's almost double as many big men as last year, when there were five draftees towering at the 2m mark. Roos recruit Taylor Goad (207cm) and Geelong pick Mitchell Edwards (206cm) were the tallest of the bunch, although both will be hoping for some further growth if they are to catch the AFL's giants, with Richmond man mountain Mate Colina and premiership Magpie Mason Cox both standing at 211cm. 

Mitchell Edwards in action at the AFL Draft Combine on October 8, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Oh, brother

While footy genetics are always celebrated in father-sons, the 2023 AFL Draft also proved a success for younger brothers. Archer Reid (brother of Bomber Zach) was called at pick No.30 to head west to the Eagles. Rebounding defender Tew Jiath (brother of Hawthorn’s Changkuoth) joined premier Collingwood at pick No.37. Zane Duursma (pick No.4 to North Melbourne) and Aiden O'Driscoll (pick No.55 to the Bulldogs) not only have older brothers at the top level, but also sisters. Duursma's brother Xavier will suit up for Essendon next year, while sister Yasmin is on Port's AFLW list. The O'Driscoll family is already represented at Fremantle by Aiden's elder siblings, Nathan and Emma. 

Zane Duursma with Michael Firrito after being selected by North Melbourne at No.4 in the 2023 AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

Last, but not least…

Crickets started sounding as the picks drifted into the 60s on Tuesday evening, with most club recruiters having called it a night. But the Lions weren't done scouring the pool of leftover prospects, snapping up West Australian Reece Torrent with pick No.64. A winger out of Peel Thunder, Torrent proved the final pick of the night. He played all four matches for WA in the national championships, averaging 17 disposals and three tackles. He also impressed with his agility test and 2km time trial (6:24) at the draft combine.

Reece Torrent takes a mark during the 2023 AFL National Championships match between Vic Metro and Western Australia at RSEA Park. Picture: AFL Photos