WERRIBEE star Shaun Mannagh has finally earned a chance at AFL level after Geelong swooped early on night two of the 2023 AFL Draft, before the Cats added a local football star late in a signature Stephen Wells manoeuvre.
Geelong used pick No.36 to select Mannagh after grabbing 206cm ruckman Mitch Edwards four picks earlier, before producing the most left-field call of the night when it selected a 21-year-old from Barwon Heads – Oli Wiltshire – with the fourth-last pick on the night.
Mannagh established himself as one of the premier players in the VFL this year, producing a standout performance in the Grand Final loss to Gold Coast, winning the Norm Goss Medal after kicking six goals from 28 disposals in a best-on-ground performance at Ikon Park.
Multiple clubs considered Mannagh ahead of the Mid-Season Rookie Draft but opted against selecting him at the start of June, before he finished with 40.32 across 21 appearances this winter to undergo more than a handful of medicals with clubs across the AFL.
The 26-year-old spent three years with Richmond's VFL program before moving to Chirnside Park ahead of the cancelled 2020 season, after a decorated stint in the Ovens and Murray League for Lavington and North Albury.
"I'm sure everybody – even those that had decided not to pick him – would have noticed his performance in the Grand Final. We had actually made up our mind before the Grand Final that we were very keen on Shaun. In some ways, we were a bit disappointed he played so well," Wells quipped on Tuesday night.
"Shaun is a player that we think deserves an opportunity on an AFL list, obviously. His performances over the last couple of years have been terrific. This year he went to another level again. We are very, very happy to give Shaun an opportunity. We know he is going to really appreciate it."
Geelong has struck gold with mature-age recruits under Wells' watch, most notably with vice-captain Tom Stewart, who has amassed five All-Australian blazers in the seven seasons since he was drafted as a 23-year-old in 2016.
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Tom Atkins (23 when drafted) and Brad Close (21) both became premiership players in 2022 after being overlooked early, while the Cats turned the recruitment of Tim Kelly (23) into a bounty of draft picks within a couple of years after plucking him out of the WAFL in 2017. Shane Mumford, Mark Blicavs and James Podsiadly are other examples.
Wiltshire kicked 51 goals from 18 games in the Bellarine Football Netball League in 2023, producing enough ‘wow' moments that convinced Geelong to pick him in the AFL Draft, rather than adding him to the VFL list and waiting until next year to recruit him like they have done in the past with Stewart and Atkins.
"Ollie's performances this year were so outstanding. We felt if we just took him through to the VFL program he might be going so well that we might miss him," Wells said.
"Ollie had a couple of games for Geelong Falcons a couple of years ago and didn't go quite so well, but his performances over the last couple of years have been outstanding.
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"Ollie has never done anything like an AFL pre-season, so it is going to be really interesting to see how he develops, but we think he has some real upside."
Geelong also selected AFL Academy captain George Stevens at pick No.58, rewarding the big-bodied midfielder after the South Warrnambool product recovered from a torn ACL last year to earn selection in the Coates Talent League Team of the Year.