Collingwood recruit Lachie Sullivan and Hawthorn signing Ethan Phillips. Pictures: AFL Photos and Hawthorn FC

TWO IN two days. Four in total.

Ammos footy is usually a landing spot after a premature exit from the AFL, not the pathway to the highest level. Yet the 2018 St Kevin's Old Boys premiership team has now delivered four players to the top. 

Before Lachie Sullivan was informed by Collingwood last Thursday morning that he had a contract with the reigning premier for 2024, and before Ethan Phillips had been told by Hawthorn on Saturday that he had a spot on the rookie list, the pair won the VAFA premier division flag together just over five years ago. 

Ned Reeves was one of the ruckmen that helped beat Collegians at Elsternwick Park in the Grand Final, months before being signed by Hawthorn at the age of 21 during the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP) deadline. 

Tom Jok also played in that game before being selected by Essendon in the 2018 AFL Rookie Draft as a 21-year-old, following a standout season in the VAFA and for Collingwood's VFL side. 

Recruiters scour the land, searching far and wide, perhaps even more than ever since the introduction of low-risk avenues in the form of the AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft and SSP. But local and country football clubs seldom produce mature-age prospects, let alone four who played together.


Of the 10 players who secured AFL contracts via the most recent SSP, Sullivan was the greatest illustration of perseverance. The 26-year-old was overlooked in eight national drafts including last November when the Western Bulldogs considered the Footscray captain, but ultimately passed. Five times he thought he was a chance of being selected, but wasn't. 

Essendon considered him ahead of the 2022 mid-season draft but Sullivan wasn't eligible after not submitting his nomination in time. Since then, the inside midfielder has won back-to-back best and fairests at Footscray, as well as claiming last year's Coaches MVP Award and finishing third in the J.J. Liston Trophy. 

Sullivan was considering a return to SKOB after last year's disappointment, before a last-minute offer from veteran Magpies recruiter Derek Hine to audition in December. If his January block didn't already convince the Magpies, his intraclub performance did last week. Finally, he has a chance. 

Phillips officially joined Hawthorn on Monday following James Blanck's season-ending knee injury in last Thursday's intraclub at Waverley Park, after the key defender moved from Port Melbourne to Box Hill during the pre-season in a bid to impress the Hawks.  

The 24-year-old won the prestigious Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal at the end of 2022, but had to wait 18 months to re-establish the long-standing streak of VFL young gun winner progressing to the AFL. That sequence now stands at 17, dating back to Jason Davenport in 2006 and including Sam Clohesy last year. 

With Denver Grainger-Barras now sidelined for at least three months and Blanck ruled out for 2024, the 196cm intercept backman is almost the next cab off the rank at the Hawks. 

Like lots of ruckmen, Reeves developed late. He even played a couple of VAFA reserves games in 2018 around 11 senior games, while also on Box Hill's list. Hawthorn kept tabs on the 210cm project ruckman that year and pulled the trigger on the eve of the following season. 

That move has proven shrewd. The 25-year-old is now the No.1 ruckman at Waverley Park with 38 games next to his name and many more to come. Now Phillips is a teammate once again.

Ned Reeves and Tim English compete in the ruck during Hawthorn's clash against the Western Bulldogs in round 22, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Jok played one game for Essendon and spent one season at The Hangar but the South Sudanese-born wingman has since returned to the VAFA, where SKOB has won three of the past five premier grade premierships but lost last year's decider to Collegians. 

All four attended St Kevin's College. Sullivan played alongside Collingwood midfielder Jordan De Goey at school. Reeves played in the same team as Richmond star Tim Taranto and former AFL players Pat Kerr and Ollie Hanrahan. Phillips featured alongside Sydney midfielder James Rowbottom and Western Bulldogs forward Rhylee West.

Ex-West Coast key defender Mitch Brown and former Melbourne half-back James Strauss also featured in that 2018 premiership after departing the AFL. But the reason that side is now of wider interest is due to who progressed from the VAFA to the highest level.