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FOR THE first time since 2005 there is set to be four indigenous players picked in the top 20 selections at this year's NAB AFL Draft, in what the League says vindicates its talent programs.
West Australian pair Jarrod Pickett and Jarrod Garlett, Victorian Paul Ahern and Darwin's Nakia Cockatoo are viewed as likely first-round picks by clubs who will call names at the Gold Coast convention centre on Thursday night.
The last time four indigenous players were drafted inside the opening 20 picks came nine years ago, when Patrick Ryder (pick seven), Jarrad Oakley-Nicholls (eight), Travis Varcoe (15) and Courtenay Dempsey (19) found AFL homes.
Click here for Ahern's draft profile and watch his 2014 highlights
"It's significant on a couple of fronts. It's giving some credence to the amount of work the industry's done in recent times in identifying and preparing young Indigenous talent," said Jason Mifsud, the AFL's head of diversity.
"The cyclical nature of talent in this industry can shift at different times and we know that a couple of years ago there was some concerns around the views of clubs in drafting Aboriginal players. We never held that view and we knew we were coming into a really healthy wave of Aboriginal talent.
Click here for Cockatoo's draft profile and watch his 2014 highlights
"Having potentially four in the top 20 verifies the suite of programs we've been developing, the work we've done with our states and the interest of AFL clubs."
Pickett looks set to be the first of the quartet taken, with the speedy half-forward strongly linked to Greater Western Sydney's pick four.
Ahern is also in the mix for the Giants' three top-10 selections, while Cockatoo and Garlett are likely to fit into the second half of the first round.
Click here for Garlett's draft profile and watch his 2014 highlights
Last week Pickett spent two days with the Flying Boomerangs in Melbourne, a personal development program run by the League for indigenous youths, and having been through the Boomerangs himself, passed on some knowledge to its current members.
"By and large, Jarrod's been a part of our programs for three years now and to see him last week spend time with our current suite of Boomerangs and talk about all of his learnings and lessons gives you a great sense of pride with how he's matured," Mifsud said.
"He's a success story for the AFL and he should be a denominator we look at more often and not default to the lowest denominator, and that's the one or two boys who come into the system and are not retained."
Click here for Pickett's draft profile and watch his 2014 highlights
Last year there were 17 indigenous players drafted by clubs onto senior or rookie lists, and the AFL is aiming for 10-12 this year over the next two weeks as the national and rookie drafts are held.
But although Mifsud is comfortable with the amount of indigenous players transitioning into programs, he acknowledges further work must be done to retain them at the next level.
It was an issue raised at this year's talent forum between club, state and AFL representatives, and there are plans to introduce a cultural education program to clubs next year.
"The next frontier is to build more Indigenous capability into our mainstream talent pathways: more Aboriginal coaches, more Aboriginal talent managers and Aboriginal staff working in those programs," he said.
"The talent review called that out really maturely and that's a piece of work we'll continue to look to bring out."