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A tale of two Isaacs: Giants chief's academy optimism

Dees tackle bullies, star Crow's future in doubt Nat Edwards with all the latest news

GREATER Western Sydney chief executive Dave Matthews is confident the AFL's ongoing review into the northern and Next Generation Academies won't result in more restrictions for the Giants.

Club football bosses learned in late February of the review, which is being conducted by former Carlton captain and official Andrew McKay.

Sydney, GWS, Brisbane and Gold Coast have access to players in specific zones within their states, whereas the other clubs from traditional football states can develop indigenous and multicultural footballers in designated areas.

Both the Swans and Giants spend in excess of $1 million annually on their academies.

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The AFL's overarching goal was to increase the overall talent base, but criticism continues to centre on player eligibility and the system's fairness.

Top-15 draft picks from last year, Tarryn Thomas (North Melbourne) and Isaac Quaynor (Collingwood) were NGA products, while No.10 selection Nick Blakey became a Swan after going through their academy.

The trio were talking points for the way they were drafted, the common theme being they would have made it to the AFL without the academy process.

That debate raged four years after another Sydney Academy graduate, Isaac Heeney, became what Matthews described as "a political pawn" for Victorian clubs protesting the northern academies.

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"I've always been of the view … that Isaac Heeney being recruited out of Newcastle to the Swans would be like Jimmy Bartel growing up in Geelong and playing for (rugby league club) Melbourne Storm," Matthews told AFL.com.au.

"Isaac Heeney is a story that should have been celebrated from day one (but instead he was) a real political pawn in this idea about the academies.

"(Collingwood president) Eddie McGuire was very vocal on Isaac Heeney, but he's gone quiet on Isaac Quaynor. It's a story of two Isaacs."

Issac Quaynor emerged from the Collingwood Next Generation Academy. Picture: AFL Photos

The NGAs were created, in part, to appease disgruntled club officials complaining about the advantages the northern teams had with their academies.

McGuire was the most vocal protester, but not the only one, with the AFL ultimately also stripping the Giants of the talent-rich Albury and Murray regions.

At the same time, in early 2017, League headquarters placed limitations on clubs' ability to match bids on top-20 academy products if they finished in the top four, or between fifth and eighth.

The result of the AFL's current review remains to be seen, but Matthews considers it to be more about "the criteria and conditions around Next Generation" than the northern equivalent.

"The review's not at a point of any conclusions, but I don't feel any threat whatsoever, because we've got an academy that's serving a purpose for the competition overall, in that it's growing the talent pool," he said.

There are graduates of our academy who are playing at a number of other clubs across the AFL competition. Any time we list one, we're doing it at fair value.

"The politics have dissipated a bit, because the Victorian clubs, in particular, now have an NGA model that gives many of them a free hit, even though they've already got father-son rules."

Matthews has an unlikely ally in North Melbourne's Sydney-based chairman Ben Buckley, who has a rare perspective on the value of academies.

The Kangaroos benefited with the recruitment of Thomas and missed out on Blakey – who could have chosen them under father-son rules – while Buckley's son, Jack, joined GWS as a locally zoned category B rookie.

Jack Buckley, son of North chairman Ben, is now with GWS as a Category B rookie. Picture: AFL Photos

"In some ways, I'm in a unique situation, because I live in Sydney and see what is required to grow the game here," Buckley told AFL.com.au.

"I see first-hand the investment the Swans and GWS make, and my son is a beneficiary of going through those programs.

"While it probably runs counterintuitive to my role as North Melbourne president, I understand why it's important to do that in Sydney, Brisbane and the northern states in general."

Buckley also argued North invested significant resources in its NGA zone in Tasmania to help grow the game and that there "should be an incentive to do that".

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