BROUGHT TO YOU BYNAB

SORRY Clarko, you've got this one wrong.

On Saturday, four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson suggested a raft of drastic changes for the talent pathways and junior football system.

It included lifting the draft age, a combined reserves competition to house developing talent, encouraging prospects to play other sports until later in their teenage years and doing away with the 'elitist' model, including Academies and state representative teams.

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Clarkson's voice always carries weight. That's what four premierships and 16 years as a coach brings. But these opinions were extra significant given he has a seat at the table on the AFL's talent pathways subcommittee, which includes fellow coaches Chris Fagan and Luke Beveridge, Lions CEO Greg Swann and AFL officials Andrew Dillon and Tristan Salter.

The panel is yet to meet officially, and does not include any list managers or recruiters, although it will ask them for their guidance and thoughts, as well as other coaches and staff in talent roles.

As AFL.com.au flagged earlier this month, an under-19s competition could be brought in next year to allow prospects who miss out on a reduced draft this season to show their wares.

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Clarkson's vocal view for prospects to play other sports was questioned within clubs, as the AFL continues to fight off basketball, cricket and even international sports for the best athletes, particularly in the northern states.

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But it was the undoing of the elitist model which raised the eyebrow of senior club staff contacted by AFL.com.au in recent days.

 The NAB AFL Academy – it separated from the Australian Institute of Sport in 2014 – has been the finishing school for draftees for decades.

Hawthorn has been a big beneficiary of that program. Luke Hodge, Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli and Grant Birchall, all key pillars in their success, were graduates of the Academy program when they made their way to the Hawks.

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The club then has then picked off Shaun Burgoyne, Tom Mitchell, Tom Scully, Jaeger O'Meara, Jonathon Patton and Jack Scrimshaw – all graduates of the elite model – from other clubs. Ryan Burton, another pick-up from the Academy, was traded to Port Adelaide. Its most recent best and fairest winner, James Worpel, was a member of the program.

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It is not to say the players wouldn't have been drafted without the program. But its experience for high-end prospects was valuable, so much so long-time Hawks club doctor Michael Makdissi was the travelling medico with Academy squads, knowing the worth of being across the group.

The AFL changed its Academy model in 2018, going from a two-tiered system that saw 60 prospects get access to the top-end pathway and broadening it to talent 'hubs', whereby 150 players from around the country now get access.

It has had successes, but others also bemoan the missing piece that the NAB AFL Academy brought: through its camps and tutelage, it saw the leading prospects train and play against each other far more often, improving along the way. The new model caters more for the wider group, without the same focus on the top-end.

Clarkson struck gold in his first draft at the helm of the Hawks at the end of 2004 when they landed Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Jordan Lewis inside the top-10. It changed the fortunes of a football club.

But the Hawks haven't bought into the draft as much recently. In the past nine years, they have used only two top-20 selections. Perhaps Clarkson's view on players not being ready for the step up to the AFL is shaped by the Hawks tending to take later picks most seasons under their list strategy.

Clarkson harked back to the old model, where local communities nurtured and groomed AFL talent. Then, however, the game wasn't a full-time profession. Life skills, like a job or completing a course post-school, were needed as football alone didn't pay the bills.

It's a very different game now. The pathways are structured to help players get ready for their unique workforce, with more exposure preparing them for what lies ahead. The under-18 championships pits the best against the best, seeing teams travel around the country and play under the eyes of watchful scouts.

Change can be good. The system right now has had its share of tweaks, and more will be on the horizon, particularly with all aspects of the game under review in the wake of COVID-19. But losing the elite nature of the talent system would be a backward step.