The AFL National Draft
Charlie had just finished packing his backpack when he heard the knock at his bedroom door. He wasn’t surprised to see Dave standing there. “G’day.”
“Morning, Charlie.” Dave nodded his head towards Charlie’s bag. “Heading out somewhere?”
“Our classes are over for the year, but Karen and Stacey are going back into the city, anyway. Karen has an appointment regarding a tutoring job for next year, and one of the clubs Stacey’s in has organised an end-of-school social event she wants to attend.”
A slight smile appeared on Dave’s lips. “And since Stacey’s going, you thought you would, too.”
Charlie reddened as he zipped up his backpack. “Yeah…”
Dave chuckled. “It’s okay, Charlie. I just hope that one day I meet someone like Stacey. Someone who likes me for who I am.”
Charlie looked back at Dave when he heard the melancholy tone. “You’ll find someone. You’ve got a lot to offer!”
“Sure.” Dave’s tone was laced with sarcasm. “A crazy guy who has trouble letting people get close to him. Just what every girl wants.”
Charlie wasn’t sure if Dave was joking. He had been slowly opening up as far as references to his mental health were concerned, but that comment was more reminiscent of something he might say when he was depressed.
“I don’t have to go if you’d like to hang out together.” Charlie pulled out his phone. “I’ll let Stacey know.”
“Don’t do that!” Dave gnawed on his lower lip for a moment. “Would she mind if I joined you guys?”
“Of course not!” Charlie hesitated before deciding a question wasn’t over the line. “Is there any particular reason?”
Dave gave him a half-smile. “I want to make sure you don’t end up stressing about tonight.”
Charlie didn’t need the reminder. He turned his back on Dave so he could pick up his backpack. “I’m not stressed.”
Dave laughed. “Sure…and I’m not crazy.” When Charlie’s head snapped around, he saw Dave smirking. “I know you, Charlie. You’re stressed, and you’re going to be stressed all day.” The smirk faded. “You’ve supported me all year. It’s my turn to support you. We don’t know if St. Kilda will pick you, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Instead, let’s see if we can take your mind off tonight’s draft for a few hours.”
Charlie knew Dave was right, but he didn’t want to admit it. “What about you? Aren’t you stressing about the draft, too?”
Dave shook his head. “Hawthorn made it clear that I’m not a candidate for the main draft.” He grinned. “It’ll be Wednesday next week that I start stressing, but from past experience the rookie draft will be over in less than half an hour, so I won’t have long to worry once it starts. Until then…” He shrugged.
Charlie let Dave have his way. If his friend could help distract him, he wasn’t going to object. He had been through the stress of the draft once the previous year. That time he had been a nervous wreck by the time the draft started, and he had been left disappointed a couple of hours later when it finished. He was hoping that this year he was better prepared to handle the uncertainties, to have a more realistic understanding of his skills and abilities, but he suspected he wasn’t.
* * *
Ty looked up from his lunch as the floor supervisor, Brett Witherson, approached. He noted the sombre expression, but practically all of the staff at the warehouse were subdued after hearing Phil Hughes had passed away.
“What do you think of the chance that one or more of the Leopards will be drafted tonight?” Brett asked.
Ty wasn’t surprised by the question. The warehouse owner and most of the staff were fans of the Lilydale Leopards. The club had organised the job for Ty at the start of the year when he indicated he needed a part-time job. “Pretty good, but no one is betting on it.” Ty grimaced. “Too many of us know what it’s like to miss out.”
Brett rested a hand on Ty’s shoulder in apology. “I hope Deon’s drafted. He’s had a great year.”
“He certainly has.”
“And if you don’t come in to work tomorrow, that’s fine. A lot of the guys won’t be expecting you back at all, if you know what I mean.” Brett winked.
Ty scowled. “I’m hoping I’ll be hungover tomorrow after celebrating Deon—or someone else—getting drafted, but I know what the AFL clubs think of me. The fact that none of the AFL clubs have spoken to me all year tells me everything I need to know. Expect me to be here.”
Brett gaped. “What do you mean?” He glanced around at the other warehouse workers who were listening in. “We’ve all seen you play. We were there at the grand final, for heaven’s sake! If that wasn’t a game worthy of an AFL player, I don’t know what is.” There was a loud murmur as the guys voiced their agreement with the supervisor.
Ty looked away. “Can you drop it, please? If anyone’s going to get drafted, it’s Deon.”
Brett sat next to Ty. “If that’s what you want. Any idea where Deon will go?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. He’s had eight different teams talk to him, include three interstate teams. Any—or none—of them could take him.” Ty sighed. “I’ll be happy for him, no matter what, but I hope he stays here in Melbourne.”
“Well, best of luck to everyone on the team for tonight. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed.”
Ty gave him a weak smile but didn’t say anything. He hadn’t been concerned about the draft the previous year, but that time he had thought it was a foregone conclusion that he would be picked. This time he was worried about who would go and to where. He was hoping that Carlton would pick Jim, but they hadn’t been showing enough interest in his mentor for him to be confident.
“In the event that you show up tomorrow, can you bring a cricket bat?” Brett glanced around at the other workers having their lunch. “That applies to you guys, too.”
Ty blinked. He wasn’t the only one who appeared surprised. “A cricket bat?”
“People are posting tributes to Hughesy. I thought we should do the same.” Brett pulled out his phone and showed Ty and then the other guys a photo of a cricket bat, a baggy cap over the handle, leaning against a wall. “There’s a ton of these, all under the hashtag of PutOutYourBats.” He swiped his screen to bring up another similar image and then one that showed a collection of bats. “It seems like the right thing to do.”
Ty nodded slowly. “Very fitting. I’m in.” His cricket bat was still at home, but if he was lucky, his father wouldn’t be there if he went immediately after finishing work. In the meantime, he pulled out his own phone and sent a message to his teammates. He was sure they would like to post their own tribute to Phil Hughes.
* * *
“What are the odds you’ll be drafted tonight?” Stacey asked Charlie as the two walked along the table of food that her university club had arranged for lunch.
“To be honest, not good.” Charlie shrugged. “Assuming only St. Kilda is interested in me, they have four picks, but their last pick is number 41. That’s just under halfway through the draft. There will still be a lot of quality players waiting to be selected.”
Karen looked over her shoulder and gave him a hard stare. “You’re a quality player, too.”
“I’m not in the same league.” Charlie glanced back at Dave. “You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?”
Dave nodded. “Charlie’s good, but so are many other guys. I know I’m biased, but even though I think he’s a chance, he’s definitely got a lot of competition.”
“Does that apply to Deon, too?” Karen asked as she put some salad on her paper plate.
“Not in the same way.” Dave screwed up his face. “Deon has developed a reputation for consistency, and his performance throughout the year was enough to make a lot of teams interested in him. Exactly where in the draft he’ll be picked, I can’t say, but I’ll be amazed if he’s not picked at all. If he were older, the clubs may hold off and take him in the rookie draft, but he’s only nineteen. The clubs will probably treat him the same as the eighteen-year-olds that make up the bulk of the draftees.”
“What about you?” Karen asked. “I’ve heard your name mentioned a fair bit, too.”
Dave shrugged. “I don’t expect to be picked. Hawthorn seemed the keenest on me, but even they said they won’t take me tonight. I’m at the age where if they take me, it’ll probably be in the rookie draft next week.”
The four headed to a nearby table to have their lunch. Before they could start, though, both Charlie’s and Dave’s phone beeped. They checked their messages and then glanced at each other.
“My cricket bat’s back at home in Echuca,” Charlie said. “There’s no way I could get it for tonight.”
“I can get mine. It can be for both of us,” Dave said.
Karen narrowed her eyes. “What the hell are you two talking about?”
“We’ve been asked to bring our cricket bats to the club tonight. Some sort of tribute to Phil Hughes is being planned.” Charlie gave her a sheepish smile. “Now you know as much as we do.”
* * *
“How was Sydney?” Ross asked as he glanced around at the group. They were in the lounge room of the Bronson Avenue home Neil shared with Oliver and Paul.
“Who are you asking?” Liam asked as he glanced first at Neil and then at Deon and Clarissa. “We found somewhere for me to live next year, but after that…” He grimaced and looked away.
“We were at the SCG when Phil Hughes was hit.” Deon’s tone was subdued. “We’d all prefer to talk about something else if that’s okay with you guys.”
Ross winced. “Sorry.” He looked at Wu and Lauren. It was the first time they had met most of the people in the room. “Any suggestions?”
Wu was tentative. “Can we ask about why you’re looking to move to Sydney?”
“That one’s okay.” Neil shrugged. “I couldn’t stay at home. I’m getting along great with my dad now, but while I wasn’t, I was offered free room and board with Deon’s dad so I could go to uni. My parents have since moved, so even though things are better on the family front, I’m still heading to Sydney for school next year.” He smiled at his boyfriend. “Liam’s following me, but that meant finding somewhere for him to live.”
The others filled in Wu and Lauren on the background of what had happened to Neil earlier in the year. Ross was already aware of most of the details.
As that discussion petered out, Lauren turned to Deon. “While I remember, good luck for tonight. Ross has been telling us that everyone’s expecting you to be drafted.”
Ross flinched. “I never said that!” He gave Deon an apologetic look. “I said that there’s been a lot of interest in you, that’s all.”
Deon chuckled. “It’s okay, Roscoe.” He turned and smiled at Lauren. “No one is a certainty in the draft. I missed out last year, as did three of my current teammates, one of which, before the draft, was considered to be a top prospect. Despite that, no one picked him.” He glanced at Ross. “But I understand the stress of not knowing. It’s not pleasant, and no one likes having the added pressure of expectations heaped on their shoulders.”
“You’re both coming tonight, I hope,” Clarissa said to Lauren and Wu. “It’s not a party, though we all hope it’ll turn into one.”
Before Wu or Lauren could respond, Deon explained further. “Everyone in the club wants to be there for our teammates. There’s been a lot of interest in quite a few players, though it’s unlikely there will be more than one drafted, and it could very well be zero. But we’ll all be there for Roscoe, too, and we’ll be supporting him, regardless of the outcome.” Deon grinned at Roscoe. “I believe the brat has already told him that as far as we’re concerned, he’s a Leopard, even if he doesn’t play for us.”
“How can he be a Leopard if he’s not part of the club?” Wu asked.
Neil grinned. “The Leopards are like one large, extended family. The players are the core of the family, but everyone else is part of the family, too. Roscoe’s been training with the team, so that makes him part of the family.”
“Okay, I understand…I think.” Wu grinned. “And we’ll definitely be there tonight. We’re not going to let Roscoe face this by himself.” He chuckled. “Even if he’s got a brand-new family to be there for him, too.”
Neil raised an eyebrow at Ross. “Is Warwick coming tonight?”
Ross shook his head. “We decided it wasn’t a good idea. If I get drafted, Alastair wants to coordinate how I come out with whatever club drafts me, and having him there tonight may let the news escape too early.” He grimaced. “Though I’m going to wish he was there if I miss out.”
Wu smiled and punched him lightly in the arm. “Lauren and I will be there for you if that happens.” He cocked his head. “But just so you know, I’m not going to kiss you if you get drafted. You’ll have to wait for some private time with your boyfriend for any significant celebrations.” He winked.
Ross blushed and then looked at Deon and Clarissa. “Do you two have any plans?”
Deon started to answer but then glanced at Clarissa. She was staring up at him with an impassive expression. Deon stared back for a moment and then laughed. He pulled her close to him and then smiled at Deon. “Nothing special. It all depends on who drafts me, if that even happens. I’m actually happy if no one picks me, because it means I get to stay here in Melbourne with Clarissa as well as having another season with the Leopards.”
“And he’ll be ecstatic if he’s drafted, though if it’s interstate, that will be hard for him.” Clarissa’s expression softened and she reached up to give Deon a peck on the cheek. “I’m also hoping he’ll be staying in Melbourne, but we both will understand if he’s drafted elsewhere.”
Ross made a face. “Two of the three clubs that have shown an interest in me are interstate, though one of those clubs hasn’t contacted me since the combine. It looks like it’ll be Brisbane, Richmond, or no one. If I’m drafted, there’s a fifty-fifty chance I’ll end up having to move north to Queensland.” He sighed. “Warwick’s started looking for jobs in Brisbane just on the off chance I end up there. We’ll find out tonight if he has to keep searching.”
“I hope it works out for you.” Deon gave Clarissa a squeeze. “I hope it works out for all of us.”
* * *
“Fuck!” Ty glared at the car in his parents’ driveway. He had been hoping he would beat his father home, but it appeared he was too late. Gritting his teeth, he headed to the front door. As Ty expected, given his luck, his father answered the door.
“Oh, it’s you. Finally ready to admit you’re wrong and come home?”
Ty bit back his first response. “I’m here to pick up my cricket bat. That’s all.”
Robert Flanders stepped back to let his son into the house. “Do you really think that you’ll be any better at cricket than you are at football? Just give up, son. You know that’s what you really want to do.”
“I’m not going to play cricket. I just want my bat.” He headed towards his room.
Behind his back, his father let out an exaggerated sigh. “Typical. Doesn’t even know what a cricket bat is for.”
Ty couldn’t let that one go. He spun on his heels and glared. “If you must know, it’s for a tribute to Phil Hughes. People around the country are posting pictures of their cricket bats in honour of his memory.”
His father rocked back before recovering and narrowing his eyes. “Do you really think a photo of a piece of willow is appropriate? That shows your lack of sensitivity. You used to have better sense when you lived at home.”
“Yes, it’s bloody appropriate! He was a cricketer; a cricket bat is the right way to show our respect!” Ty reined in his anger and lowered his voice. “If you have a problem with that, then tell it to the Australian test cricketers—past and present—who are doing the same thing.”
“For them, it’s appropriate. They knew him and played with him.” Ty’s father sneered. “You, on the other hand, just want to copy your betters. You’ve never been able to think for yourself; you always need someone to do your thinking for you. You’re not capable of coming up with your own tribute; you have to copy someone else’s.”
Ty’s lips were pinched. “I’m not going to discuss this.” He turned and stormed off to his room. He was still seething when he found his old cricket bat at the back of his closet. Knowing his father wasn’t going to let him go without taking another shot at him, he sat on the edge of his childhood bed and stared at the bat in his hand. He’d played cricket as a youngster, as did many other Australian kids, but it had never been a passion for him. Football was his love just as cricket had been for Phil Hughes. It was the shared passion that made this gesture so important. Ty tried to make that passion a shield against the barbs he knew his father was going to throw at him.
“Are you okay, honey?”
Ty looked up to see his mother standing in the doorway. She appeared worried. Ty tried to smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. The guys at work are going to post a tribute photo for Phil Hughes tomorrow, and I needed my cricket bat. The Leopards are also going to do something similar.”
“I heard.” Her smile was wry. “You and your father didn’t exactly keep your voices down.”
Ty flinched. “Sorry.”
“I believe the AFL draft is on tonight…” His mother let her voice trail off, leaving it to him as to how to interpret the comment.
“It is. There’s a big function at the club tonight to watch it. We’re hoping Deon will be drafted, and then we’ll see if anyone else gets picked.”
“What about you?” Her voice was soft.
Ty dropped his head so she wouldn’t see his pain. He knew she didn’t mean to remind him of the previous year’s debacle. “None of the clubs are interested in me. I’m going to be staying as a Leopard.” When he looked up, he could see the compassion and sympathy in her eyes. “It’s okay, Mum.” It wasn’t, but she didn’t need to know that.
She stepped into the bedroom and held out her arms. Ty smiled, rose, and pulled his mother into an embrace. She was the reason he still came home, even if it was only for the occasional fleeting visit.
He stepped back and gave her a smile. “Time for me to go.” He grinned. “I need to get home and harass my housemates so they’ll be ready for tonight.”
“Well, I hope it goes well. Good luck!”
“Thanks, Mum.” Ty gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Love you.”
“I love you, too, Ty.” She smiled and waved her hand to usher him out. “Now get going.”
As Ty expected, his father was waiting for him. “I understand that one of your teammates is in line to be drafted tonight.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Deon’s had a great year and lots of clubs have been chasing him.”
Robert Flanders sniffed. “At least someone on the team is capable of attracting attention, though I remember one of your practise matches where it was pure luck that he managed to kick the winning goal. If that was typical of his abilities, he’ll need even more luck if he’s going to be drafted.”
Ty knew he shouldn’t let himself be baited, but he couldn’t stop himself. “His kicking improved a lot over the year. That’s why he topped the goal-kicking list at the end of the season.”
“I see. So someone on the team can learn from their mistakes.” Ty’s father stared down his nose at Ty. “Unlike you, who clearly hasn’t been interested in improving. If you had, you wouldn’t have refused my help when I offered it. Well, pass on my best wishes to your teammate.” When Ty stared at the out-of-character compliment, his father smirked. “If he’s drafted he’ll be glad to have seen the last of you.” He turned his back on Ty. “Personally, I don’t really care. I think I’ll put on a movie tonight. It’ll be much more exciting than watching you not being drafted again.” He strolled away.
Ty scowled and clenched his fists. It took a huge effort on his behalf not to chase after his father and yell abuse. Instead, he headed out the door. When he was back in his car he slammed his fist into the steering wheel. “Fuck him!”
He drove off, still steaming. The most painful part was knowing his father was right. He knew it would be another draft night where his name wasn’t called.
* * *
Ty didn’t smile, but he nodded with satisfaction at the display of cricket bats that flanked the VFL premiership cup. While he had been the one to pass on the idea of the cricket-bat tribute to his teammates, it was Julie who had suggested that the team bring in their bats that night so they could be placed next to the cup. The resulting photo had been placed on the Leopards website along with a note of condolence to Phil Hughes’s family.
He was jolted out of his thoughts by a slap on the back. “Ready for the night, brat?” a familiar voice asked.
Ty turned around and then grinned. “Peter!” He grabbed his old coach in an embrace. “What are you doing here?”
Peter chuckled as he returned the hug. “Where did you think I’d be tonight?” He stepped back as Ty released him and waved a hand at the crowd in the Leopards clubroom. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re all prepared if something good occurs.” He grinned. “I’m hopeful that at least one—but maybe more—Leopards are drafted tonight.”
Ty narrowed his eyes as he considered another possible reason for Peter to be there. “Are the Bulldogs looking at anyone in particular? Is that why you’re here?”
“Sorry, brat, but recruiting’s not my department. They don’t tell me who they’re considering.” Peter tilted his head. “Shall we join the others?”
Ty glanced around. “Let’s join Dad. I haven’t annoyed him for at least twenty minutes, so it’s about time.”
Peter laughed. “Some things never change.”
The two wandered over to where Jim was chatting with Tony, Todd, and Paul. They exchanged greetings with Peter and talked for a few minutes as they caught up on what had been happening since the Leopards awards night.
“Is everyone ready if someone gets drafted?” Paul grinned. “I’ve got a good feeling about tonight.”
Ty held in his private flinch. He could still remember how he’d felt the year before after watching the draft go by without his name being called. He grinned to hide his pain. “Yep! It’s just a question of who we get rid of first: Dad or Deon. Either way, it’ll be time to celebrate.”
Jim snorted. “Don’t get your hopes up on getting rid of me, brat. I’m really hoping Deon will be drafted, but I doubt I’ll be going.”
“Yeah, right.” Ty tried to instil as much sarcasm into his voice as he could. “Someone who is invited to train with an AFL club mid-season is obviously someone who that club has no interest in.”
“June was a long time ago.”
Peter frowned at Ty. “Have Carlton spoken to any of you guys since?”
“They spoke to Dad and Deon after the grand final, but not since, at least as far as I know.” Ty glanced at Jim who shrugged. “In my mind the only real question is whether Port Adelaide grabs Dad first. They were chasing him, too.” He grinned at his mentor and friend. “You wouldn’t mind moving home to South Australia, would you?”
Jim cocked his head and gave Ty a wry grin. “As long as I’m in another state, you’ll be happy, right?”
Ty couldn’t keep up the banter. “I’d prefer you to stay here in Melbourne.”
Jim smiled. “I’m not going anywhere, brat. This will hopefully be Deon’s night, not mine.”
Ty looked past him to one of the tallest guys in the room. “And maybe Roscoe’s. He’s not confident, but I hope he gets drafted.”
“I do, too.” Jim turned and stared at Ross. “Though, he’ll have it tough if he does. He’ll have some unique challenges.”
“Roscoe?” Peter asked.
Todd pointed him out. “He went to the combine with Deon and Dave, and he’s been training with us while he waits to see if he gets drafted.”
“And the unique challenges?”
Todd, Ty, Jim, and Paul exchanged glances. Jim grimaced. “Sorry, Peter. It’s not our place to say.”
Peter frowned but accepted the statement. “Are the Leopards going to offer him a contract if he misses out on the draft?”
“That’ll be up to Julie.” Paul grinned. “She’s made it clear that I’m not allowed to stick my nose in and make comments, but most of the guys have gotten to know him, and they’d all be happy if he joins us next year.’
Peter chuckled. “In other words, she’s not saying, but she hasn’t rejected the possibility.”
“Exactly.” Ty grinned at Jim. “If Deon gets drafted but Roscoe doesn’t, we’ll need a new forward and a new midfielder. Roscoe can fill one of those positions, and we’ll just need to find someone for the other.”
“You think Dave’s going to be drafted too?” Peter asked.
Ty chuckled. “Hopefully, but I’m talking about Dad. He’s getting drafted tonight. I know he is.”
Jim sighed and shook his head. “I wish, but I doubt that’s going to happen.” He scowled at Ty. “And having you keep repeating it isn’t going to make a difference.”
“You just wait.” Ty waved a finger in Jim’s face. “I’ve got high expectations, Dad. You’re going in the first round.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “Sometimes, brat…”
Ty glanced at the large television display. “They’re about to start.”
Everyone in the clubroom fell silent as Gillon McLachlan, the AFL CEO, started speaking from the Gold Coast Convention Centre in Queensland. Almost as one, they looked across the room at the cricket-bat tribute as McLachlan spoke on Phil Hughes’s tragic death and offered his condolences on behalf of the eighteen AFL clubs and the entire AFL community. He then congratulated Hawthorn on their premiership and started on a stream of thank yous. After a short speech to the draftees about the start of a new journey and going through a few formalities, the draft commenced.
“At least he didn’t talk for too long,” Ty muttered to Jim.
“Shush!” Jim didn’t even look at Ty. His focus was on the television screen where the number-one pick for the 2014 draft was about to be announced.
GILLON MCLACHLAN: Pick 1, St. Kilda.
ST. KILDA: Player 215161. Patrick McCartin, Geelong Falcons.
COMMENTATOR: It was always going to be between McCartin, Christian Petracca, and Angus Brayshaw. After receiving a diagnosis of Type-1 diabetes at the age of nine, McCartin has…
Ross nodded. “A good choice. He was a tough opponent when we played against him.”
Everyone in the Leopards clubroom watched as a highlights reel from Patrick McCartin’s TAC Cup matches was played and the commentator announced that as the number-one draft pick of 2014, Patrick would be receiving a $10,000 investment account from the NAB, the bank that sponsored the draft as well as the AusKick program for young kids. They waited while Patrick, who was present at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, was interviewed. The draft didn’t proceed until the interview was over.
Over the next twenty minutes, the next nine draftees were selected. There was a pause after each one, as videos of each of the players were shown and the new AFL players were brought to the stage and interviewed in front of the camera.
MELBOURNE: Player 214953, Christian Petracca, Eastern Ranges…
MELBOURNE: Player 215163, Angus Brayshaw, Sandringham Dragons…
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY: Player 214833, Jarrod Pickett, South Fremantle…
“Is it normal that all the players being drafted are present at the conference centre?” Wu asked. “What does that mean to everyone here?”
“The AFL wants the top ten to take the stage, so they ask the clubs with the first ten picks who they’re likely to select so they can make sure they’re present.” Ty scowled at the memory of the previous year. “I don’t know if they have to tell them, though, because there are certainly people who will be present but not drafted.”
He felt an arm being draped across his shoulder, while another wrapped itself around his waist. He looked to one side to see Jim and then the other to see Karen. Neither spoke, but both gave him reassuring smiles. Jim let go after a moment, but Karen stayed where she was. He sighed and nodded to both to indicate his thanks. By the time he had gathered himself together enough to pay attention to the television screen, they were up to the tenth pick.
GEELONG: Player 215108, Nakia Cockatoo, Northern Territory Thunder.
COMMENTATOR: Well, Geelong have given us the night’s first surprise. Picking what to put on the highlight video for this young man would’ve been easy, since he only played one game this year, but that one game was obviously enough to convince Stephen Wells from Geelong to draft the young man.
“Is that right?” Wu asked. “He only played one game?”
Everyone turned to Ross who nodded. “He was out for most of the year due to an injury. His foot, I think. He played in the under-eighteen match that was the curtain-raiser for the AFL grand final and did a fantastic job.” He waved a hand towards the television that was showing highlights from that match. “You can see for yourself how good that game was.”
Clarissa frowned. “How many draft picks are there? We’ll be here all night if they do this for each one.”
Deon chuckled. “Don’t panic. They only show highlights and do interviews for the top ten. The rest of the first round will go a lot quicker. Probably only a few minutes total for the rest of the round. The teams may have five minutes to select someone, but if last year was any indication, there won’t be any hesitation for the next set of picks. They’ll have the players already in order of preference and will simply take whoever is next on their list who hasn’t already been drafted. They don’t start hesitating and discussing amongst themselves who to pick until rounds three or four. Even so, the entire draft usually only takes about two to two-and-a-half hours.”
“That’s good to hear. I wasn’t expecting an all-nighter.” Clarissa slipped an arm around Deon’s back. “Though if someone’s picked, I suspect celebrations will go well into the night.”
Ty grinned. “Maybe, but maybe not. For example, if someone…” he glanced at Jim, “…who shall remain nameless for now, is drafted by Carlton—picking a club at random—then they’ll probably want him in tomorrow morning. He won’t be able to party too late.”
“Brat…” Jim scowled. “Enough about Carlton. There are a lot of other people here with a better chance than me. Like Deon, Roscoe…” He trailed off while raising an eyebrow at Ty.
Ty scowled momentarily. He knew he had no chance despite what Jim thought. Not wanting to dignify Jim’s opinion with a response, he glanced at the television which was showing the first ten draftees in a line, each wearing the top of their new club. “It looks like they’ll finish the rest of the first round soon.”
There was a gentle murmur of conversation from those gathered in the Leopards clubroom as they all waited for the next set of names to be called. As Deon predicted, they went quickly as picks 11 to 18 were announced with no hesitation.
“Carlton’s up next.” Ty grinned at Jim. “Get ready to have your name called out, Dad.”
Jim gave him a long-suffering sigh. “Let it go, brat. It might’ve been amusing the first couple of times, but it’s not funny anymore.
GILLON MCLACHLAN: Pick 19, Carlton.
CARLTON: Player 214…
Ty’s jaw dropped as he heard the familiar number. It was a year since he had expected his draft number to be read out, but he still remembered it.
…Ty Flanders, Lilydale Leopards.
COMMENTATOR: Well, Carlton have given us the second surprise pick. Despite being the Norm Goss medal for the best-on-ground at the 2014 VFL grand final, none of the pundits had Flanders as more than an outside chance. He was considered to be a great VFL player, but not suitable for the AFL. Carlton clearly disagrees.
“Brat!” Deon grinned as he grabbed Ty in a bear hug. “Congratulations!”
Before Ty could respond, he was swamped by his teammates. A grin slowly appeared on his face as the shock wore off, and the realisation that he was finally an AFL player sank in. He glanced past the guys in front of him and caught Jim’s eye. His friend and mentor smiled and nodded his head once. What Jim said was lost in the noise that surrounded him, but Ty could read the words from Jim’s lips: Well done, brat.
* * *
Peter couldn’t hide his disappointment, so he moved away to avoid any chance of lessening Ty’s happiness. He had suspected Carlton were interested in Ty, but he had been unable to convince the Western Bulldogs recruiting manager to make taking him as a first-round draft pick a priority. Peter had been keeping his fingers crossed that Carlton would go for someone else with their first pick, but it seemed that they hadn’t been prepared to risk missing out on drafting the young star.
As he watched Ty being congratulated by his teammates—former teammates now—Peter made a decision. While Ty needed to be told that his father had been preventing any contact from the AFL clubs, Peter wouldn’t do it that night. It was Ty’s time to celebrate, and Peter wasn’t going to ruin it by bringing up the ugly truth. Ultimately, it hadn’t mattered. Ty was now an AFL player, even if it wasn’t with the team that Peter had been hoping.
“Something wrong?” Julie asked.
Peter hadn’t seen her slip up next to him. “I’d convinced Jason to put Ty on his list, but Carlton got in first. If they hadn’t taken him, he’d be a Bulldog before the end of the second round.” He gave her a wan smile. “I was hoping I’d be coaching him again next year.”
Julie chuckled as she stared back across the room with pride. “I was, too, but I’m happy. I never understood why none of the clubs were paying any attention to him.”
Peter resisted the temptation to explain. “Carlton obviously were. The brat did go to that training session with Dad back in June. He must’ve been pretty convincing.”
Peter had suspected back then that Ty had been the real focus of that event. While he was proud for Ty, he still wished the Western Bulldogs could’ve drafted him instead.
* * *
“Guys…guys!” Charlie’s yelling interrupted the celebration centred on Ty. “Look!” He pointed towards the screen where round two was in progress. There, on the display that showed all the selections so far, was a familiar name.
Pick 23, Greater Western Sydney: Deon Bradshaw, Lilydale Leopards.
Ty and Deon stared at each other and then both grinned as they grabbed each other in another bear hug. As their teammates moved in to congratulate the second new AFL player in the room, Ty and Deon kept an arm across each other’s shoulders.
Ty wasn’t surprised when Karen and Clarissa forced their way through the mob that surrounded him and Deon, but while Karen gave him the kiss he expected, Clarissa’s approach was different; she socked her boyfriend on the arm.
“Bastard! You owe me $177.”
“Huh?” Deon stared in confusion at his girlfriend. “What for?”
Clarissa scowled. “Of all the states you could be drafted to, you picked the one whose university-application late fee is the highest. Well, I’m not paying for it; you are.”
Deon blinked. “What the hell are you talking about?”
A smile broke through Clarissa’s scowl as she reached up and pulled Deon’s head down for a kiss. “Did you think I wasn’t going to follow you? I’ve already arranged it with my parents, but I didn’t know where to put in my application for uni next year. Now I do, and naturally you picked the most expensive state.” She rolled her eyes. “Typical male. Always has to go for the highest-priced option.”
“You’re going to move to Sydney?” Deon asked, apparently stunned.
“Of course!” Clarissa frowned and jabbed a finger into Deon’s chest. “And you have to tell Kevin he’s not getting that room at Liam’s place. I’m taking it.” She narrowed her eyes as she peered past Deon to the person behind him. “Do you have any objections?”
Liam held up both hands. “Not me!” He grinned. “Not exactly what I had in mind, but I don’t have a problem sharing a place with you. You can have the pink room.”
“Naturally.” She smiled up at Deon. “I’m not letting you get away from me. Now that I know where you’re going to be for the next two years, I can get myself organised.” She kissed him again. “By the way, your phone is buzzing.”
Her comment prompted Ty to check his own phone. He was surprised to find he’d already received four text messages. The first made his eyes open wide. “I’ve got a text from Marc Murphy. He’s looking forward to meeting me tomorrow at ten!” Ty didn’t know how the Carlton captain had gotten hold of his phone number, but the message helped make it sink in that being drafted had really happened.
Deon laughed as he stared at his phone. “Kev’s told me I’m a loser, but he’s glad I’ll be in Sydney with him.” He started typing. “I’m going to tell him that he doesn’t get to live with Liam, but if he apologises for his loser comment, maybe he and I can share a place.”
Ty was about to say something when his phone rang again. He glanced at the caller ID and immediately knew the answer to how the Carlton captain had his number. “Paddy!”
“Sorry to bother you, young man, but I thought I’d let you know what’s going on with your medical bills. Given recent events, the club has decided it’ll pay them. You won’t need to spend a cent.”
Ty wasn’t sure initially what Patrick was talking about until he remembered the check-up on his knee that the old Irishman had organised with the Carlton club doctor. He laughed. “Was that doctor’s visit a setup? Did you do it just to make sure my knee was okay?”
The old Irishman sounded shocked. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another phone call to make. It seems that some young man I know has been recently drafted and there are people I need to inform.” Ty could hear the smile in Patrick O’Malley’s voice. “Oh, and I think tomorrow would be a good time to take you up on that offer of a beer. Assuming that’s okay with you.”
“Of course, it is!” Ty grinned. “Thanks, Paddy, for everything. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
* * *
After taking a long sip in preparation for his next course of action, Patrick O’Malley carefully placed his pint of Guinness onto the drink coaster next to his lounge-room chair. His much-missed late wife was always fastidious about ensuring drink stains didn’t mar the furniture.
He had been waiting for six months to make this phone call, and he smiled as he rang the number. It had been a long time coming, but he was going to enjoy what followed.
“Yes?” a gruff voice answered.
“Yes, who is this? If you’re some telemarketer, I’m not interested.”
“No, I’m not a telemarketer. I’m just ringing to offer my congratulations. You must be so proud.” Patrick grinned as he imagined the confusion that was occurring at the other end of the call.
“Congratulations for what?”
“Your son, Ty. His selection by Carlton—with their first pick, too—in the national draft tonight means he’s now officially an AFL player.”
“Is this a prank? My son wasn’t even trying to get into the AFL this year.”
“You’re mistaken.” Patrick’s smile hardened into one of cruel justice. “He did want to get drafted despite what you’ve been telling all the clubs. All your efforts to scuttle his career have failed, Mr. Flanders. Every time from now on when his name appears in the papers, you’ll know that he overcame all your roadblocks, that he made it to the AFL without you. And don’t try to take any credit for his success. I will be making sure that your son is fully aware of your actions during the year.”
“Who is this?”
Patrick settled back into his chair. “Congratulations, Mr. Flanders. You have a wonderful son. It’s a pity you’re too blind to see it.”
The old Irishman didn’t wait for a response. He ended the call and picked up his Guinness. He raised it into the air and spoke to the empty room. “Well done, brat.”
* * *
“Dad…” Ty stood in front of Jim, not sure what to say. He hadn’t seriously expected anyone to pick Jim in the first round—even one of the late rounds would be an outside chance—but he had never expected to be picked himself. After all his teasing, Ty was feeling guilty.
Jim smiled. “I’m really happy for you, brat. You’re finally going where you should’ve gone last year.” He stretched out his arms and pulled Ty in for a hug. “I’m still going to be around if you want to talk or hang out at any time.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Ty stepped back, gave a heavy sigh, and smiled. “Any chance you could come with me tomorrow when I go to Visy Park?”
“Sure, brat.” Jim’s tone was gentle. “I’ve got to go to the radio station first thing in the morning, but after that, I’m free for the day.”
“What do you think happened?” Ty wasn’t entirely sure what he was referring to, but he left it to Jim to decide.
“I have my suspicions, but I think we can wait until tomorrow to find out.” Jim glanced around. The rest of the people in the room were keeping their distance while the two talked. “Now that you and Deon are on your way to the AFL, it’s time to be there for the others. I think Charlie’s not expecting too much, but you know what Roscoe is feeling right now. Keep an eye on him and offer him your support if you think he needs it.”
Ty nodded. “Thanks, Dad.” He stepped forward and gave Jim another hug, as he realised that he and Deon were going to need to move out of the house soon. He wasn’t going to be living with Jim for much longer.
* * *
Ross alternated staring across the room at the mob surrounding Deon and Ty with staring at the television screen that was showing the ongoing draft. Round three was about to start.
“This is when you’re expecting your name to be called, isn’t it?” Lauren asked.
Ross’s smile was weak. “Hoping, not expecting, and this is the earliest round for me. Next round is more likely…if it’s going to happen at all.” He felt his phone vibrating and pulled it out to check the text message he’d just received. His smile strengthened as he read the short message from Warwick: fingers crossed!
He had just replied with a thanks when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked around and was surprised to see Dave standing there. “Regardless of what happens, Roscoe, I wish you all the best.”
“Er…thanks.” Ross hesitated before continuing. “Same to you. Isn’t one of the teams interested in you? Do you think you’ll get picked?”
Dave shrugged. “Hawthorn, but they told me it wouldn’t be tonight. It’ll be next week in the rookie draft if it happens at all. I’m not holding my breath.” He glanced past Ross at Wu and Lauren but didn’t say anything.
“Sorry…” Ross took a step back so he wasn’t between them. “Wu, Lauren, this is Dave. You may remember him from the combine. He was there with Deon and me. He’s also the one who threw Stuart out of that party I told you about. Dave, Wu and Lauren are my best friends.”
A rare smile appeared on Dave’s face. “Friends are important. It’s good to meet you.” His eyes flicked to the television screen before returning to the couple in front of him. He grimaced for a moment and then stuck out his hand in greeting.
Wu glanced at the television before shaking Dave’s hand. “If you’re not expecting to be picked tonight, whose name are you hoping to see appear?”
Dave sighed. “Any Leopard, but Charlie’s in particular. St. Kilda seemed interested in him, but they’ve just used their last pick on someone else.” Dave glanced at the empty plastic bottle in Ross’s hand. “Do you want another water, or would you like something stronger?”
Ross gave him a wan smile. “Water, please. I’m too nervous for alcohol.”
Dave snorted. “I can appreciate that.” His eyes flicked to the television again. “I’ll be back soon.”
Ross waited with his friends, his eyes glued on the television screen. Brisbane and Richmond were the most likely teams to draft him, but he had heard stories of players being drafted who had never been approached by the team that did so. That meant he was anxious with every draft pick, with the anxiety peaking each time Brisbane or Richmond were making a selection.
* * *
Ty nudged Deon and then tilted his head in Ross’s direction. Deon nodded and the two—along with the celebratory crowd that still surrounded them—headed over to the young player. The fifth round of the draft was starting and Ross’s name still hadn’t been called. Charlie was already with Ross, his own hopes gone when St. Kilda failed to name him with any of their four picks.
“Do you mind if we join you?” Ty asked as he slapped Ross on the back. “We’ve got fingers, toes and eyes crossed for you.” He grinned. “Deon also has his knees crossed. No, wait…that’s just him needing to go for a piss because he’s had too many beers.”
“Brat…” Deon grinned past Ross at his housemate before draping an arm across Ross’s shoulders. “Ignore him, Roscoe. He’s full of it.”
“Thanks, guys. Er…and congratulations, too.”
Ty waved a hand to dismiss the comment. “This isn’t about us anymore. This is your turn, we hope.” His smile disappeared. “Just remember, Deon and I were where you are last year. We understand what it’s like. It doesn’t matter where you get drafted; the number-one pick and the number-eighty-one pick are both AFL players. And it’s not the end of the world if you’re not picked at all.”
“Yeah, I know.” Ross’s eyes drifted back to the television screen. “Alastair’s already made plans if I’m not drafted. He’s going to try to get me back into the TAC Cup as a nineteen-year-old. I’m also hoping the Leopards will take me, though Julie doesn’t seem too keen.”
“Shit!” Deon scowled as he dropped his arm and pulled out his phone. “I need to call him.”
“Alastair.” Deon hesitated and then screwed up his face. “Sorry, Roscoe. I promised Alastair I would sign with him if I got drafted. I’d forgotten.”
Ross almost smiled. “You haven’t been drafted for long. I’m sure he won’t mind.”
Deon chuckled. “No, I’m sure he won’t. If you’ll excuse me…” He stepped away, his phone at his ear.
“What was that you said earlier about Julie?” Ty asked.
“She’s not sure if I’m good enough for the VFL, let alone the AFL.” Ross dropped his head. “At least, she’s honest.”
“Julie has high standards. If she says you’re good enough to be a Leopard, that means you’re ready for the AFL.” Ty glanced around, trying to locate his now former coach. “I’ll have a word with her later.”
Deon returned shortly afterwards, and Ross found himself surrounded by Leopards. There was a small groan each time a name was read out, and someone would always mutter that the next one would be it.
“How many more rounds?” Lauren asked.
“One more; round six,” Charlie said, his concentration still on the television. “If I’ve worked it out correctly, there are only three clubs still picking: Brisbane, Richmond, and Port Adelaide.”
“Greater Western Sydney also have a pre-allocated academy pick at the end, but yeah, it’s just those three left, each with one pick.” Ross bit his lower lip. “I’m still in with a chance.”
“Why are some of the clubs passing?” Wu asked. “They could be taking new players, but they’re not.”
“Because they’re only allowed to have 38 players on their list. Once they reach that number, they can’t take any more. They’ve got no choice, they have to pass.” Ross screwed up his face. “I can’t remember how many players Brisbane and Richmond had on their list. They may not be able to pick any more.”
“We’ll find out soon enough.” Ty tried to give Ross an encouraging smile. “There’s still hope.”
GILLON MCLACHLAN: Pick 81, Brisbane.
The television screen showed the team from Brisbane with their heads together. After a minute, the recruiting manager turned back to his microphone.
BRISBANE: …Josh McGuinness, Lauderdale.
Ross grimaced. “Only one real chance left.” He watched as Carlton passed on their next pick.
GILLON MCLACHLAN: Pick 83, Richmond.
Ross’s fingers were crossed.
Ty immediately grabbed Ross and pulled him into a hug. “Sorry, mate.” He knew how Ross was feeling. He, Deon, Charlie, and Jarrod had been in the same position the year before.
When Port Adelaide’s final pick went to a player from Western Australia, the draft was effectively over. Ty held Ross for a moment longer before releasing him so the others could commiserate with the young man.
Ty mentally crossed his fingers that one of the clubs still thought enough of Ross that they would pick him up in the rookie draft the following week. While that would put Ross into an AFL club, he wouldn’t automatically be able to play in the AFL. It was, however, the best remaining option.