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17/11/2017 10:01 AM AEDT | Updated 17/11/2017 10:01 AM AEDT

What It Feels Like To Be A Player Who Isn't Picked In The AFL Draft

One day you were a serious contender and the next you’re out of the system and out of the Draft.

MELBOURNE -- SEPTEMBER 24, 2017:  The TAC Cup Grand Final match between Geelong and Sandringham at Etihad Stadium.
Graham Denholm/AFL Media via Getty Images
MELBOURNE -- SEPTEMBER 24, 2017: The TAC Cup Grand Final match between Geelong and Sandringham at Etihad Stadium.

At the end of the 2017 AFL season North Melbourne raised a few football eyebrows by de-listing Sam Gibson, a 31-year-old who hadn't missed a game for the Kangas since his debut in 2012.

Sam made it onto an AFL list as a 26-year-old. But what really caught my attention was something his parents said at the time, confiding that they "could think only of the many boys they had met who did not get even this chance".

And here we are again, Draft day is coming, and for many it will mean the feeling of missing out.

A long time ago I worked as the club doctor for the Northern Knights in the TAC Cup. I was just out of medical school and was looking for a place to hide. Preston City Oval fit the bill.

Early on I was struck by the intensity of training and games, with AFL scouts swirling the stakes could not have been higher.

Then one day the math kicked in. There were, and still are, 264 elite teenage footballers playing every weekend in the TAC Cup. Add to the mix the deeper TAC Cup squads; throw in the VFL, SANFL and WAFL; and add the AFL academies in the northern states. Statistically, the chance of being picked up in the Draft isn't great.

The 80-ish places cannot accommodate everyone -- but the chances are also not zero. So, wherever the odds lie it's worth chasing the dream.

It was good to hear whatever happens on draft day guarantees neither long term success nor failure. In Gen-Y terms 'it is what it is'.

It is well established that playing elite sport has an almost priceless positive impact on teenage self-esteem. But what happens when someone's son, brother, partner, and now with the AFLW -- sister -- misses out on a place on an AFL list?

The answer is complex. The young age at which all this takes place factors into the equation, and family and socio-economic dynamics also play a role. The greater the pressure to be drafted, the further the fall if it doesn't go to plan.

In an attempt to shed light on the potential effects, if any, of being overlooked on Draft day, I contacted a couple of ex-Northern Knights footballers. Nick Carnell, former captain and 150-game veteran of the Coburg Lions in the VFL, replied. And he taught me a lesson.

Nick's outlook is that life becomes what you make of it. AFL or no AFL, doors are always opening and life is good. It's all about attitude and quality support. As he pointed out, school leavers will soon face similar issues if they aren't offered a place in their preferred university course.

Marc Rovere also played for the Knights, and after his Draft day didn't quite end as planned he headed to the Northern Bullants. He has the same perspective as Nick, in hindsight. But at the time there was shock and disappointment.

Players in the final year of the TAC Cup have often played elite football since they were 12 years old. They have made representative squads or trained with the AFL academy -- preparing for the end of the dream isn't part of the process.

But the end does come, with a thud. One day you were in a system as a serious contender and the next you're out of the system and out of the Draft. It's not easy being a teenager.

It was good to hear whatever happens on Draft day guarantees neither long-term success nor failure. In Gen-Y terms, 'it is what it is'. But in that initial period when the years of positive reinforcement suddenly end, some adjusting and reframing is required.

So where to from here?

Well, one thing is certain, at this year's Draft some boys will be selected and some won't. But as I learnt from Nick and Marc, there is one other certainty; in the end, with help and support, we all get to decide what happens next.

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