Football supporters in blue and yellow.

For sporting prodigies like Harley Reid, there is such a thing as too much exposure

You may not have heard, but the West Coast Eagles recently used the first selection in the AFL’s National Draft to pick a teenager who’s touted as being the best young talent in the game by a mile.

A year-and-a-half before he was able to be drafted, observers were already declaring him a potential top selection.

He was so highly thought of that Perth’s local newspaper ran a story on the back page spruiking ‘101 things you need to know’ about him – before the draft took place.

All a bit of fun, right?

But as of Thursday, his name or photo had featured on the back page 25 times without having played a senior game, including a run of 17 in a row before and after the draft.

Harley Reid has been an almost permanent fixture in the local newspaper, despite never having played an AFL game.(ABC News: Jake Sturmer)

There is the very real danger that, in going with ‘Harleywood’, ‘Harley-lujah’, and ‘must-Reid’ already, the pun well will be dry by the time a ball is bounced.

Harley Reid is, from all accounts, an exceptional young man.

But how healthy can it be for a kid of 18 to be subject to this much exposure, all before he has played a game?

And what kind of impact will landing in the fishbowl of Perth – football obsessed, with its one newspaper’s laser beams trained on just two AFL teams – have on his thinking about life in WA?

Yes, your correspondent is keenly aware of probing the amount of media attention a player is subjected to with … more media attention — but the questions remain.

Built tough

It’s understood that the young men who nominate for the AFL draft are built tough, and put themselves forward for the kind of scrutiny that comes with being a top player.

They are special types, whose vertical leaps and beep test scores are pored over by fans of the clubs who want to pick them.

That’s the world of professional sport, an entertainment business fighting for your eyeballs and money.

Football supporters in blue and yellow.

Eagles fans have enjoyed four premiership is 32 years, a record of success unmatched by any team outside Victoria.(AAP Image: Gary Day)

And there’s nothing that keeps that business humming like hope. Hope is the footy fan’s caffeine.

In drafting Reid, the Eagles made a down payment on hope after two dreadful years.

Some observers thought they should have “split the pick” and taken two lesser, but still very highly regarded selections.

But the Eagles believe the hype around Reid is real and he will help propel them up the ladder.

We’ve been here before

We’ve had big hype surrounding the AFL’s top pick before.

Cast your mind back to Matt Kreuzer or Tom Boyd, Jack Watts or Jonathon Patton – yet none of them generated as much buzz as Harley Reid.

Two men stand holding a football jersey together.

Harley Reid on the night he was drafted, with West Coast Eagles great Nic Naitanui.(AAP Image: Morgan Hancock)

However what people who’ve watched footy for a long time know is that the best 18-year-old footballer in Australia is very rarely the best 25-year-old footballer in Australia.

What recruiters wouldn’t give for a crystal ball showing those seven years.

Patton, Watts and Boyd all struggled with the weight of being a top pick and finished up before their time.

And there is the other burden of being the number one draft pick: you usually end up at a club in dire straits – you don’t get your money for nothing.

The West Coast Eagles are enduring the worst run in their 37-year history, having missed finals for three years running.

A man in a blue football club tracksuit looks exasperated with his eyes closed.

Adam Simpson led the Eagles to the 2018 premiership, but the side has endured a woeful run of form in the past two years. (AAP Image: Richard Wainwright)

The supporters, spoiled by a record of success unmatched by any non-Victorian club, are hungry for a change in fortune – and they are not renowned for patience.

The boy they have recruited will unfortunately have to carry some of the massive weight of that expectation.

This is where Eagles supporters must be patient. They must be realistic, and temper expectations.

‘Not the saviour’

One man who understands the pressure Reid will face is Brett Deledio.

The two-time All Australian was taken with the first pick in the 2004 draft, by a Richmond side that had made finals only once in the previous nine years.

Of the media coverage Reid is subjected to, Deledio said players were left to make up their own minds on what they consumed.

“I remember reading an article about Chris Judd and he said he read the Financial Review and nothing else,” Deledio said.

A football player prepares to handball.

Brett Deledio said media scrutiny began to become a distraction in his second year. (AAP Image: Julian Smith)

“As a young kid from the country, I loved sport – I’m going to read the paper.

“It’s all well and good, but when it goes on and on it’s very hard to brush it off.

“My second year, I started to feel the heat more so from media, that you should be doing more.”

Deledio said pick one comes with its own unique pressure.

“[Going at pick one] you feel the pressure to be the saviour of your club, but Harley’s not going to be the saviour – he’s a kid that’s going to be a very good player for a long period of time,” he said.

“The hardest thing Harley will face is social media. When I started there was no social media.”

He said Reid would be best served by focusing on the basics.

A young man speaks to the media.

Harley Reid is just the West Coast Eagles third number one draft pick, after Drew Banfield in 1992 and and Michael Gardiner in 1996. (AAP Image: Joel Carrett)

“I’d tell him just to entrench himself in the work that he’s doing,” Deledio said.

“Train well, earn the respect of the boys, focus on those things. Just ignore those outside things.”

Prodigious talents

The sporting prodigy is always exciting.

Think of Boris Becker bludgeoning his way through the field at Wimbledon in 1985, aged 17, or Mike Tyson using similarly devastating power a year later to become the heavyweight champion of the world at 20.

Or Tiger Woods, who became the youngest person ever to win the US Masters.

But, putting it mildly, all three men had their issues.

Two boxers fight in the ring.

Mike Tyson became heavyweight champion of the world at age 20 before it all fell apart.(Getty Images: Manny Millan)

Recently the world was captivated by the rise of 16-year-old Luke Littler at the World Darts Championship.

For Littler, and Reid, the lesson to be learned from all three is to ‘keep the head’.

The media, social or otherwise, is not your friend.

It will tear you down even quicker than it built you up.

The thing Harley Reid has on his side is that footy is a team game, and he has landed at one with a proven record of success, and of keeping most of their best players.

He’ll need them to provide shelter from the inevitable storms.

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Author: Russell White