Connor O'Sullivan carries the football forward

Victorian country footballers hoping their AFL dreams can come true at draft

Some of the country’s best young Aussie Rules footballers will be hoping their dreams can become reality when the 2023 AFL Draft gets underway tonight in Melbourne.

More than a hundred players have thrown their hat in the ring for this year’s draft, all hoping to find a new home with an AFL club.

Country Victoria is again well represented in this year’s draft field, with a trio of prospects anticipated to be among the first selected — with one player tipped to be pick number one.

The ABC chatted to Mark Brown, head coach of the Murray Bushrangers under-18 boys program, to get the inside word on each of the local talents.

The AFL draft will be held on November 20 and 21. Check out our full top 30 rankings and join us for our live blog on draft nights.

Harley Reid

Tongala, Bendigo Pioneers

Harley Reid is the hot favourite to be selected with the first pick in this year’s draft.(Supplied: Bendigo Pioneers)

Harley Reid is the biggest name heading into this year’s draft with the 18-year-old expected to be taken with the very first pick in the draft.

From Tongala Football Netball Club, Reid was surrounded by high expectations heading into the 2023 season and he has certainly lived up to the hype.

He dominated for Vic Country at the under-18 National Championships winning the side’s MVP award with his trademark fend-off earning him comparisons to Richmond legend Dustin Martin.

He was named an All-Australian for the second year running and also played senior footy in the VFL for Essendon and Carlton.

Reid appears to be set to move to Western Australia with the West Coast Eagles currently holding pick number one.

But a potential trade with North Melbourne or another club remains a possibility, which could see Reid stay closer to home.

Connor O’Sullivan

Albury, Murray Bushrangers

Connor O’Sullivan is also among the biggest players in the draft — literally.

Standing 198cm tall, the towering defender and Albury Tigers product is regarded as one of if not the top backmen available.

Connor O'Sullivan carries the football forward

Albury footballer Connor O’Sullivan is considered to be one of the best defenders in this year’s draft pool.(Facebook: Murray Bushrangers)

Athletic as well as tall, he won the MVP award for the Allies, was named an All-Australian, and is expected to be chosen in the first round.

Brown said O’Sullivan possesses the most desirable traits for a tall player who can also roam forward — great hands.

“As a key back and key forward he’s got the one trait that you really like and that is he’s good above his head,” Brown said.

“He’s a good contested mark. He complements that with the fact that he can run a 2-kilometre time trial in six minutes 10 [seconds], he finds the footy well, and he’s good below his knees.

“He’s a really well-rounded footballer, a really well-rounded athlete, so we’re pretty confident that wherever he lands he’ll fold into an AFL program really successfully.”

Darcy Wilson

Wangaratta Rovers, Murray Bushrangers

Darcy Wilson holds the football and runs forward.

Darcy Wilson will bring superb athleticism with Mark Brown speaking highly of both his speed and endurance.(Facebook: Murray Bushrangers)

An exciting attacking midfielder and half forward, Darcy Wilson enters the draft on the back of a stellar season with the Bushies.

He averaged over 25 touches and more than a goal a game this year, helping him earn the Bushrangers’ best and fairest prize.

Brown said Wilson’s athletic abilities will be a huge asset to whichever AFL club selects him.

“Athletically I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more gifted footballer,” he said.

“Usually you get blessed with fantastic top-end speed and your endurance is so-so, or vice versa. But Darcy certainly has got a foot in both camps.

“He does a lot right, Darcy, and he has a lot of strings to his bow that should hopefully stands him up pretty well.”

From the Wangaratta Rovers, Wilson is likely to be taken in the late-first to early-second round range.

Phoenix Gothard

Albury, Murray Bushrangers

Phoenix Gothard has burst onto the scene with the Bushrangers this year, making a noticeable impact in his first year with the program.

A small forward, he impressed with both the Allies at the National Championships and the Bushrangers, and then again at the draft combine.

Phoenix Gothard holds the ball while playing Australian rules football.

Albury’s Phoenix Gothard had a strong season could be drafted in the late second round on Tuesday.(Facebook: AFLNSWACT)

“He’s a real opportunistic footballer. He doesn’t need a lot of the football to have an impact,” Brown said.

“He’s got ridiculously fast feet. His agility is through the roof. His ability to turn and face goal happens in an instant, and then he executes going into forward 50 really well.

“Phoenix has come in, had the one year … and had a real impact very quickly. The ceiling on him is pretty substantial.”

Another Albury Tiger, Gothard could be drafted late in the second round or early in the third.

Other names to watch

Alongside Reid, O’Sullivan, Wilson, and Gothard, a handful of other players from the region will be hoping to land themselves a spot on an AFL list.

Oscar Ryan (Shepparton United, Murray Bushrangers) is a tough player who has a home along the half-back line, and Hugh Byrne (Echuca, Bendigo Pioneers) is a target forward who can also play further up the field.

Oskar Smartt (Leitchville Gunbower, Bendigo Pioneers) is another tough midfielder, while Oliver Poole (Echuca United, Bendigo Pioneers) is a speedy outside midfielder and half forward.

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Author: Russell White