St Kilda’s four selections at the 2017 National Draft were all selected in the back-line of the TAC Cup team of the year. With their first three selections the Saints selected the entire half-back line of the 2017 TAC Cup team of the year comprised of half-backs Hunter Clark and Nicholas Coffield with selections seven and eight followed by centre half-back Oscar Clavarino with selection 35. Last night was the first time St Kilda had two top-ten picks in the National Draft since they selected Luke Ball at No. 2 and Xavier Clarke at No. 5 16 years ago in 2001. With their fourth and final 2017 selection at pick 46 St Kilda selected Ben Paton who was named in the back pocket of the TAC Cup team of the year. Coffield, Clavarino and Paton were also named in the back-line of the 2017 Under 18 All-Australian team. All four 2017 St Kilda draftees played in the Under 18 All-Stars game at the MCG on the day of the 2017 AFL Grand Final.
Some St Kilda supporters might be critical that all four of the club’s selections at the 2017 National Draft have predominantly played in defense and would have preferred more variety in the type of players selected however only Clavarino is viewed as being a pure defender at AFL level and his ability to play as an intercepting key defender serves a pressing need for the Saints who require more depth in their key defensive stocks to support Jake Carlilse and 28 year old Nathan Brown. As well as playing as rebounding defenders at junior level Clark and Patton have also spent time playing in the midfield and their performances in this role played a key role in them being recruited. Whilst Coffield has predominantly played at half-back he has also made valuable contributions in the midfield and forward line as well, offering versatility in terms of what position he can play at AFL level.
All four of St Kilda’s 2017 selections played in defense for a Victorian side at the 2017 Under 18 National Championships with Clark, Clavarino and Paton all representing Vic County and Coffield playing for Vic Metro. Two of the four players have considerable experience as captains in 2017 with Coffield being captain of his TAC Cup team the Northern Knights whilst Clavarino was co-captain of the Dandenong Stingrays in the TAC Cup and was also co-captain of Vic Country. Clark excelled playing as an inside midfielder for the Dandenong Stingrays during the 2017 TAC Cup season, averaging 27 disposals and six clearances per game.
Picture: Hunter Clark (No. 21), Oscar Clavarino (No. 25), and Ben Paton (No. 5) for Vic Country at the start of the second half against Vic Metro at Punt Road Oval on June 24, 2017.
One of the major criticisms of St Kilda’s list at the end of the 2017 season was that the midfield didn’t have enough class and a major reason for the recruitment of Clark and Coffield with selections seven and eight is that the club believes this duo will be able to perform roles as classy midfielders at AFL level, helping to improve this area.
Pick 7 Hunter Clark, 186 cm, 80 kg, 26/03/1999, Dandenong Stingrays
After he starred for Vic Country at the under 16 National Championships in 2015 Hunter Clark was touted as a possible top 10 pick two years later at the National Draft and he lived up to that billing, being selected by St Kilda with pick seven.
In the November 2017 edition of SEN Inside Football, Dandenong Stingrays talent Manager Mark Wheeler commented on Clark “We’ve always known what Hunter could do. Prior to this year he was a half-back flanker who could also play as an outside midfieder, but he’s really developed himself into being an aggressive, ball-hunting inside midfielder. He carried a groin injury into the early part of the season, but once he came back from Nationals he had an amazing impact. He’s a good kick on both sides and his endurance and speed have been questioned, but the way he played put an end to that. He played only 12 game with us this year and won the best and fairest by a record margin.”1
Hunter played his junior football with Mount Martha. Two of the number 1 selections at National Drafts in the last six years played junior football with Mount Martha, being Lachie Whitfield selected by the GWS Giants with pick 1 in 2012 Jacob Weitering selected by Carlton at number 1 in 2015.
Hunter played 10 games as a bottom-age player for the Dandenong Stingrays in the TAC Cup during 2016, averaging 15.3 disposals and 3.2 marks per game. Impressive form for the Stingrays earnt him selection in the Vic Country team for two games during the 2016 Under 18 National Championships, in mid 2017 Hunter commented on this experience “It was pretty unbelievable. The pace of the game was like no other I’ve played in. A lot of the players I played with or against are now on AFL lists, so it was a bit of an eye-opener that (your top-age year) is really a big year and that you’ve got to put your best foot forward at the Championships. You’re up against the best kids in the country and you’ve got to make a statement.”2 Clark was a member of the NAB AFL Academy squad along with Dandenong team-mate and fellow St Kilda selection at the 2017 National Draft Oscar Clavarino which allowed the duo to train alongside and test themselves against the best teenagers in the country.
Clark is comfortable kicking on either foot and some people have commented that “you would be hard pressed to pick his preferred leg.” At 12 years of age a knee injury meant Clark wasn’t able to kick on his preferred right foot for six weeks, Clark comments “I wasn’t allowed to kick on my right, so I thought I might as well kick on my left. It came pretty easily to me. I was able to drop the ball pretty well off my standing leg. As the years went on, I kept practising it. Some games, if we were up against a team that we were going to beat pretty easily, I’d say I’d only kick left foot all game. I just wanted to improve that. It comes in handy now, being able to swing onto either foot.”3
On his ability to play across half-back and in the midfield Clark comments “I enjoy playing across half back. You get to see the play unfold ahead of you. In the role I play, I try to set things up with my kicking or with my hands and then provide run. But I enjoy going through the midfield a bit more. You can get your hands dirty with all of that crash and bash stuff.”4
Early in the 2017 TAC Cup Season Dandenong Stingrays captain and future 2017 St Kilda draftee Oscar Clavarino commented on which team-mates were best equipped to be drafted by an AFL club, saying “All of the boys deserve to be in the elite level, but a couple that stand out to me are Hunter Clark and Luke Davies. These boys have some of the best skills in the competition and are competitive beasts on the field and are great to train with.”5
Clark missed most of the 2017 pre-season with a groin injury but quickly made an impression in the TAC Cup with the Dandenong Stingrays, playing 12 games he averaged 14.9 kicks, 11.8 handballs, 3.2 marks, 6.6 tackles and 0.8 goals per game. Whilst Clark predominantly played in the midfield for the Dandenong Stingrays, in his four games for Vic Country at the 2017 Under 18 National championships he predominantly played as a rebounding half-back, averaging 10.0 kicks, 5.3 handballs, 3.0 marks and 4.5 tackles per game. At the Draft combine Hunter recorded a score of 28 out of 30 in the kicking test to be ranked equal seventh.
Picture: Clark in the motion of having a kick for Vic Counry against Vic Metro at Punt Road Oval on June 24, 2017
In an interview with Saints.com.au last night Clark spoke about being drafted by St Kilda, saying “It has been a dream forever, so to get the opportunity with such a great club is pretty surreal, not really sure how to put it into words.” On radio station SEN St Kilda recruiting and list manager Tony Elshaug commented “Hunter transferred in from the backline to the midfield and we felt in the second half of the season he was as good as any midfielder in the TAC competition, outstanding.”
On playing against Clark at under-age level and now having him as a St Kilda team-mate Coffield commented to afl.com.au “I have obviously watched him over the past few years with the Academy and then Dandenong, I wouldn’t rather share this experience with anyone else, obviously seeing him through the carnival playing a similar position, almost competing throughout the year, but to be paired up with him now is awesome.”
Pictures below: Hunter breaking the lines for Team Enright on September 30, 2017 at the MCG
Pick 8 Nicholas Coffield, 191 cm, 82 kg, 23/10/1999, Northern Knights
At the start of the 2017 season Coffield wasn’t spoken about as being a potential top 10 pick at the 2017 National Draft however his outstanding season which exceeded everyone’s expectations including his own resulted in him shooting up draft boards as the season progressed.
Speaking to saints.com.au after being selected by the club with pick 8 Coffield was asked “Nick it is literally 10 minutes ago you had your name read out, can you talk us through what you are feeling at the minute” Coffield responded “Yeah it is all pretty surreal, it is a bit of a blur, hearing your name get called out and then going up doing the photo shoots and going up on stage, it has obviously been a dream for 18 years and for it to come true now it is pretty crazy. Just trying to embrace the experience because it is a once in a lifetime chance. To end up at St Kilda, a club with such a bright future, it is awesome.” When asked “Now we’ll obviously provide Saints fans with some highlights but for those out there who might not have seen any what type of player are you?” Nick responded “I’d like to think I can play in all three lines, I am pretty versatile, pretty evasive and quick, I reckon I have got good decision making so hopefully I can offer a bit to the club.”
In an interview that St Kilda’s two ten selections Coffield and Clark had with afl.com.au Clark was asked about having previously played against Coffield and the opportunity to now be his team-mate, saying “Yeah we have versed Coff a few times, at Vic Country and then Northern Knights, I think in Round 4 we played them and he kicked the game-winner from about 55 in the last minute so I definitely realised how much of a gun he was so it is pretty awesome to be his team-mate now.” Coffield’s game winning long goal for the Northern Knights against the Dandenong Stingrays was kicked off just one step highlighting his composure and outstanding skill level.
Coffield was the only player to play every TAC Cup game for the Northern Knights in 2016, averaging 15.3 disposals and 3.2 marks per game, he won the Michael Mascoulis Award, given to the most promising bottom age Player at the Knights.
Coffield was appointed captain of the Northern Knights for the 2017 TAC Cup season and in round 1 he started in defense and highlighted his versatility by kicking four goals in a match winning performance after being shifted forward during the third quarter. Throughout 2017 Coffield made an impact in several roles, predominantly playing as a third tall defender, but also playing some stints as an inside and outside midfielder and a forward. During 2017 Coffield played 16 games for the Northern Knights in the TAC Cup, averaging 13.7 kicks, 7.3 handballs, 4.7 marks, 2.0 tackles and 0.8 goals per game. Coffield was named in the TAC Cup Team of the Year at half-back and was also named as vice-captain.
Coffield was vice-captain of Vic Metro at the 2017 Under 18 National Championships, he played four games for his state, averaging 12.8 kicks, 9.5 handballs, 4.0 mar and 2.3 tackles per game. Coffield was named in the backline of the Under 18 All-Australian team. Coffield finished in the top 10 of the 10 metre test and 20 metre test at the Draft Combine, recording 2.91 seconds for the longer distance, only 0.04 seconds slower than the quickest time. With his height at 191 centimetres, speed, and reading of the play Coffield is able to play on a variety of opponents and several different positions.
After Coffield was selected by St Kilda with pick eight Northern Knights Talent Manager Rhy Gieschen commented “Tonight caps off an unbelievable year for Nick. Everything he has accomplished has been on the back of extremely hard work over his journey and dedication to improve. With his mix of speed, agility, his efficiency by hand and foot and his amazing ability to make the right decision almost every single time he is a serious talent and AFL prospect. He is as composed with ball in hand as any 17-18 year old in Australia. As Captain of our club he did a fantastic job this year and is a match winner who showed on multiple occasions he wants the ball in his hands in the big moments. Everyone at the Knights has no doubt he will be an extremely consistent AFL player and potentially a future leader of St Kilda with his natural leadership qualities.”6
Pick 35 Oscar Clavarino, 196 cm, 85 kg, 22/05/1999, Dandenong Stingrays
Oscar Clavarino is a key defender who displays outstanding leadership, is a strong intercept mark, has good endurance and whilst he was primarily responsible for nullifying an opposition key forward can also be an attacking influence, setting up play from defense.
During 2016 Clavarino played five games for the Dandenong Stingrays in the TAC Cup as a key defender and also earnt selection in the Vic Country team for three games at the 2016 Under 18 National Championships. On the eve of the 2017 National Championships Oscar commented on what he had learnt from playing in the Under 18 National Championships last year, saying “The biggest thing I learnt from last year is simply how ruthless and switched on you have to be at that level. The fast ball movement and elite skills makes it especially hard as a backman but at the same time it’s a great challenge and I can’t wait to be a part of it all again.”7
The Dandenong Stingrays playing group selected Oscar Clavarino and Josh Bateman to be co-captains of the team in 2017, Oscar commented on the appointment “It’s an absolute honour to be selected by my teammates to lead the team alongside my co-captain Josh Bateman. It gives me a great sense of respect from my peers given that they have allowed me the opportunity to put my best foot forward in hopefully being able to lead the team. I’ve always looked to be an on-field leader ever since I was young – in my younger years I had the opportunity to captain my local footy team Berwick for four years which gave me the experience and the knowledge of the expectations of a leader. It gave me the view on what it takes to be a leader and the selfless nature that it taught me was priceless – I’m hoping to be a captain that my teammates can rely on to set high standards both on and off the field and enforce these standards upon the squad.”8
Clavarino was selected as co-captain of Vic Country along with James Worpel for the 2017 Under 18 National Championships. Speaking on his leadership Oscar commented “Of course there’s still a long way to go but I love the direction I’m heading with my leadership. Working with ex-St Kilda captain, a 300-game player and now a leadership mentor in Nathan Burke is a great way to learn as well. He puts us on a path and pushes us in the right directions while still giving us responsibility.”9 Shortly after Clavarino was selected by St Kilda Burke tweeted “Great work Saints. Oscar is an outstanding young man that will be captain of the saints by 2024. No pressure though😳. Welcome big fella.”
During the 2017 TAC Cup season Oscar played eight games for Dandenong, averaging 7.6 kicks, 8.4 handballs, 5.6 marks and 2.9 tackles per game. Oscar was named in the TAC Cup team of the year at centre half-back.
Clavarino was a member of the NAB AFL Academy squad along with Dandenong team-mate and fellow St Kilda selection at the 2017 National Draft Hunter Clark. The duo both represented Vic Country at the National Championships in 2016 and 2017. Vic Country appointed Clavarino and James Worpel as co-captains for 2017 and Clavarino played all four games for Vic Country, averaging 5.8 kicks, 6.0 handballs, 6.0 marks and 2.0 tackles per game.
Matthew Lloyd was an assistant coach of Oscar’s high school football team at Haileybury College and commented on Oscar “I’ve never a seen a young defender read the play like Oscar can, and he loves the challenge of playing on the number one key forward. He has the ability to quickly decide whether to stay on his man or go third-man-up, and he’s been doing that since he was 16. I’ve always thought he’s a top-notch player with his ability to read the ball in the air, his foot skills and decision-making –he can be impassable at times. And as a character, he’s 10 out of 10.”10
Throughout 2017 Clavarino has received considerable advise from key forward Josh Battle who was selected by St Kilda with pick 39 at the 2016 National Draft and has been completing year 12 at Haileybury College this year. Oscar commented on the guidance Josh has been able to provide, saying “Josh has taught me how much hard work AFL footy is, but also how rewarding it is too. He’s a role model because I take notice of what he’s doing as a professional athlete – like his preparation, his diet, and that will help me if I’m lucky enough to get drafted. I ask him heaps of questions that might get a bit annoying but we’re really good mates, so I don’t think he minds.”11 Having now joined St Kilda Clavarino will be able to train and play alongside Battle for many years ago. Given that they are both teenagers, Clavarino is a key defender and Battle is a key forward they can expect to regularly compete against each other in training drills and match simulation.
On draft night St Kilda midfielder David Armitage visited Oscar and his family to welcome him to the Saints. In a video on saints.com.au Oscar was asked ‘What has just happened?’ Oscar responded “We’ve been sitting around as a family and I have just been drafted to the Saints, so really excited, just can’t wait to be a part of it, I guess it’s a boyhood dream come true. It has just been a dream of mine for so long now, and I guess it has finally come alive now and it is an opportunity to hopefully further myself as a person and then on the field as well.”
Pick 46 Ben Paton 186 cm, 78 kg, 19/10/1998, Murray Bushrangers
After playing his top-age under 18 TAC Cup season for the Murray Bushrangers in 2016 and getting overlooked at the 2016 National and Rookie Drafts Ben Patton returned to the club to play an over-age season in 2017. Having turned 18 on 19 October 2016 Paton was only a few months older than the oldest top-age players who turned 18 in January 2017.
Mainly playing as a rebounding defender Patton played 12 games for the Murray Bushrangers in 2017, averaging 24 disposals and five marks per game. On his 2017 season Paton commented to taccup.com.au “Last year I sort of played more of a midfield role but this year I’ve gone back, so it was probably just to see what I can do. It actually has been my first season in defence and it’s been a pretty quick transition from last year, but I adjusted pretty well. The coaches at the Bushrangers and through Vic Country have been really good. I’d like to think this is my best position.”12 Ben was selected in the back pocket in the 2017 TAC Cup team of the year.
Patton played four games for Vic Country at the 2017 Under 18 National Championships, averaging 10.5 kicks, 7.8 handballs and 4.0 marks per game. Patton was named in the backline of the Under 18 All-Australian team. Ben’s outstanding leap allows him to play on taller opponents and this trait was on full display at the Draft Combine where he was ranked first in the right running vertical jump with a height of 99 centimetres, three centimetres ahead of the second ranked player.
Patton finished equal second in the Murray Bushrangers best and fairest on 19 votes with Jordan Butts, two votes behind Angus Hicks. Paton polled 13 votes in the first eight rounds to be a convincing leader but missed seven games due to commitments with Vic Country at the Under 18 National Championships and illness.
In the November 2017 edition of SEN Inside Football Murray Bushrangers Coach Leon Higgins commented on Paton “Ben was a 19-year-old for us this year after playing mostly midfield and forward last year as an 18-year-old. This season we played him as a smaller, rebounding defender, and he was terrific in finishing runner-up in the best and fairest. Played all Vic Country games and was All-Australian. Strong hands, kicks it well on both feet and is an exceptional tackler.”13
On being selected by St Kilda at the 2017 National Draft Patton commented to ‘The Border Mail’ “I was a bit lost for words. I met with St Kilda a few times and they showed some interest so it was great to get drafted by them. I obviously would have gone anywhere but staying in Melbourne is really good. It’s been a big week and I’m just relieved to get drafted. I couldn’t have asked for a better result.”14
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
1 Pacific Star Network Limited, Draft Guide 2017, Inside Football, November 2017, page 14
13 Pacific Star Network Limited, Draft Guide 2017, Inside Football, November 2017, page 24