THE next generation of Gippsland football stars begin their journey on the talent pathway this month with the return of the AFL Gippsland McDonald’s Hawthorn Junior Football Academy program.
Established in Bairnsdale in 2015, the program was rolled out across Gippsland with great success last year and will offer even more opportunities in 2018.
In addition to the under 12 and under 14 groups of previous years, this year’s program will include an under 13 group to ensure no future stars slip through the cracks.
Hawthorn Football Club representatives Liam Shiels and Changkuoth Jiath were on hand to help launch this year’s program and both had plenty of advice to offer.
Shiels, 26, is a three-time AFL premiership player and an established star of the competition, while Jiath, 18, is just beginning his career, but has already inspired many with his story.
Born in an Ethiopian refugee camp to South Sudanese parents, before being raised in Morwell, Jiath became the first product of the Hawthorn Next Generation Academy when he joined the club’s rookie list last November.
AFL Gippsland and Gippsland Power, in conjunction with the six junior leagues and associations across the Gippsland catchment area, have appointed coaches and identified and issued invitations to prospective participants, with about 30 players selected for each age group from across each junior league or association.
AFL Gippsland football development manager Adrian Bromage and Gippsland Power talent manager Peter Francis will once again oversee the academy programs, with assistance from the Hawks’ Next Generation Academy head coach Nathan Foley.
Bromage said the core aim of the program was to develop individual player skills in all areas of the game, as well as leadership behaviours among young footballers.
“The program will offer participants the opportunity to concentrate on individual skill development from the basics right through good habits,” Bromage said.
“Participants will gain exposure to specialist coaching in different aspects of the game, as well as access to better equipment and training programs, skill analysis and fitness testing which will provide them with feedback on ways to improve their game.”
Francis was excited about the prospect of fast tracking regional players’ development, which he was confident would ultimately lead to greater numbers graduating to Gippsland Power programs with a stronger skill base.
“Exposing kids to the talent pathway earlier will give them a better idea of the expectations that come with it,” Francis said.
“By participating in sessions with external coaches and presenters, players will get the chance to broaden their experiences and develop leadership skills.”
The program will also provide a forum for coaches to gain experience in a high-quality environment, which Francis hoped would lead to an extension and improvement in the quality of junior coaches in Gippsland.
Academies are based at Bairnsdale, Sale, Traralgon, Warragul and suitable locations for participants in the Southern Gippsland and Central Gippsland programs.
The first of six training sessions will be held this week, with the program concluding with a testing day hosted by Hawthorn and Gippsland Power football clubs in April.