Wollongong product Sam Thorne has been voted the QBE Sydney Swans Academy’s Most Valuable Player at the end of their five-game series in the elite under 18 interstate competition.
The Academy’s under 18 team lost to the Geelong Falcons on Sunday, their final game in the new NAB League.
That left the Swans with four wins from five matches in the revamped competition where the northern Academy teams - the Swans, Giants, Lions and Suns - played against top Victorian under 18 teams for the first time.
The Swans beat the Tasmania Devils, GWS Giants Academy, and Victorian teams the Sandringham Dragons and Murray Bushrangers over the past month.
The competition has given the Swans players the chance to show their talents in front of recruiters from all AFL clubs.
And the season is not over for the Academy’s best players.
Selectors will now choose an Allies side, made up of the top players from the four Academy teams, the Northern Territory and Tasmania, to compete in the AFL National under 18 Championships against Victoria Metro, Victoria Country, WA and SA in July.
The AFL’s National Talent Manager, Kevin Sheehan, said he’d been very impressed with the Swans Academy during the series.
“This year we transitioned from the previous Series where the northern Academy teams just played amongst themselves, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, to also playing against the best Victorian sides,’’ Sheehan said.
“The Academy boys wanted to play against the very best young players in the country, and to beat the very best. They’ve shown they can compete on a level playing field against the Victorians so it’s been a wonderful step forward.
“Twenty years ago you wouldn’t have dreamt that boys who live in the heart of Sydney would be very competitive with the best Victorian boys. This will strengthen the pathway for Swans Academy boys and they’ll build their own history,’’ Sheehan said.
Thorne, appointed under 18 captain at the start of the Series, won the MVP award voted on by head coach Jared Crouch and other members of the Swans Academy’s coaching staff.
A powerfully built midfielder, Thorne polled 69 votes and was closely followed by skilled defender Max Geddes who polled 62 votes.
Super-talented midfielders Braeden Campbell and Errol Gulden, who aren’t eligible for the AFL National Draft until 2020, were third and fourth in the voting even though they didn’t play all five NAB League games because they were competing in the Australia under 17 team.
Tall defender Luke Parks, whose intercept marking was a highlight in the loss to the Falcons on Sunday, rounded out the top five in the voting.
The Swans Academy had been intent on going undefeated in the series but fell by 31 points to a more disciplined Falcons side on Sunday.
Crouch was disappointed with the performance in the final match but praised the boys for the way they conducted themselves during the NAB League series.
“The Falcons played hard, team-oriented footy. That had been our trademark in the first four games and we went away from the team-first approach and were beaten at our own game,’’ Crouch said.
“But our boys have played some really good football over the past month or so and it’s been a fantastic learning experience.
“We had the experience of going up against very good footballers here in Victoria. As an Academy it’s been invaluable for us to see where we stand in terms of the traditional AFL states.’’
The NAB League competition continues now without the four Academy teams and the Northern Territory under 18 side.
But Kevin Sheehan believes the revamped NAB League has been so successful that the Academy teams are likely to play more than five games in the competition in future years.
The most likely scenario is that the Academy teams and the NT would re-enter the competition after the National Championships in late July and play a few more games during the last part of the season.
“The Academy teams have all told us they’ve loved the experience and certainly would love another couple of games later in the year,’’ Sheehan said.
“That would top it off and it might be the next step but that’s for next year or the year after,’’ Sheehan said.
“We’ll see what happens but the new NAB League structure has been a great success and one that we want to build upon so that kids who get into the Swans Academy in future will know they’ll have the chance to test their ability against the best players in Australia.’’