Northern clubs call dibs on talent pool
IF THE Sydney Swans go on and win the premiership, it might turn out to be as popular as Mick Malthouse being asked to speak at an AFL media conference.
There is a feeling in many quarters the Swans are an AFL-created monster - Frankensydney - devouring every advantage the league has put in front of it.
As the Swans' chances of winning a second flag in three years continue to rise - they are now as short as $2.50 to do so - so does the steam coming out of Eddie McGuire's ears.
The Collingwood president has placed himself on the frontline in the battle to diminish the Swans' various concessions for more than a decade, well before the first premiership cup made its way to Sin City in 2005.
On Four Corners in 2002 McGuire took a swipe at the controversial cost of living allowance afforded to the club by the AFL, saying the league was "doing their best to help" Sydney win a flag.
The Swans' then-chairman Richard Colless famously returned fire by giving McGuire the one-finger salute.
The battle has only intensified, with not only Sydney in McGuire's sights but also GWS, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which have been granted easy access to the best young players from their states via their respective academies, on top of any father-son selections.
And there is no denying McGuire has a larger army behind him this time.
It stems from the fact that even if the star-studded Swans win the flag, they can outbid any other club with their first-round draft selection - even one in the late-teens - to secure highly touted "top-five pick" Isaac Heeney (pictured).
The midfielder hails from Newcastle and has come through the Swans' academy, once headed by Paul Roos.
The formation of the academies, and nurturing young talent in New South Wales and Queensland in such a way, is long overdue.
But with equalisation a hot topic, Melbourne clubs argue that if AFL money is being used to help build these northern academies, the young stars being produced by them should be available to all ... or at least Sydney should be forced to hand over more than one draft pick.
But is Heeney just the tip of the iceberg or are McGuire and co jumping at shadows?
New South Wales has hardly been a strong breeding ground, with just 17 players from the state drafted in the past 10 years.
And Sydney's academy zone - the eastern part of the city and then the north of the state - has been a wasteland. Heeney is a rarity.
Sydney is expected to also nominate strong-marking forward Abe Davis with a third-or fourth-round pick, while Brisbane will consider tall talents - Matt Uebergang (Ipswich), Matt Hammelmann (Morningside) and Harris Andrews (Aspley) late in the draft - after outbidding Adelaide last year with a third-round pick for Jono Freeman.
But, going forward, rival clubs should probably be more fearful of the AFL's other monster, GWS, which has access to players from around the ACT and further south in the Riverina and north of the Murray.
It's where the likes of Paul Kelly, Shane Crawford, Wayne Carey, James Hird and Alex Jesaulenko were bred for greatness.