By Jonty Ralphsmith
With the 2023 AFL Draft now in the rear-view mirror, Star News Group journalist Jonty Ralphsmith casts his eye over the best boys of the 2024 crop.
Harvey Langford (Stingrays/Mt Martha): An AFL Academy member who can win a contested ball, Langford captained Dandenong in a one-off game this year and his consistency saw him take second place in the Stingrays best and fairest. Can also hit the scoreboard, kicking 10.7 in his 14 Coates League games, while averaging 22 disposals.
Cooper Hynes (Stingrays/Bonbeach): Another consistent Stingrays bottom-ager, Hynes kicked 18 goals in 13 games this year playing as a midfielder-forward. The 188 centimetre prospect is a bigger, stronger type who uses his size well and is hard to take down. Was a late addition to the Vic Country squad, playing the final game, underlining his reputation.
Harry Doughton (Stingrays/Mount Eliza): A pressure forward who brings energy and intent inside 50, Doughton was a surprise pocket rocket in the front half for Dandenong in 2023. His rise throughout 2023 culminated in selection at an under-17 trial match for Vic Country. Consistently hit the scoreboard in 2023 and averaged a team-high 5.2 tackles per game and will look to take his fundamentals to the next level in his top-aged campaign.
Noah Mraz (Stingrays/Narre North Foxes): Was one of only four players in the Vic Country squad this year as a bottom-ager, emphasising the potential that those in the industry see in the developing Narre North tall. Looks most comfortable in a key defensive post where he uses his size and skills to good effect.
Xavier Lindsay (Gippsland/Leongatha): The region’s most promising 2024 prospect, Lindsay proved throughout 2023 that he is more than the outside player where he has shown so much flair as a junior representative footballer. Adapted well to the physicality of the midfield and won the footy well, with his decision making and efficiency continuing to stand out. Covers the ground excellently and will catch plenty of eyes next year.
Ricky Mentha (Gippsland/Warragul): An excitement machine, the Northern Territory small forward will represent NT Thunder at the start of the Talent League season before linking up with the Power, having made the move to Gippsland. Has blistering speed, innate goal sense and good agility to make him a nightmare match up. Is part of the AFL Academy.
Jehi Esler (Gippsland/Tooradin-Dalmore): A developing key defender who came on in leaps and bounds in 2023, Esler is expected to remain on Gippsland’s list next year to pursue mid-season draft selection. The agile light-bodied shutdown player also played seven senior games for Tooradin-Dalmore in the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition.
Tom Hanily (Gippsland/Leongatha): Like Esler, 2023 was Hanily’s top-aged campaign but it was heavily interrupted by injury so he will remain firmly on recruiters’ radars next year. When he did play, though, he proved he has AFL-attributes, averaging 22 disposals and five tackles in his seven games this year. Is a smaller midfielder who has strong stoppage craft, wins his own footy, has strong endurance and makes sound decisions.
Max Donohue (Gippsland/Leongatha): His aerobic capacity and smarts help him burn direct opponents and get himself into ball-winning positions. Averaged more than 15 touches in his 15 games for Gippsland in 2023 and was selected in an under-17 trial match late in the year, demonstrating he’s on the radar.
Julian Callahan (Gippsland/Leongatha): A quick outside player with neat ball use to complement his athleticism, he played 12 games for the Power in 2023 and, like Donohue, was selected in that under-17 trial game.