It was an evening to savour for Eastern Football League junior clubs.
With seven EFL juniors selected in Friday night’s AFL national draft, young aspiring footballers from six of the League’s clubs will begin their respective elite football journeys after realising a lifelong dream.
History was made in the first round of the draft, with Norwood junior and midfielder Adam Cerra (pictured) selected by Fremantle at pick 5, followed by Ferntree Gully midfielder Jaidyn Stephenson, taken by Collingwood at pick 6.
Cerra had previously been touted as a top-three pick prior to Friday night’s draft, while Stephenson’s position had been widely speculated.
PICTURE: David Crosling
The duo’s respective selections mark the first time in draft history that two EFL juniors have been taken inside of the top 10.
In one of the many feel-good stories of the draft, Coldstream junior Bayley Fritsch was snared by Melbourne in the second round at pick 31.
The 186cm flanker’s journey onto an AFL list saw him play with Melbourne’s affiliate, the Casey Demons, from 2015-2017 after winning the Leader Young Gun award for Division 3 & 4 in 2014.
PICTURE: Leader Newspapers
This season, Fritsch’s goal was to play a full season after an injury-ravaged 2015 with a back fracture and 2016 with knee issues.
Ferntree Gully junior Sam Hayes – widely touted as the best big-man in the draft – is heading to South Australia after being selected by Port Adelaide with pick 47. The hulking 203cm, 93kg ruck/forward showcased in dominant displays this season, including six majors against Gippsland Power for the Eastern Ranges in the TAC Cup in Round 6, while amassing 18 hit-outs.
Also heading interstate is Blackburn product Ryley Stoddart, landing at the Sydney Swans at pick 53 in the third round. Likened to Melbourne’s Jayden Hunt as a dashing half-back, Stoddart bolted into draft contention in just his first year in the TAC Cup program which produced nine Ranges appearances and four Vic Metro matches.
Joining Cerra at Fremantle is Heathmont junior Tom North, as the 65th selection in Friday night’s draft. The big-bodied midfielder kicks with both feet and is an accumulator around the stoppages. Along with his acceleration, the 87kg North is set to be an exciting prospect for the Dockers.
Rowville junior Dylan Moore finds himself donning the brown and gold stripes again, claimed by Hawthorn with pick 67. Moore’s late selection came as a surprise to many on Friday night, after an impressive under-18 carnival which saw the 66kg competitor accumulate possessions in all four matches against Western Australia, Vic Country, South Australia and the Allies.
The EFL juniors also make up seven of the nine Eastern Ranges selected in total onto AFL lists, in a dominant night for the TAC Cup club.
The 2017 pre-season and rookie draft will be held on Monday, November 27.