An 18-year-old Indigenous footy player from regional Victoria looks set to be the AFL’s top draft pick at next week’s 2020 draft.
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan would be the first Indigenous player since Des Headland in 1998 to take the top spot.
He’s been compared to legend of the game Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin and came up through the Western Bulldogs’ Next Generation Academy (NGA).
Though the Adelaide Crows get the first draft pick this year, on-lookers are expecting the Bulldogs to use their NGA priority access to keep Ugle-Hagan in the family.
Despite the rumours, Ugle-Hagan said nothing has been confirmed with the club.
“They haven’t actually given me much yet,” Ugle-Hagan said.
“Obviously I’ll speak to them soon, hopefully.”
Western Bulldogs General Manager of List and Recruiting Sam Power said Ugle-Hagan has been involved in personal and skill development for a number of years.
“Jamarra is an impressive young man and an exciting football prospect,” he said.
Power said through the Bulldogs’ NGA, Ugle-Hagan has already had access to training with the club’s senior group and spent time with older players such as Josh Dunkley and captain Marcus Bontempelli.
The NGA is a joint initiative between the AFL and clubs to provide development opportunities for up-and-coming Indigenous and multicultural players.
Ugle-Hagan grew up on the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve, near the coastal town of Warrnambool, three hours’ drive southwest of Melbourne.
He said his experience at the NGA helped him further his skills greatly.
“It’s been a great opportunity to get that experience, and have the Bulldogs to, not fall back on, but have them at your back and pushing you to be the best,” he said.
Noongar/Yamatji man and former Fremantle Docker Des Headland said the position was a special achievement for the young player.
“The rumour is that he’ll get number one, it’s fantastic. In 1998 I took number one; this is going to be a great opportunity for him.”
Headland, who also heads up the Indigenous Players Alliance, said it wasn’t until he finished his football career that he realised the privilege of the position.
“I’ve been 10 years retired now, and you look back and you go, it’s pretty special being number one draft pick; to be the first player to be picked out in your year and your area. It’s fantastic, so good luck to him,” he said.
Headland said the NGA creates great opportunities for young players.
“It gives kids opportunities that they may not have had previously to get in the AFL, but it also trains them and teaches them,” he said.
“[Mentoring players] get to build that rapport with individuals from 14-15 years of age and train them and guide them over a period of years until they’re old enough to put their name on the draft.”
Ugle-Hagan said though he dreamed of being a footballer, making a difference and showing others what is possible was just as important.
“AFL footy was a dream because as a young kid, you want to play it, but the other dream is obviously making younger Indigenous boys look up to me,” he said.
By Sarah Smit