Front and Centre: Dons queried over international rookie pick-up

Bombers exploit rookie-list loophole with 'Indian' McNiece

A former AFL football manager believes the league's criteria for multicultural rookie-listed players has "shades of grey", following Essendon defender Ben McNiece's meteoric rise from VFL footballer to Anzac Day debutant.

McNiece was last year able to be selected from the Bombers' VFL side as a Category B rookie because his mother was born in India - even though he's never set foot on the sub-continent.

"She was about nine when she came here [Australia]. She came out with the rest of her family," McNiece told ESPN after Tuesday's Anzac Day win against Collingwood.

"I was born here. I was lucky enough that mum met dad. Dad's Australian. [I am] really lucky.

"I still have family over there [India]. But most of my immediate family's here.

"I haven't been to India. I was looking at trying to get over in the next couple of years. Maybe in the off-season I may be a chance to get over there and have a bit of a visit."

An Essendon insider close to the Bombers' recruiting department told ESPN the club knew McNiece's tenuous eligibility and saw the 25-year-old as a "free pick", with Category B selection not requiring a handover of draft picks.

He said McNiece would not have been recruited if he failed to qualify as a multicultural selection.

While the Bombers acted within AFL rules, the controversial loophole revealed how the supplementary list class needed finetuning, according to ex-Western Bulldogs general manager of football, James Fantasia.

"I support the concept. Essendon have done the right thing here. They've been clever," Fantasia told ESPN.

"[But] I kind of think it should be limited to people born overseas, as opposed to their parents. There's a shade of grey in it.

"My father was born in Italy, my mother was born in Scotland. Had that rule been around when I was young, I might've got drafted."

Category B rookies must have one or both parents born overseas.

The AFL said the new classification was introduced as "an incentive for clubs to go into areas where our recruiting and presence is traditionally not strong."

Hawks finally feather nest with a new CEO

It's taken them more than four months, but Hawthorn are finally set to announce their new CEO sometime in the next week.

After a protracted interview process, the race was down to two but Fiona de Jong -- former chief executive of the Australian Olympic Committee who has been in the news recently given her unhappy relationship with embattled president John Coates -- has been told she was the unlucky loser. We hear the successful applicant is an established and well-known (male) name in AFL circles.

Stuart Fox left the Hawks in December to take up the vacant chief executive's job at the Melbourne Cricket Club, where he replaced Stephen Gough.

Hawthorn's committee has since tried to attract Mark Evans to the post but the former AFL footy ops man chose to head north and take up the CEO's job at Gold Coast, meaning the Hawks have effectively been leaderless so far in 2017.

Schwass wants more action on mental health

North Melbourne premiership player Wayne Schwass has implored AFL clubs to hire full-time psychologists to arm players with the skills to prevent mental health issues.

Schwass battled depression through the majority of his highly decorated 15-year, 282-game career.

"I think all AFL clubs, if they aren't already, need to very quickly divert some of their resources into one, two, three full-time psychologists," Schwass told ESPN.

"If we provide an environment for the person to be as good an athlete as possible, then we also have a duty of care to make sure the same environment develops the person.

"We equip them with the skills that allow for them to cope on the sporting arena or we also equip them with skills to allow them to cope with the challenges life throws at them."

The 48-year-old says he shamefully hid his mental health problems from many of his family and friends, only revealing his demons in 2006 - four years after retiring.

The three-time best and fairest winner at the Kangaroos and Sydney last week quit his sales job at Telstra to focus solely on helping others overcome mental illness.

He's launched an advocacy group called Puka Up, an Indian Hindi term that means "authentic and genuine" - attributes Schwass says he failed to live by when he concealed his ill health during the pinnacle of his career.

The group is not a not-for-profity charity, learning from the failings of his charity group, The Sunrise Foundation, which ceased operations in 2011 due to funding shortfalls.

Schwass says Australia has over 54,000 registered charities fighting for a small supply of funding.

"Unless you're one of the really big ones generating a significant portion of the available funding in the Australian marketplace, your long-term sustainability is challenging," he told ESPN.

"We have deliberately created a commercial enterprise that will invest its profits into social initiatives around mental health and suicide prevention.

"When you are reliant on philanthropic funding, you are restricted to where you can invest the available money for the biggest return.

"At Puka Up, we're a conversation starter. Our vision is to create, encourage and enable people to have open and honest conversation about mental health and emotional well-being."

Bouncing the bounce?

The debate over the future of the centre bounce continues to bubble along, with the AFL community seemingly divided over the issue.

The bounce, where umpires thump the ball into the turf to start play, has been a VFL/AFL tradition but many players, commentators and umpires themselves wonder whether it's got a role in the modern game.

They feel it slows up play as umpires get set to execute the difficult manoeuvre; it produces erratic results; and, the umpires spend more time honing their bouncing technique than they do their decision-making.

But in an informal poll of AFL captains, ESPN discovered that opinions were pretty much split down the middle.

Brisbane Lions skipper Dayne Beams said he couldn't believe the game's rulers would consider scrapping the bounce.

"That would be ridiculous, it's got to stay," he told ESPN. "That's one of the crucial parts of the game. That's where you see the best players go to work and the unpredictability of it works. It's crazy even talking about it!"

His opposite number at Melbourne, Nathan Jones, was also a supporter of the bounce - but with some qualifications.

"I'm not a complete traditionalist but I would like to see it remain," he told ESPN. "Perhaps we could do it for the first centre bounce at each quarter and at the start of the game and then throw it up after that, but I do like the umpire holding the ball up in the air and bouncing it. I would like to see it remain but maybe just at the start of the quarter with the best bouncer of all the umpires."

Carlton's Marc Murphy took a totally different view.

"I reckon throwing it up gives everyone an even shot at it," he told ESPN.

AFL umpires are ramping up pressure on the AFL Commission to dispense with the bounce. The AFL Umpires' Association has canvassed its abolition in ongoing negotiations with the league over a new collective bargaining agreement.

A recent Fairfax poll of 4200 footy supporters - which asked: 'Should the AFL scrap the centre bounce in favour of the toss up?' - ended up with responses split almost exactly half and half.


Most tackles after five rounds:
50 - Tom Liberatore (WB) 2017
50 - Rory Sloane (Adel) 2017
48 - Brett Kirk (Syd) 2009

The roar of the crowd: Gun Collingwood recruit Adam Treloar has now played in front of more people in his 27 games for the Pies than he did in his 79 games for Greater Western Sydney (as pointed out by stats guru, sirswampthing).

Goalkickers in every game of 2017:
At least 1 goal - 25 players
At least 2 - Tom Hawkins (Geel), Daniel Menzel (Geel)
At least 3 - Eddie Betts (Adel)