Cox's emergence may spur rethink on U.S. Combine

Mason Cox's emergence as a legitimate attacking weapon could spur the reintroduction of the AFL's U.S. Combine.

The AFL had travelled to U.S. every year since 2012 to hold trials for American athletes -- often college basketballers, footballers and soccer players who miss out on professional contracts in their chosen sports -- but held no such event in 2018.

However, it could be brought back in 2019, with the AFL set to make a decision on its future before the end of the year.

Cox became the poster boy for the 'American experiment' after one of the individual performances of the season during Collingwood's crushing preliminary final win against Richmond at the MCG. In just his 43rd game, he took 11 grabs (eight contested) and slotted three goals from 15 possessions as the Magpies stormed into the Grand Final. The 27-year-old was subdued in the first half of the following week's decider against West Coast but lifted significantly in the second as Collingwood fell agonisingly short against the Eagles.

Last season, the Magpie -- was signed by Collingwood as an international rookie after wowing talent scouts at the 2014 U.S. Combine in Los Angeles -- ranked second across the league for contested marks, highlighting his aerial dominance.

Cox was left shaking his head when asked about the AFL's decision to put the U.S. Combine on hold after his preliminary final heroics.

"I'm not too happy about it but it's not my decision to make," he said. "All I can do is play well and show them there's a good avenue. It's an interesting one, I don't quite understand it but there's a lot more that goes on at the AFL than I can get my head wrapped around."

His September emergence had many questioning why the AFL had seemingly scrapped its search for American athletes, but the league's national talent manager Kevin Sheehan said it could be back on next year. Sheehan pointed to the fact no American athlete had been signed the previous two years as the primary reason it was scratched.

"We're about to review that - it was put on hold because we didn't have a [club prepared to sign an American athlete] last year or the year before," he told ESPN. "We ran it and didn't get a club to take anyone, and without buyers it's not worth doing, so we put it on hold for a year.

"It was only ever a temporary postponement - it was never a cancellation, but we still have our network in place [in America] and could revive it without any problem."

Sheehan -- who has long played a key role in the AFL's search for talent within and outside of Australia -- said the league and its clubs were currently focused on the national draft on November 22-23. Once that event concluded, the U.S. Combine would be assessed.

"We will have a review after the draft; it won't take a lot to pull [the U.S. Combine] back together again, he said. "It then goes to the AFL to be funded, so it's first about getting clubs' opinions and then the AFL's strategic direction and budget [will determine its viability]."

The man who preceded Cox as the first born-and-bred American to play a senior AFL game, former Saint Jason Holmes, said the U.S. Combine was important to the sport's future.

"You still want to see the sport evolve internationally ... the evolution of the game [is important]," he told ESPN. "I think the game will expand again and I think there will be more potential for Americans to come out and play. I think Mason doing what he's doing is expanding the game - look at what [former Melbourne and Sydney stars] Jimmy Stynes and Tadhg Kennelly did with the Irish players ... it's definitely an opportunity for the game to grow.

"I imagine a lot of athletes in the States might think 'hey why can't I do that?'."

Sheehan said he was confident more American athletes could follow in the footsteps of Cox and Holmes should the AFL and its clubs pursue the opportunity in the U.S.

"[Just look at the] size of the market in the U.S. - the numbers are quite compelling, there's so many that could follow in Mason's footsteps but it does need buyers," he said. "I can't speak for the clubs but anyone who follows the game could see it could be done ... the jury was out for quite a while [regarding Cox' ability] but his value to the team was quite enormous, his breakout game in the preliminary final was outstanding and then his second half of the Grand Final was very good."