Some of the past decade’s best players are set to retire in the coming seasons, but if the AFL Players’ Association #22under22 side is anything to go by, the future is still very bright.
The fan-voted initiative was rolled out by the representative body this season as a way to recognise the best young players in the game.
The AFLPA board named a squad of 40 players 22 or younger and allowed the public to vote on the final 22 by position.
Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe, 21, and Michael Walters, 22, and West Coast forward Jack Darling, 21, were all named in the inaugural side and awarded ceremonial caps at the AFLPA MVP awards on Monday night.
Rising Star winner and fellow WA product Jaeger O’Meara was named on the ball.
He was one of five Gold Coast players to make the final 22, along with Rory Thompson, Trent McKenzie, Tom Nicholls and Dion Prestia.
DID YOU KNOW: 62 The number of goals Jeremy Cameron kicked for Greater Western Sydney this year.
The Dockers were one of only five teams with multiple representatives. Essendon’s Dyson Heppell was named captain and North Melbourne midfielder Jack Ziebell vice-captain.
Six of the young stars named in the side are also a chance to be named All-Australians on Monday, with Fyfe and Walters, Steven Motlop (Geelong), Jeremy Cameron (Greater Western Sydney), Chad Wingard (Port Adelaide) and Daniel Hannebery (Sydney) all selected in the 40-man squad.
While each player selected in the #22under22 has already made an impact on the competition in some way, it is how they perform over the next decade which will mean the most to footy fans.
The AFL is set for a generational change in the next few years with players like dual Brownlow medallists Chris Judd and Adam Goodes, fellow champions Matthew Pavlich, Dean Cox, Darren Glass, Paul Chapman, Brent Harvey and plenty of others nearing the end of their careers.
But with any retiring generation there exists another group of players ready to step up and steal the headlines.
Players like GWS forward Cameron, who was named at full-forward in the #22under22 side.
He caught the eye in the Giants’ inaugural 2012 season but absolutely stole the show in 2013 with 62 goals from 21 games, which clinched him the club’s best and fairest.
Then there are players like Fyfe and Hannebery, Collingwood’s Steele Sidebottom and Hawthorn’s Luke Breust, who have already proved themselves on the big stage but continue to build on their reputations.
With some members of the #22under22 playing for teams still in the finals, we may see those headlines sooner rather than later.