Western Bulldogs legend Chris Grant was a steal as a 15-year-old when taken at pick 105 in the 1988 draft
Photo: Getty Images
"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," wrote some sixteenth century Scotsman – but quite a few people have proved him wrong. In 1921, for example, a scientist from Massachusetts mixed the gristle of a sow's ear with a few dozen chemicals, and made a substance that was very much like silk.
And if you prefer to see the phrase as a metaphor, it's been disproved many times over by the AFL draft. The sow's ears that are the very last selections have produced some silky skills over the years. Take Collingwood and Sydney wingman Paul Williams, who went at pick 70. Or Carlton and St Kilda forward Aaron Hamill (pick 79). Contrast those names with, well, most players recruited by Richmond, and you'll see that there's gold in them thar hills.
So cheer up all you non-GWS talent scouts. There's no need to spend draft day settling for mediocrity, then bitching about Kevin Sheedy over a bottle of scotch. Draw comfort from these six late draft picks who could all play a bit. With a little luck, you might even find one yourself.
6. Damien Hardwick (pick 87, 1992)
Most drafts find a place for honest battlers – but it's generally somewhere near the bottom. A prototypical half-back taken at pick 87, Hardwick took a while to cement a spot in the Essendon backline and missed out on the famous Baby Bombers' premiership of 1993. The aggressive, flint-hard defender was a crucial part of the 2000 premiership side, however, and also helped Port Adelaide to snare their first flag in 2004.
5. Brian Lake (pick 71, 2001)
They're still not a happy team at Hawthorn, thanks to their latest grand final loss to Sydney, but recruiting former Bulldog Lake will have helped lift the mood. The two-time All Australian started his career in the "super draft" of 2001, albeit at the less than super number of pick 71. Quick, strong and an excellent kick, he's been one of the AFL's best defenders for the best part a decade (provided we don't dwell on a horrible 2011).
4. Dane Swan (pick 58, 2001)
This Swan was once an ugly duckling. In 2000, the Collingwood ball-magnet was a low-possession forward pocket for the Calder Cannons, with a questionable kicking technique and an attitude to match. "Athletically, you thought 'Oh s---!'' said the Magpies' then-recruiting manager Noel Judkins, "but the thing that stood out was that he didn't fall over. He had that ducky running style, but he knew where to go and what to do with it." And Judkins knew what to do too, taking the late-maturing larrikin at pick 58. Premierships, a Brownlow Medal and Copeland Trophies have followed.
3. Alastair Lynch (pick 50, 1986)
Lynch was comfortably the best player in the inaugural national draft – so everybody naturally ignored him. Fitzroy finally used their fourth pick on the burly Tasmanian, and he didn't take long to justify their faith by becoming an excellent full-back, winning All Australian and State of Origin selection. But Lynch's career really took off when he moved to the forward line – and then to the Brisbane Bears in a 10-year deal with the Bears. Immediately made co-captain, we went on to notch up three premierships, 300 games and a club record 633 goals. Not bad for a man who spent so much time on the last line of defence, and almost retired due to chronic fatigue syndrome that plagued him for several years.
2. Chris Grant (pick 105, 1998)
According to football's brightest minds, the 1988 draft contained 104 players who were better than Grant. These included the three top picks - Alex McDonald, Todd Breman and Carl Dilena - whose feats at the highest level were easily surpassed by a rangy 15-year-old from Daylesford. A two-time All-Australian and three-time best and fairest, who racked up a then-club record 341 games, the Bulldog champion should have won the Brownlow in 1997, but was ineligible due to suspension. He should also get a prize for managing to kick over 500 goals while playing practically half his career at half back.
1. James Hird (pick 79, 1990)
The gold standard of sow's ears, Hird was more than a steal at pick 79 - he was a major crime. Even Essendon can't get claim too much credit for recruiting the future Brownlow medallist, premiership captain and five-time club champion, who had been plagued with a hip problem throughout his junior career. The Bombers chose no fewer than six players before Hird. Of those, only one actually chalked up a senior game but Hird's glittering career more than compensated for those earlier misses.
Draft and trade features from the vault: The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
• Trades from hell: Top 10 disasters
• Trades from hell: Docker shockers
• Trades from hell: Past their prime
• Trades from hell: Bad boys
• Draft busts: Wasted trades
• Draft busts: First-round picks
• Draft busts: No.1 picks
• Draft busts: Pick No.6
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