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Diamonds in the rough

Simon Conway  April 21, 2017 3:08 PM

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Senior Recruiting Manager Merv Keane and List and Recruiting Manager Adrian Dodoro made the most of their picks during the 2013 National Draft.

Stripped of picks and less than two months to prepare.

That was the scenario facing Adrian Dodoro and his List Management team on the eve of the 2013 National Draft.

The move of Stewart Crameri to the Western Bulldogs strengthened the Bombers draft hand, though they’d hoped to secure a little more than pick 26.

"We’re disappointed but realistic that that was the position we were put in, and the best possible result was to get a second round draft pick,” Dodoro said at the time.

“"I’m confident pick 26 will get us a quality player.”

And the List Manager delivered by way of a talented young cricketer who is now one of the game’s most exciting young midfielders.

“When we got the sanctions we sat down and looked at a couple of past history lessons,” he told Bomber Radio.

“I think we looked at the Carlton example of years earlier when they had some sanctions.

“What we wanted to do was make sure we put more emphasis in recruiting and really dug deeper than we’ve ever dug before because we had to.

“The challenge of sanctions made us think a little bit laterally.

“It was helped by a very good draft pool that year, that’s got to be put on the table, and it was helped also because Zach [Merrett] wasn’t identified as a 17 year old because he was playing cricket.

“He wasn’t conditioned to being elite, even though he was at Vic Country and Sandringham Dragons, he wasn’t primed to show his best.

“You could see, particularly when you cut his game down on edits you could see the natural smarts, but the fitness level wasn’t there so we were lucky in that he wasn’t fully exposed.

“Had he had a pre-season he probably would have gone top ten on talent, we knew he was that good.”

Not expecting Merrett to slip through to pick 26, the Bombers had made contact with a young ruckman earlier in the day.

“We walked into that draft that day and Merv and I were having a chat and I said to Merv ‘ring Rory Lobb up and tell him we’re drafting him with that pick.’ Because our list strategy was that we needed a ruckman,” Dodoro said.

“Zach was rated probably in the teens for us … but we needed the ruckman and Rory Lobb is a terrific player, so Rory got the phone call to say he’d be drafted by us.

“When it came to that pick Bomber [Mark Thompson] just said ‘go with what your heart tells you’.

“We changed our mind and I said ‘bugger it, I’m doing it’ and we picked Zach.”

At 21, Merrett has played 63 games, won a Crichton Medal and averages 23 possessions per game across his career.

The Bombers next pick was number 55 and it was a young goal sneak fresh from a SANFL Grand Final that caught their eye.

“'Fanta' [Orazio Fantasia] was playing senior football in the SANFL and the only thing that went against him was he was just a skinny kid who looked like a jockey,” Dodoro said.

“We just thought with him take the talent and we’ll give him the time to fill out.

“The talent was there and I think everyone just thought he’s built like Damien Oliver so we’ll wait until a rookie pick, but we picked him up late and he’s turned out to be a good pick for us.”

Fantasia is one of only ten players to be nominated for the AFL's Rising Star award on two occasions.

He's booted 39 goals in his last 21 games.

The Rookie Draft in late 2013 also saw the Bombers secure a valuable asset when they called out Patrick Ambrose’s name with the 26th pick.

“Everyone came with advice with this kid who was at Xavier and Coburg, so we got him in our VFL program,” Dodoro said.

“What you see is what you get with Patty, he’s just a big hearted individual.

“He’s our Liam Picken in many respects and he plays with his heart – every team needs a Patrick Ambrose.”