Essendon GM of list and recruiting Adrian Dodoro has urged the AFL to resist radical list cuts, warning a reduction could starve talented Indigenous players of opportunities. 

The AFL continues to debate slashing list sizes across the competition, with this week reporting the rookie list is in real doubt to survive the cull as the League finds ways to reduce the salary cap after the wide-ranging COVID-19.

The rookie list has paved the way for several of Essendon’s Indigenous stars in recent decades, including Dean Rioli, Andrew Lovett, Nathan Lovett-Murray and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.

The Bombers also remain committed to fostering the next wave of Indigenous talent through their Next Generation Academy, which includes the remote zones of West Arnhem and Tiwi in the Northern Territory.

“That’s the one thing I’d really implore the AFL to look at. I hope we don’t cut the lists and cut the opportunities,” Dodoro said on Dodcast. 

“A lot of the Indigenous players that have made AFL careers have come off rookie lists, whether it’s Aaron Davey, Dean Rioli and a host of other boys who have come on as late draft selections, none more so than Marlion Pickett last year. 

“What a great story that was - 28 years of age, being picked up in the mid-season draft [and winning a premiership with Richmond]. Had you have cut list sizes last year, he possibly wouldn’t have been the story of the year.

“As far as our club is concerned, we’ve got really strong ties with NT, particularly with Tiwi. They’re our NGA affiliate up there, and hopefully we can see some boys transition on to the AFL scene with us.

“We’ve had some terrific Indigenous players come through our club, just fabulous talent. We’re extremely proud of what we do and what we want to do in the future with Aboriginal talent.” 

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While Dodoro was adamant on keeping list sizes the same, he said he was open-minded about lifting the minimum draft age to 19.

With no guarantee of underage football this year and clubs’ recruiters remaining stood down, a change has been mooted to allow 18-year-olds to get another year of development to prepare for the rigours of AFL.

Dodoro said he saw both sides to what has been an age-old debate.

“I don’t mind if it’s (lifting draft age) in the next year or two. There’ll be a lot of 18-year-old boys this year that don’t get drafted purely because we haven’t seen them play, so you want to give them the opportunity to showcase their talent next year as 19-year-olds,” he said.

“I do like the 18-year-old age. I think it just suits our game with VCE. In my opinion, it’s stood the test of time, so I personally would leave it at 18, but I see a lot of arguments for lifting the age group.”