Is Eddie Betts the game’s greatest pre-season draftee?
Ask the man who called his name, and he’ll declare Betts at three behind Adelaide’s Tyson Edwards and Simon Goodwin.
“For a player out of the Under 18s who hadn’t been on an AFL club’s list before, Edwards and Goodwin are the only two in front of Eddie who I can see,” said Wayne Hughes, Carlton’s then National Recruiting Manager who secured Betts with the Blues’ first round selection (three overall) in 2005.
That inspired call came with the imprimatur of the then Carlton coach Denis Pagan, in the wake of the good grace shown by another follower, Collingwood’s Steve McKee.
“Trent Knobel was our priority, but Richmond picked him,” Hughes said.
“We were looking for a ruckman, but when Terry Wallace (the then Richmond coach) told Knobel they were going to pick him, I rang Steve McKee, who was then training at Richmond, to tell him that we would be considering him. But he said to me, ‘Nah, I’m cooked, I’ve tried my best, but my groins are no good – and that’s why they’re going to pick Trent and not me’. He was really up front about it.”
Hughes then put the scenario to coach Pagan and didn’t have to wait long for a response.
“Denis said ‘Just pick the best kid’ and I said ‘I reckon it’s Eddie’. He said ‘Well we don’t have that type of player, so let’s give him a go’ – and we went from Trent Knobel to Eddie.
“By the day of the draft Denis had got his head around it, he liked Eddie’s personality and he played Eddie straight away.”
Today, Betts joins Andrew Walker and Syd Jackson – the man he respectfully calls “Uncle” - as Carlton’s only Indigenous Life Member. Barring injury, the man in the baggy shorts will be the first of them to game No. 200.
With the prodigiously-gifted Dale Garlett and Shannon Taylor both overlooked at the recent pre-season ballot, it’s worth noting here that Betts, an All-Australian Under 17 player the year before his drafting, needed to deal with various issues, none of them insurmountable, to make a go of it in the big time.
“While there was no doubting his skill, Eddie was a bit overweight due to groin injuries he copped in 2004 which restricted his training, and he was a bit worried about his aerobic ability,” Hughes recalled.
“He had a lot of work to do. He first wore the big shorts because his little belly used to stick out a bit and he was embarrassed by it. But he was a super talent . . . and when he did the first pre-season he applied himself really well.
“He just grew with football, he loved it and he’s never really got dropped. He’s pretty much played every game he’s been available.”
It’s almost a quarter of a century since Essendon’s Brian “Sugar” Winton was taken by St Kilda with the first selection of the first pre-season draft. Hughes, as the Saints’ Recruiting Manager of the day, made the call on Winton in 1989, just as he did Betts some 16 years later.
Today, Hughes has nothing but admiration for the little bloke in the big shorts.
“You always say to your kids ‘You’ve got to learn from your mistakes’ and Eddie always learnt,” Hughes said. “He’s a credit to himself because he’s fought through the different issues that kids face at an early age and he’s applied himself.
“And he’ll be right after footy too because he’ll find work wherever there’s a need for a friendly face and somebody to help people.”