Finally, everyone’s favourite time of year is here - the announcement of the second crop of Blue Chip Academy graduates.
For those living under a rock, the BCA is an Outside The Box-run institute that celebrates the best Goulburn Valley League talents aged 17 or younger; all of whom are destined for huge things in the footballing world.
Look no further than last year’s batch; Lachie Ash will be a top five AFL draft pick, Jye Chalcraft has been dominating for the Murray Bushrangers, Robbie Paradzayi and Ethan Moor have locked down senior spots at Euroa and Shepparton East - while the fifth member will return to headline this year’s list.
The criteria is simple - the player must be aged 17 or younger on August 9, and must have played at least one senior GVL game this season.
Love me or hate me, just please debate me - there is much young talent out there, but these are the five that have caught my eye.
1. Riley Ironside (Kyabram)
For the life of me, I cannot work out why Ironside is not in serious AFL draft consideration, because this young man is as impressive as it gets.
In round two’s demolition of Shepparton, you could easily have been convinced it was this 17-year-old that captained the Kyabram winning machine, such was the dominance with which he played.
He has three goals in three games for the Bombers this season, but his Bendigo Pioneers form is just as captivating, averaging 14 disposals, three inside 50s and three rebound 50s in 14 NAB League games.
Strikes me as a midfield bull that will dominate whichever league his football journey takes him.
‘‘He’s a star all right — any time the Pioneers don’t want him, we’ll have him for sure,’’ Kyabram coach Paul Newman told me of Ironside after the Shepparton win.
‘‘It’s the most exciting thing with kids like that, they can improve so much from one year to the next.
‘‘We’ve seen a lot of him through the pre-season, we expected him to come out and do his thing tonight and we just encourage him to have fun with his footy, which sometimes they’re not able to do in the NAB League with the grind of it all.’’
2. Tom Panuccio (Euroa)
From the Euroa footy factory, Tommy Panuccio strikes me as Will Hayes 2.0.
Initially debuted under Hayes’ twin JD last season, Panuccio has been a bit contributor for the Magpies under Scott Rowan, with silky ball use and an ability to split the big sticks.
Five goals against Shepparton United says a lot and his ripping form for the Murray Bushrangers (12 disposals and a goal a game) suggests he will do damage as a top age player next season.
I see AFL potential here.
‘‘He is definitely one to watch moving forward," Euroa coach Scott Rowan told me this season.
"He’s a great kid too and that makes a huge difference.’’
3. Jhett Cooper (Shepparton United)
No sportsman has had a name that more connotes their ability since Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event - this kid is an absolute jet.
The youngster kicked four goals on GVL senior debut in an upset win against Tatura, but with 57 goals in 18 under-18s game across the past two seasons, are we really surprised?
Another that has tasted the NAB League with two appearances, but he will do plenty more as a top age talent.
There is an x-factor about Cooper that makes him one to keep an eye on.
4. Lachie Hill (Euroa)
At Euroa training this season, Scotty Rowan looked me in the eye and said “Lachie Hill will play seniors this season”.
The sincerity with which he said it did not resonate with me until I saw him play - bona fide blue chip prospect.
Bashed the door down for a senior call-up with five straight "best" performances and has backed that up with another three in 11 senior games, where he has become a regular.
Labor could do worse than taking a promise to instigate a royal commission into how this bloke missed the Bushies to the next federal election.
5. Jack Evans (Echuca)
Evans has only turned out once for the Echuca seniors, but his performance that day against Euroa left many people talking.
As has his Pioneers form, with 17 disposals, four tackles and four inside 50s a game, and if you can win the ball at NAB League level, you will likely be able to rack it up in the GVL given time.
An Echuca insider noted Evans and Echuca teammate Will Devlin's fathers were gun players - and went on to note footballers are just like horses, bloodlines are vital.
AFL Draft Central wrote he thoroughly enjoyed celebrating the goals its writer had seen him kick, and that is exactly the sort of thing OTB is about.
This is all I am saying - Shepparton beat Kyabram last grand final at least in part thanks to the fact it shored up its bottom end with Lachie Ash and Jordon Butts; could Echuca do the same with a guy like Evans?
Josh Rachele would be close to the top of this list if he had played a senior game; an under-16 all-Australian, his NAB League form makes him an absolute can’t miss prospect that will play AFL.
Shepparton’s Matt Pellegrino should consider himself unlucky; he debuted aged 15 this season and while he did not rack the ball up, he was not afraid to put his body on the line, and then bounce up after getting smashed as if nothing had happened.
Echuca’s Devlin and Rochester’s Adam McPhee suffer from a lack of exposure, but good NAB League form certainly earned them consideration.
Mansfield’s Harry Mahoney also was on the radar, but being tucked away in the high country, his schedule and that of the BCA have not aligned as of yet.
Mooroopna has a stockpile of young assets, Isaac Dowling and Bailey Whittaker two of those that stand out.
And another two names to keep an eye out for at Deakin Reserve are Shepparton’s Harry Brodie and United’s Sheldon Bogdan, the latter aged 16 who has been in the radar for more than a year now.