You're drafted! Now what? How AFL clubs help their draftees settle in

It's draft night and the moment North Melbourne is off the clock, Neil Connell, head of player development at the Kangaroos, quickly whips out his phone. Within 48 hours, North's draftees need to be living in the vicinity of Arden Street, ready for their first session of preseason training.

Time is of the essence, he says, considering the AFL draft is held so late in the year and draftees are already weeks of training behind the league's other young players. He wants to be the first person to make contact with any of North's newcomers.

The television cameras have already panned away from the Roos' war room -- the focus is on the next name to be read out -- but Connell's job is just beginning.

"The first thing I do -- if they're not at the draft -- is ring the player, welcoming him to North Melbourne. I then get him to send me his parent's details so I can welcome them to the club as well," Connell tells ESPN. "I'll then arrange a time to come and see them - it's usually the day after. If they live interstate, I'll organise flights and other logistics of getting to everybody's place as soon as possible.

"Whether it's up to Townsville, to Brisbane, Perth or in Melbourne, that's just what you do - you try to get to the families as quickly as possible so they can chat with you. They always have plenty of questions, so you try to give them as much information as possible."

Down the hall, in another of Marvel Stadium's corporate box-turned-draft headquarters, is former Sydney captain and Team of the Century member Dennis Carroll. He's also busy making calls. He's the Swans' head of people development.

A 10-year veteran in the field, his first call is almost identical to that of Connell's.

"Typically, there'll also be a number of people contacting the player, and that will be myself, (head coach) John Longmire, the head of football and the recruiting manager among others," Carroll tells ESPN.

"The player leadership group and many of the players will be given the new recruit's details to get in contact with and welcome them to the club. That initial contact will be made within minutes (for us) and hours (the players) depending on who the personnel is within the club."

By this stage, the throng of wide-eyed young men at the draft have been paraded in front of working media and photographers and are preparing to get some sleep ahead of a hectic schedule, but in the back rooms, both Connell and Carroll are working the phones with a ferocity that would make their gen-Z new recruits proud.

"I'll also send our senior players the kid's number," Connell says. "The players will send him a text or give him a call to say 'welcome to North Melbourne'. We also give some parents of senior players the phone numbers of the new players' parents' so they can chat as well - after all, they've been in the same boat."

He says it's not just the players who are drafted to the club over two nights, it's the families as well, and that's why it's "extremely important" to get in contact with the parents of a player, particularly if their child is set to make the move to the Kangaroos from far away.

It's also in that initial phone call that the wheels are put in motion to get the player to the club. Whether they live on the other side of Melbourne or interstate, Connell says the process is much the same - a whirlwind couple of days on the road, travelling to visit each draftee and their family.

"We organise the relocation flights to Melbourne, we organise removalists to go to his house and then they'll give us a timeframe for when those goods will be in Melbourne. I'll get a few companies to go and give us a quote and a time frame, and it's always best time, it's not best price ... it's whatever is going be the least stressful for the player and his family," Connell says.

"We'll bring anything over - from golf clubs, push bikes, cars, PlayStations - anything the boy wants to bring with him that he thinks will help him settle in, we'll bring it over and pay for that and sort it out.

"With the first relocation flight, I say to the players we'll add extra baggage on their ticket, so bring as many clothes as you can ... don't worry about footy gear because we provide all that - just your casual clothes to get you through to Christmas."

For the Swans, Carroll says as most players will be making the trek from interstate, getting on the road the day after the draft is crucial to ensure the players are comfortably relocated to the Harbour City in a timely manner.

"When all the selections are finalised, it's the job of (head of player development) Daniel Ryall and myself to get on the road -- planes, trains and automobiles -- to go and meet the new players and their families. Normally we'll be on the road for two or three days getting along to visit all of our [draft picks]," he says.

"We like to do that in their homes in order to understand where they're from and their family dynamic. [We] provide a welcome and a presentation to the family and the players that we're going to transition them into the club in a supportive, caring way that will hopefully have them prospering on and off the field. That initial meet and greet is very important.

"We will have them relocated into Sydney by the Sunday afternoon, so pretty quickly after the draft, and that comes as a little bit of a shock to some of the parents when the draft might have happened on the Wednesday or the Thursday. They say 'Dennis, when would you like 'young Johnny' to be in Sydney?' - well [we might be talking on the] Sunday and they'll be there for Monday morning.

"It's a quick turnaround but these young men have been planning and prepping themselves for a number of years that this could happen, so it doesn't come as a super massive shock for them. And the other thing is, they're really only there for a short block. By the time they get to their new clubs it's already December and then they break up for Christmas on the 19th or so."

But these three weeks prior to the Christmas break are crucial, according to Carroll, who played 219 games for the Swans in the 80s and 90s.

The paramount priority, he says, is getting the draftees into Sydney's unique, but tried and tested, housing program in a timely manner. He says the program has been a great success for the Swans' player retention efforts, as it places a first-year player with a second-year player and a third-year player - meaning they form an immediate bond with not only their fellow draftees, but also older players as well.

"The beauty of the housing program is, on a weekend in summer, if someone's going down to the beach, there'll be eight or 10 of them going, so it keeps them all in tune with each other," Carroll says.

It also give the Swans an opportunity to fast-track the development of each young player's life skills; one of the keys, he tells ESPN, is organising cooking lessons so players are less reliant on meal delivery services and more likely to understand and know what meals they can and should be preparing at home.

"Typically the houses (in the program) are in close proximity ... the players all do things together, and we provide support to them - we find they grow their independence really quickly."

The club chef, Courtney Roulston, is a one-time MasterChef contestant and teaches the recruits some worldly kitchen basics, such as handling a knife, chopping onions and roasting vegetables.

"[Roulston] cooks a meal twice a week for all the players and staff, and she works closely with our dietician Elise Anderson. They will either [teach these lessons] at the club at our kitchen or actually go around to the houses and do it independently at each house," Carroll says.

"We provide that support, but they also need to quickly start doing it themselves. That education and ongoing support extends beyond the field ... a lot of them would never have turned a washing machine on, and that is why their (older) housemates need to show them those basics of how to look after oneself and get into a routine.

"Another challenging part is the homesickness, so we dedicate a lot of time and effort into understanding that. We have a full time clinical psychologist, Suzie Rhydderch, who plays a role in that space as well, and it's something we've been really strong on for many years."

And while house hunting in Sydney is a challenge for most ordinary punters, Carroll says the Swans must maintain a list of contacts in the real estate industry for when the draftees graduate from the club's housing program.

"They will come to me and say 'Dennis, if any of your boys want a property, it's theirs', purely because of the relationship we have with them," he says.

"Certainly we're here to guide them in terms of helping them understand the eastern suburbs area and the more suitable pockets, but between Dan (Ryall) and myself, we'll actually drive them around and help them find properties.

"At this time of year, there is time for those players to do that because our training program is different to in-season, in that they've got Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off and we don't train on weekends during this period either."

But it's not just 'hands-on' learning for the players to do in those initial weeks -- whether it be with their washing, in the kitchen or on the training track. There's a lot of admin work that also needs to happen.

According to North's Connell, the amount of paperwork the players need to organise can be intimidating to fresh-faced 18-year-olds who just want to kick a footy, but despite the glitz and glamour of being a league player, it is, after all, a career move.

"I say to the families 'he's starting his first job'. When they walk in, I want to know tax file numbers, bank accounts, their superannuation details, if they have a Working with Children Check," he laughs. "Their heads are spinning, they're thinking 'hang on, I thought I was going to a footy club', so we need to educate them that this is their first job.

"They need to make sure their medical insurance is the highest it can be. Now, they might be on mum and dad's but we have to check that mum and dad's medical insurance is the highest bracket - it's part of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that they need to covered under the highest bracket for medical insurance."

And considering the lucrative nature of being an AFL footballer, financial advice, too, is something offered by North Melbourne in conjunction with similar programs that many player managers and the AFL Players Association offer.

"That's one of the biggest ones. Managers do it, but we do it as well, and if we're doubling up, so be it. There are programs through the AFLPA we can tap into, and it's all tailored to what stage of their career the player is at. It's very important because we have boys who'll start their first job on $100,000 or $150,000."

But both Carroll and Connell loop back to family before long, explaining that maintaining contact with the players' families is vital to ensuring a smooth transition into the AFL bubble.

At North, the parents are welcomed with a "family induction weekend" where they're encouraged to get down the club to meet everyone from the coach, to the trainers, to the parents of other players.

"We have a night at the club on a Friday and then a lunch on Saturday with as many of the current parents as who can make it, just so the new players and their parents can meet as many people from the club as they can during that weekend," Connell says.

Carroll says the Swans have a similar process in play.

"We do a new parent induction day where we get them up to Sydney. This is typically at our guernsey presentation in late February or early March, but quite often the families will visit sooner and we really encourage that so they can see where their kids are living and so we can show them around the club," he says.

"Keeping that connection and two-way communication is a really important piece of the puzzle."