There are drafts and then there super drafts. The 2001 edition is widely regarded as the best draft class in AFL history and was particularly rich in its rewards for St Kilda.
The first three names called that year are football royalty: Luke Hodge, Luke Ball and Chris Judd. Below them lies a smorgasbord of brilliance.
There is an overflow of premierships and players with more than 200 games next to their names. There are triple-premiership players, Brownlow medallists and a litany of All Australians.
Gary Ablett, Dane Swan, Jimmy Bartel, Sam Mitchell, Steve Johnson, James Kelly, David Hale, Brian Lake, Jarrad Waite and Brent Reilly are just some of the stars to significantly leave a stamp on our game after being drafted in that year. Draw breath now after absorbing that collection.
For St Kilda, the 2001 cattle call provided the Saints with pure class; four picks in the first 21 reaped opulent dividends. Although, the club’s most successful recruit wasn’t called out until early in the third round and comfortably sits amongst the names mentioned above.
At pick No. 37, esteemed St Kilda recruiter John Beveridge selected a small midfielder from Melbourne’s inner north, beginning a relationship with the club and Leigh Montagna that still stands today; 15 years on and on the eve of his 250th appearance in his beloved red, white and black.
With the club’s first pick it secured a schoolboy champion in Ball who went on to captain the club and win a Trevor Barker Award. Xavier Clarke (pick No. 5) played 105 games, Nick Dal Santo (pick No. 13) earned three All Australian guernseys in 260 appearances before crossing to North Melbourne, whilst fan favourite Matt Maguire (pick No. 21) played 99 games before taking his services to Brisbane.
In 2001, recruiting was a very different beast to what it now looks like today. Under resourced in every sense of the phrase, Beveridge led a small team of part-timers, with himself the only one employed by the club on a full-time basis.
With minimal access to vision and Champion Data not yet what it is today, analysing statistics was difficult to say the least, as was reviewing footage for further reference.
As part of Beveridge’s preparations leading into the 2001 draft, the veteran recruiter watched Montagna play across his top-age year, tracking his progress with the Northern Knights, Marcellin College and for Vic Metro at the National Championships.
He liked what he saw and liked even more what Montagna’s TAC Cup coach Keith Burns had to say regarding the teenager’s desire and character, along with one moment that sticks out brightly, even more than 15 years on.
“I had an in-depth chat with the Northern Knights coach at the time Keith Burns and he certainly was a big wrap for ‘Joey’. So with him it was his performances in the National Carnival and his character references through his school that shone through,” Beveridge told saints.com.au ahead of Montagna’s 250th appearance.
“I saw him one day when he wasn’t playing and he was with a group and he was clearly the leader of the group in a very good way, it was obvious, he just commanded attention, so from then there was just a lot to like about him.
“We knew that he was a talented player, we saw that. We learned that he was of good character, that he was a strong leader and would put his nose to the wheel with his work. That’s all standard stuff I suppose that a recruiting bloke want to hear, that’s the good stuff that you want to hear of course. And ‘Joey’ ticked all those boxes.”
Unlike the modern world of recruiting where teams of dedicated full-time staff scrutinise potential recruits like they are forensically examining a crime scene, 2001 was a different time to today.
Word spread like wildfire back then, with clubs getting wind of who opposition clubs fancied ahead of the draft. It was somewhat of a poker game, with recruiters desperate to keep their cards gripped closely to their chest.
With Montagna, Beveridge didn’t venture out for a home visit. He backed his judgement and heard all he needed to hear from those whose opinions he valued most. And with four picks before the Saints took Montagna, there was plenty to deal with for Beveridge in 2001.
“I didn’t even do a home visit with ‘Joey’. I didn’t do any interviews with him prior to the draft because we knew we liked him at No. 37 if he was still there, but we had picks two, five, 13, 21 and 37 that year so it wasn’t cut and dried who was going to get picked where,” Beveridge said.
“So I didn’t do a family visit and I really didn’t get to know him much at all, except other people’s opinions about him prior to the draft, which I knew a lot about.
“‘Joey’ was different to Nick [Riewoldt] because it wasn’t so clear that we would take him leading into the draft and apart from knowing a lot about him through his coaches and his network, I didn’t do a personal interview with him or his family before we drafted him.
“In those days you kept your cards pretty close to your chest. If another club thought or heard that we were pretty keen on ‘Joey’ Montagna at pick No. 37, then they might have taken him earlier.
“But in today’s recruiting everybody interviews everybody so nobody’s sure where they will go or who will take them or who is keen on who at a certain pick and therefore if we want him we better pick him before they do. You were hedging your bets back in those days.”
Just as in life, hindsight is a wonderful thing in football, particularly in the world of recruiting. To receive so much exceptional service out of a player taken at pick No. 37 has been one of Beveridge’s most economical picks in his distinguished recruiting career.
“People would look back and say, pick No. 37, that’s a steal,” Beveridge said.
“Like Nick Riewoldt, you couldn’t anticipate that he was going to play as many games as he has and do as well as he has and be an important person in the club’s history.
“We went into the draft with perhaps 50 or 60 names, he was still there at 37 and we grabbed him. I don’t think you’ll find too many picked after him that have done any better than him.”
No John, you won’t find many at all. And at 32, with the ink still drying on a one-year contract extension that takes him until the end of 2017, there should be even more bang for his buck to come.