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The Dogs’ next generation

January 8, 2018 6:00 AM

South Sudanese born Buku Khamis (above) who suited up for the Western Jets in 2017 spent December training at VU Whitten Oval. - Western Bulldogs

South Sudanese born Buku Khamis (above) who suited up for the Western Jets in 2017 spent December training at VU Whitten Oval.

“The West” is a big, big place, and Dave Newton, the Western Bulldogs Next Generation Academy Manager has seen a lot of it over the last 12 months. 

After a decade as General Manager – Football Operations at the Western Region Football League, Newton was appointed to manage the talent in the Bulldogs’ backyard; including most of inner western Melbourne and the better part of regional western Victoria.

When the announcement came in February, 2016 to establish ‘Next Generation’ Academies, then AFL General Manager of Operations Mark Evans said that for the game to prosper, the League and it’s clubs needed to invest in new and emerging communities, and reinforce pathways for Indigenous Australians

“The academies will look to build strong links between local communities, grassroots football and the elite level, to ensure our game is representative, inclusive and embraces gender and cultural diversity,” he said.

And that’s what’s been happening in the Dogs’ zone, led by Newton.

“Through the academies we’ve set out to attract, retain and develop talented players from all backgrounds, whilst growing participation in underrepresented segments of the community, particularly in our heartland markets,” Newton told westernbulldogs.com.au

“We are achieving this in many ways but mainly through collaboration with existing football programs in schools, community and AFL Vic pathway programs.”

Peppered across this vast region are Academy Hubs set up and run by the Bulldogs that deliver a skills development curriculum supported by education programs off the field. Based in Ballarat, Hamilton, Horsham, Warnanbool and Footscray, the hubs are focused on boys and girls aged between 11-15, after which they’ll then look to transition into the TAC Cup Development program.

“Through this collaboration we had 50 boys and 25 girls represent the Western Bulldogs NGA at the 2017 AFL Victoria V/Line Cup Championships that was held in Gippsland in September, and close to 15% of these participants were from Indigenous or Multicultural backgrounds.”

Newton says he’s had around 400 kids go through the program in 2017, but he emphasises that the program is bigger than football.

“There is an overarching principle of identifying and developing kids who would otherwise not play the game or are underrepresented in AFL Talent pathways,” he says, “specifically multicultural kids from Asian or African backgrounds and better developing and preparing Indigenous players for AFL.”

The NGA is already providing individual development programs for future prospects, including South Sudanese born Buku Khamis who suited up for the Western Jets in 2017 and has spent December training with the Bulldogs at VU Whitten Oval.

With the Academy still technically in development, Newton’s role is a demanding one where no two weeks look the same; most of it spent on the road, meeting with stakeholders, attending academy training sessions, and taking in TAC or representative games over the weekend.  

But it’s all for a worthy cause, for club and community, and he’s full of optimism about where the academies are heading.

“I would expect to have a number of our NGA futures players on our AFL List or at other AFL clubs, and I would also envisage more players from our Academy Zone graduate onto AFL Lists via the Western Jets and Greater Western Victoria Rebels,” Newton says.

“That, as well as an increase in the percentage of indigenous and multicultural players involved in our under 11-15 year old program.

“It’s a really exciting time to be involved.”