“Probably 10 years ago, Andrew Ireland and I concluded – and we could never produce it in a scientific way – but based on anecdotal evidence and our collective experience, we reckoned of the best 200 male athletes, 16 to 17 years old in Sydney, none were playing AFL.
“You just compare that to Melbourne or Adelaide – of the top 200, there’d be five or six devoted to cricket, 10 to soccer, basketball … but the absolute overwhelming majority would be aspiring AFL players.
“In 30 or 50 years time, this team could have a substantial proportion of players from Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, guys that otherwise would have been playing league, rugby, basketball or soccer – not just players from the traditional [strongholds].”
Colless – who chaired the selection panel for the Greatest Ever NSW AFL Team, which included several historians and Mike Sheahan and Gerard Healy as senior selectors – was surprised by the sheer number of players from NSW who went on to play senior football in the VFL/AFL or SANFL, which the exercise revealed was nearly 500.
Approximately a fifth of those originated from Sydney, eight of whom have captained VFL/AFL clubs. How many make the final team – 18 starting players, four interchange and six emergencies – remains to be seen.
It has proven an agonising task for the panel, who are staying true to positions and thus have to squeeze 11 shortlisted key forwards – the likes of Wayne Carey, John Longmire, Mark Maclure, Terry Daniher, Billy Brownless and others – into two spots.
“It’s extraordinary, the talent it threw up,” Colless said. “Up to World War I, the game was a significant part of the sporting landscape here. Don’t assume they’re all current-day players or recently retired – some of them could have played 100 years ago.”