The End Of The Start

The End Of A Start – Goodbye Development League

2017 marks the end of the VFL Vic Development League competition, with this season’s Grand Final to be the last played at this level of football for the foreseeable future.

For the Box Hill Hawks – a Club that has owned the competition in recent times – our involvement came to a premature close with last weekend’s Elimination Final defeat at Williamstown.

The final siren at Burbank Oval brought with it the end of a remarkable era, closing the book on a decade of dominance from the boys in Brown and Gold.

Nine Grand Finals in a row, five premierships and the foundations for senior success are the tangible rewards that the Club reaped, but what of the players individually?

The Vic Development League, or Dev, was for the kid who didn’t hear their name read out on draft night or an international rookie looking to learn the game; the competition was the first step – the start – in many a football journey, one that provided an apprenticeship and education in what it takes and what you’ve got to do to get the most out of yourself.

The key word? Well, it’s found in the name of the competition: development.

I sat down with Box Hill Hawks’ Recruiting and List Manager Chris Monaghan to discuss the Development League, the Club’s recruiting philosophy and have a bit of fun putting together a team of players who came through the Hawks’ Development program.

In it we find senior AFL footballers, a Brownlow Medallist, Magarey Medallist, multiple AFL, VFL and state league premierships and a roll call of leaders and club captains. The system mightn’t have been perfect, but it has a history of working.

Sean Peter-Budge: When going through my notes and preparation for this chat the word that kept coming up was “opportunity.” Time and time again, whether its from a player’s point of view, support staff, physios, trainers, coaches etcetera, at every level of the club the Development League was an opportunity to get exposure and experience.

I’ll start with a statement and you tell me if you agree or not.

“A well-oiled and resourced Development program is a platform for Senior success.”

Chris Monaghan: Couldn’t agree more. I think that when you look at the different levels we’ve got within the club at the moment, we’ve got year five and six players right through to year one players, and how we’ve got a layer of mentors and leaders that have been in the system for four and five years, what they teach the younger guys…

SPB: a continuity?

CM: Yep, whats expected, how we do things, having a good time and having a balance between learning and enjoying your footy.

I’ve just got out of a Development meeting now and complimented the group on their unity. If I bring down a first year player and introduce him, someone takes him under their wing and looks after him.

I’ve had a lot of great feedback from first year players saying that and what they enjoy about the club.

SPB: Nine grand finals in a row, five premiership wins and a strong 2017 at Senior level from many of the boys who came through that system, clearly the Development League has been a really fertile competition for Box Hill.

What was the cornerstone of that success?

CM: It’s amazing, if I can talk about last year to start, the Development boys winning the premiership was a terrific catalyst for unity and growth. All the Seniors were at every final, it was the closest I’ve seen the group.

When I look back at what the cornerstones are, it’s having the right people at the Club. And I’m not just talking football talent, but people who are prepared to mix and lead and those who want to learn and, importantly, us providing the mechanisms for them to do that.

Their preparation was at a Senior VFL standard in terms of fitness and the like.

SPB: This goes without saying, you get a young player through the door and whilst they may play Development to begin initially, is the plan for them to become senior players?

CM: Exactly right. I was speaking to the parents of a TAC Cup kid two years ago. He’d been invited to the draft camp but missed out, and his parents were keen for him to go through an apprenticeship to get to the next level.

The boy’s father was really happy that we had a program such as the Development set-up to prepare him for senior football.

We’ve seen overseas players learning their skills and craft in the Development competition, doing an apprenticeship at this level before moving on.

SPB: With the Development League not continuing next season – we’re all aware of the economic realities and challenges, as well as the fact just eight clubs fielded a team – would you say that Box Hill’s program was run as it needed to be and as the league intended it to be? Bring players in, develop senior footballers, provide opportunity, exposure, development.

CM: Our philosophy was to use the Development League as what it was intended and why it was developed. Our approach and success has been because of the support we’ve had at alignment level and the support that the AFL Club gave us to bring people through this program.

If you talk about some of the standalone clubs that don’t have that alignment, perhaps theres a gap between what we’re doing and what they’re doing. I’m sure they want to develop players to play senior football, but a lot of them are recruiting to achieve success quickly and whilst everyone enjoys success, we realise a cornerstone of our success has been to develop players.

SPB: all you have to do is think about the composition of the Box Hill senior team throughout the year and how many of them played in last years Development Grand Final; or football at that level this year.

CM: Absolutely, there’s Anthony Brolic, Sam Switkowski, first year players like (Nelson) Lane, (Vincent) Adduci and (Brayden) Kilpatrick who’ve all played plenty of senior football. Then there are players like Conor Glass, who played in a premiership last year, senior football this and an AFL debut.

SPB: Billy Murphy.

CM: Of course, he played in a premiership team and has played regular senior football this year. Quite a large base of the senior team has come through our development team. And thats the system working.

SPB: What would be your pitch to a young kid who misses out on the draft who you would like to get down to Box Hill?

CM: Nelson Lane is a good example. He was invited to the Victorian Combine, where they do a series of testing and he performed quite well there, but he didn’t manage to get onto a list. We spoke to him about coming into, basically, an AFL environment to continue to develop his footy and invited him down for training.

My pitch to them is the program we run is all about development and thats our philosophy.

The second point is, what we’re aiming to do is get players to the peak of their abilities. We want them to achieve the highest level of football they can with the talent they have.

No matter what happens in this program, you come out a better footballer. Whether you reach AFL, or become a good VFL or state league player, or whether its going back to local, once you’ve been in our program you leave a better footballer.

SPB: What the Development League did at its very best was provide a pathway or platform to a higher level of football. You get exposure to an AFL system, play at a good level of football and, hopefully, get an opportunity to build on that. How do you see that pathway next year and beyond?

CM: I know Development won’t be there next year, but the reality of it is each club has churn each year, its just going to be greater this year than it has been in previous years.

The challenge for us will be developing our own leaders out of a smaller group.

SPB: Does it – or might it – make you more selective when recruiting?

CM: It probably will; however, being an aligned team we work really closely with Hawthorn and are talking about this currently. We rely on who they recruit and what they do, therefore those we target can often play a number of position and are relatively flexible. and offer opportunities those who are playing well to player different positions and maintain a spot in the side.

SPB: From an individual point of view, we’ll say Player A misses out on the draft, the Dev was a safety net or opportunity to come into an aligned set up and play and train at a good level and, hopefully, get a crack at something later on down the line.

What will the biggest impact of no Development League be?

CM: We typically have somewhere between forty-six and forty-eight on our list and if you look at the cold hard numbers of bringing that down to thirty – and we haven’t had that confirmed – straight away theres sixteen-odd opportunities to learn and develop gone.

What I’m concerned about is those guys, typically, regardless of what happened they’d have been in the system improving themselves. Now, they’ll be able to use their talents at a local club, but not under the same regime as an AFL-aligned club where they have to meet certain standards, they get taught how to play multiple positions, so what concerns me is there are sixteen guys that are going to miss out on that opportunity.

From a club perspective, nothing pleases us more than seeing where players that have come through the door end up; one of the things that would be great this year is if three or four of our boys got rookie listed or drafted – thats the tiers of VFL football working.

SPB: how would sum up Box Hill’s Development program? Whats the epitaph?

CM: I reckon you sum it up by what I saw last year. It was a reunion of a Development premiership team. Those guys are still a brotherhood and it said to me that they appreciated having gone through something like this to kick-start their football careers.

The Development League has been a success story for Box Hill in respect of how many players have achieved their highest level. Its something the club should be really proud of. Premierships and continuing to strive for success is important, but I think its the satisfaction of seeing so many players taking their football careers to the highest level that they can achieve.

SPB: We’ve put together a team of guys who have played Development for Box Hill and, to be honest, we’ve been a bit fast and loose with the selection criteria, but the point we’ve tried to make is the Development League was at it’s core a platform.

The guys in this side embody the idea you’ve spoken about, reaching their potential, and each have gone on to get the most out of themselves and a multitude of different levels and standards of footy.

In terms of what a Development League needs to be, has to be and was, is that the thing that jumps out when looking at this team?

CM: Absolutely, they’ve all reached their potential whether it be at AFL, VFL or local level.

SPB: That’s the system working.

CM: Definitely.

B  M. Suckling L. Markovic S. Collins
HB T. Duryea D. Mirra D. Van Unen
C L. Kitchen S. Mitchell (capt) J. Cross
HF P. Hassett C. Jones S. Switkowski
F W. Murphy C. Pedersen S. Menegola
R R. Campbell L. George S. Gibson
Int J. Holmes R. Mullett L. Tobin
T. Goodwin
23rd R. Exon



Matt Suckling
Dual Hawks Premiership Player and emergency for Western Bulldogs in 2016 GF team. Hawks debut in 2009 after time in Development League.

Lucas Markovic
Drafted 2009 and went on to co-captain both Box Hill and Footscray VFL, also playing 31 AFL games.

Sam Collins
local club Donvale through Oakleigh Chargers, Sam played in Development Grand Final 2014, Seniors Grand Final in 2015 before being drafted by Fremantle Dockers at the end of that year.


Taylor Duryea
Box Hill and Hawthorn Premiership player who played in Development at Box HiIl after being drafted in 2009. Has now played over 120 games.

David Mirra
from Eastern Ranges David joined the club in 2010 as 19yo and played in the Development Premiership team. has now played 125 games and is the longest serving captain of the club. Four time VFL representative and captained that side. Captained Box Hill to a senior premiership in 2013. Absolute legend of the club.

SPB: Couldn’t agree more. Plays the game how everyone wants to: with courage, hunger, no fear and on the front foot the whole time. Has single handedly performed some of the most important and desperate acts I’ve seen on any football field this year. Wonderful footballer and an outstanding leader.

Dylan Van Unen
CM: Three time Development premiership player who was drafted by Essendon and made his AFL debut in 2014, playing regular VFL football.


Leigh Kitchen
CM: Recognised state level football with Box Hill, Frankston and in the WAFL (Subiaco). Three time BH Development Premiership player and represented the WAFL in 2016.

Sam Mitchell (capt)
CM: Highly decorated Hawthorn Premiership player and Brownlow Medalist who came from the Eastern Ranges in 2001. Sam played with the Development team and seniors premiership team in 2001 before debuting for Hawthorn in 2002. Went on to play in excess of 300 AFL games.

SPB: With about fifty names on the whiteboard it took you two seconds to put Sam on the team sheet right in the middle and another half a second to declare him captain. And no one would dare argue either point. A superb once in a generation-type player. Also, probably the highest profile product of this system.

Joel Cross
CM: Development premiership player and co-captain of development in 2009, who has now won two Magarey Medals in the SANFL.


Pat Hassett
Another BH Development Premiership player (2009) who played state level football at Subiaco and Port Melbourne.

Chris Jones
CM: Great success story, joining from Eastern Ranges and after playing in BH Development 2016 Premiership, is now a premier player at VFL level. This year representing the VFL and performing well at this level.

SPB: A player I’ve really enjoyed watching this year and one who has noticeably grown with confidence each passing week. Saw him early in the season and thought he was a little raw, but has come on in leaps and bounds with more opportunity and responsibility. Frustrated for him that a freak accident on-field means we likely won’t see him until next year.

Sam Switkowski
CM: Sam followed Box Hill coach Marco Bello (another BH Development premiership player) to Box Hill and has progressed to a regular spot in the senior team. This year he represented the VFL and was the best player in that game. Starting his football career but looks destined to reach greater heights.

SPB: Another player I’ve enjoyed watching this season. His third term at Port Melbourne, in which he kicked three goals – including a goal of the year contender – in the space of fifteen minutes, was electrifying.

After the third, his fifth of the day, a guy in front turned to me, put up five fingers as if to ask ‘how many?’ and asked his name. I nodded, said “Sam Switkowski,” and his response was a simple “wow.”

Another effort, this time against Essendon at Windy Hill, to control the ball at pace and set up a teammate was another that sticks in the memory. Works so hard, always plays the team game.


Billy Murphy
CM: 2016 Development player who also came across from Northern Knights. This year has broken in regularly into the senior team.

SPB: Has provided some huge moments this year, has Billy. A couple of vital goals against Collingwood stick in the memory, and his start to last week’s Qualifying Final was enormous.

He’s a player who is always looking to create or explode out of or away from a contest. Every time he goes near it you hear someone – sometimes me – saying, “c’mon Bill!” in anticipation.

Has twenty goals from just eleven senior games in 2017.

Cam Pedersen
CM: 2006 Development premiership player and represented the VFL before being drafted by North Melbourne and then transferred to Melbourne, playing over 75 AFL games to date.

Sam Menegola
CM: Hawthorn rookie who played in the 2011 Development team just about ready to play in the 2017 AFL final series with Geelong. Has played 27 games so far with the Cats.


Robbie Campbell
CM: Before playing 116 AFL games with Hawthorn, Robbie played Development and was a premiership player in the seniors in 2001.

Lachie George
CM: Development Premiership player in 2010 and 2011 before going on to play over 150 games at VFL level. Went on to captain North Ballarat.

Sam Gibson
CM: Great Box Hill clubman who joined from Oakleigh Chargers and was originally rookied by Hawthorn. Played in the 2006 Development premiership and has taken his career to 130 AFL games.


John Holmes
CM: 2006 Development premiership on baller who went on top captain Ainslee (NEAFL) and Norwood (EFL) to premierships.

Ryan Mullet
CM: Development player in 2003, who is a highly decorated EFL Division 1 player, winning premierships and representing the league as captain.

Liam Tobin
CM: 100+ Box Hill Hawks games after joining the club from Sandy Dragons in 2010. Played in the 2010 and 2011 Development Premierships before representing the club in the 2013 Seniors’ flag.

Tom Goodwin
CM: Represented the club in the 2014 Development Grand Final before joining Coburg and is now captain of the club. Is now a VFL representative player.

Ryan Exon
CM: Played in the 2014 Seniors’ Grand Final and Development finals with the club before transferring to Frankston where he became captain. He is now playing senior VFL football with Coburg.

Note: Special thanks to John Ure, whose knowledge proved invaluable in researching this piece.

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