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Inside the GIANTS' recruiting team

Adam Curley, AFL.com.au  November 28, 2017 5:19 PM

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Adrian Caruso (left) and his recruiting team prepare for last Friday night's 2017 NAB AFL Draft in Sydney Olympic Park.

Everything went to plan so we're really happy.

The GIANTS recruiting team had to work harder than ever to ensure they remained big players at the 2017 NAB AFL Draft. 

AFL.com.au's Adam Curley was given inside access to the GIANTS camp in the lead-up to the last Friday's event, to see how they went about securing their future stars. 

Since their inception the GIANTS have had handfuls of high draft picks and academy products to gorge on inside the first round, relieving some of the pressure on the GIANTS national recruiting manager Adrian Caruso and his offsiders.

But this year was a different story. With the GIANTS not poised to enter the draft until the second round, they knew moves had to be made.

There were also no academy standouts set to be amongst the early picks, with only Western Sydney product Nick Shipley penciled in for a late selection.

"Not having academy boys in the pool early in the draft means more work but it's also more exciting," Caruso said.

The first piece of the puzzle to work in the GIANTS' favour happened in Grand Final week, when Devon Smith requested a trade back to Victoria.

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Given Smith had notched up 109 games and 100 goals with the GIANTS, Caruso saw the 2014 club champion runner-up as the GIANTS' best chance to improve their draft position. 

On October 5, when Smith nominated Essendon as his preferred new home, the Giants immediately locked their radar on the Bombers' pick No.11. 

While the Western Bulldogs baulked and haggled with the Bombers over Jake Stringer's services, Caruso seized the moment and sent Smith to Tullamarine. 

The GIANTS weren't just part of the first round, they were sitting pretty just outside the top 10.

"When you're doing your work on the eve of the trade period, you're looking at where you need to get up to, and get the type of player you want," Caruso told AFL.com.au just hours before the draft.

"We identified that our only chance to get an A-grade player was to get inside the top 13 or 14 picks, because we thought (it) dropped off after that and really evened out." 

With his plan executed beautifully, Caruso then set his sights on the draft.

"As soon as we got that pick 11 from Essendon, there was one guy we had in mind." he said. 

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GIANTS senior coach Leon Cameron met with 14 Victorian draft hopefuls the week before the draft, but Aiden Bonar, a strong-bodied forward/midfielder, was the player with his magnet circled on the whiteboard.

Even his two knee reconstructions couldn't discourage his suitors.

The GIANTS knew 10 elite youngsters would be gone by the time they got their opportunity, but they rated Bonar as the best player of the next group, if he made it that far.

Dashing defender Ed Richards and small forward Jack Higgins were two others to attract strong interest from Caruso.

Coach Cameron doesn't play a huge part in his club's recruiting; preferring to trust Caruso's team, but his role is still significant. 

He's a relationships coach, and speaking with young players gives him an understanding of what type of character a player is, an important factor for an interstate club, especially when senior opportunities might be limited early on.

"The early picks can sometimes be a worry, especially the ones that feel they need to play straight away, and if they don't, they get frustrated and want to leave," Caruso said.

"But we feel like the guy we're targeting has the resilience to push through, is patient, and sees the long game, that we're drafting them for 10 years not one or two." 

As the picks came and names were read out on draft night Bonar's name wasn't in the prestigious top 10, and Caruso couldn't get his selection in quick enough.

And when the GIANTS took Shipley in the fourth round to give them their first ever local academy signing, a move which drew rapturous applause from the hometown crowd, it capped off the night. 

When AFL.com.au caught up with Caruso post-draft, he was understandably ecstatic. 

"Everything went to plan so we're really happy," he said. 

The GIANTS couldn't wait to give Bonar and his family a tour of his new footy home, so given the draft was two minutes drive from the club's headquarters, the locker room was opened up, where 2018's available jumper numbers were laid out for the newest Giant. 

With Smith, Matt Kennedy, Nathan Wilson, Steve Johnson and Shane Mumford all departing the Giants this year, there were some prized lockers up for grabs, but Bonar wasted little time choosing the number 10.

It seemed fitting, given that was the number vacated by the man who helped start the whole process, Devon Smith.

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