Harley Reid is officially an Eagle after West Coast selected the Tongala young gun as first pick in a thrilling and surprising opening to the 2023 AFL Draft last night.
After weeks of debate around whether West Coast would trade the pick and the right to draft Reid, the Eagles put those questions to rest when they announced Reid as their newest recruit.
It has been a long time coming for Reid, who had been touted as the top prospect in this year’s draft for almost two years.
“[I’m] super relieved really and honoured to be a West Coast Eagle,” Reid said.
“It was a night I won’t forget.
“It still doesn’t feel real.”
The second night of the AFL draft will be held tonight, November 21. Check out our full top 30 rankings and join us for our live blog.
Tongala in the spotlight
For Tongala, a dairy farming town 200 kilometres north of Melbourne with a population of less than 2,000, Reid’s success has centre stage.
Hundreds of locals at the Tongala Football Netball Club on Monday night gathered to celebrate Reid’s big moment.
There was excitement everywhere with music, a slip-and-slide, Harley Reid T-shirts and, of course, the draft itself.
Hundreds of people crammed into the Tongala clubrooms with the noise and excitement silenced completely as the West Coast’s pick was read out.
Then came the celebrations.
A huge cheer went up as Reid’s name was read out, followed by another when he was up on stage, proudly wearing the Tongala logo and holding his new jumper.
But the biggest cheer of all came when Reid gave a shout-out to Tongala during his speech.
“I was just super grateful for the people around me and all my friends and family and my local club. I’ve got on my jumper here,” Reid said.
“They are all back home at the local club, got a great set up there, so I appreciate all you guys and thanks for the support and I couldn’t do it without you guys … love you all.”
For Darren Maloney, who served as Tongala FNC’s president for eight years, it was a special moment.
“He’s realised his dream, how good’s that? There’s no words that can say it, just so proud of him,” Mr Maloney said.
“What a great effort by a small town. Especially going number one. People will remember that.”
John Bentley is a stalwart of the club and said the watch party had been in the works for months.
“When you have somebody like Harley, who has been the number one draft pick, it is time to party,” he said.
“I think in a way it was a sense of relief, but also a sense of euphoria in the fact that the club, the town, has produced a number one draft pick.”
A night full of surprises
One of the biggest draft surprises of the night also created one of the most heartwarming moments when Greater Western Sydney sent shock waves by selecting Albury’s Phoenix Gothard as the 11th overall pick.
With Gothard tipped to go late in the first round or possibly the second, it was a surprise selection that nobody saw coming so early in the proceedings.
But nobody was more shocked than Gothard himself.
There to support his friends, not for himself, he was swarmed by those around him when his name was called.
After a quick shirt change he was up on stage collecting his new orange and charcoal jumper.
Gothard’s Albury teammate Connor O’Sullivan was selected by Geelong the pick just prior to Gothard’s, and his reaction to hearing his friend’s name called was priceless.
It was not the only surprise of the night. Almost identical scenes played out later when Oscar Ryan was selected by Adelaide.
Like Gothard, Ryan was not expected to be drafted until later on and was there to support his mates, but found himself on the main stage when the Crows selected him as the 27th pick.
“I am still pretty stoked about it. It’s surreal really,” Ryan said.
“I was going down with Connor just to celebrate with him and I wasn’t expecting to get picked up at all.
“I was thinking maybe Tuesday night or Wednesday night, but I was lucky enough to go Monday night and get to celebrate with all my mates.”
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