A three-time Hampden league premiership coach believes the AFL needs to adopt a program which would help mature-age country-based footballers get a chance at the top level.
Koroit mentor Chris McLaren said a concept, similar to the category B rookie section which caters for international prospects and those from different sporting codes, would stop talented country footballers slipping through the cracks.
McLaren said regional-based players overlooked in the draft as teenagers faced an uphill battle to catch AFL recruiters' attention.
"There's young players in our comp now and you think 'if he was able to get around the system for 12 months or two years, he could very well be an AFL player'," he said.
"It is hard to be a professional athlete when you can't train, prepare and recover like one. They'd have to be able to go up there and train like a professional athlete."
McLaren said a country concessions rule would be a win-win for clubs and individuals.
"Somehow you'd have to have enough money you could survive on it," he said.
"I don't know what the figure could be. Could the AFL fund that rather than the clubs?
"They seem to give more opportunities to cross-code players or internationals in the AFL and get them in and train them, whether it be an Irishman or American.
"They will train with them seven days a week and teach them how to kick and mark because they're athletic.
"If they spent that much time on an early 20-year-old player from the countryside they'd probably be better."
McLaren, the brother of former St Kilda and North Melbourne player Joe, said he understood why the AFL invested in overseas talent as it tried to "build the brand and grow the game".
But he said it was concerning the same opportunities weren't afford to grassroots players.
He said country footballers were at a disadvantage because they had to consider accommodation, work and travel when striving to make a VFL list which would ultimately put them in AFL recruiters' eye line.
"It's pretty hard to chuck in your apprenticeship or throw your job in to have a crack without a guarantee (of a game)," he said.
"You've got to take a real punt to say 'I'm going to uproot everything I do and I'll put my job or uni on hold'.
"Who can have 12 months off work to go and live their dream? Maybe if mum and dad are millionaires.
"If you live in Melbourne and miss that draft, you can get to a VFL club and stick at it while you're living on their doorstep (at your parents' house), working part-time.
"But someone from down here who wants to do that, they've got to go and rent a house, find a job and find someone to let them work part-time. They don't have contacts and networks."
McLaren said the state systems - VFL, SANFL and WAFL - provided a pathway but players were also only training part-time while juggling work.
He said being in an elite environment where players trained seven days a week was crucial to them reaching their potential.
"I can't imagine an Irishman jumping on plane, renting a house and going to play at Coburg for three years until he plays well enough," McLaren said.
"Have any of them gone that way to become an AFL player or is it because they've been able to fly them over, get them training seven days a week?"
Koroit forward Sam Dobson, who returned to the Saints this season after a stint with Geelong's VFL team, is AFL-calibre, according to McLaren.
"You're not practising your craft six days a week and if he had have been able to do that, would he potentially be better than some of the people we see running around playing AFL now?," he said.
"I would say yes."
McLaren said it wasn't only country footballers suffering, highlighting talented teenagers in other codes who had to make big decisions at a young age which could affect their playing futures.
"They might be quiet, introverted kids or have farming backgrounds or want to finish their schooling and want to be here or they might be in an apprenticeship," he said.
"I just think there has to be some ways out there for all sports to be able to give these kids, who maybe develop a little bit later and aren't quite ready to leave home just yet, an opportunity."
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