FAST-FORWARD to 2020 and just who do you think will be the veterans, the champions we will be full of admiration for? It's been a delight this season to follow the fortunes of James Hird as he farewells the fans and venues with class.

Next week, Glenn Archer will turn out for the 300th time in his Kangaroo strip. His desperate attempts to take pack marks in the last quarter at Carrara was one of the game's few highlights last week.

Many of the game's elite are limping to the line as they exit the game. The gut-busting running and heavy collisions spare no one. Nathan Buckley and Chris Grant are yet to play. Robert Harvey's hamstring again has been stretched to the limit.

"Kouta" is half the player he was, and David Neitz's knee continues to buckle. But we still love watching them, even if their performances are diluted, because they have stood the test of time, and their class has made them the champions they are.

The champions of 2020 already have started their senior careers. To go the distance and flourish, they will need to be smart, durable, committed, mentally strong and lucky. Smart means reading the ever-changing trends in football.

Durability in adapting to different playing positions helps. Committed players treat their bodies like temples. To diet, train, rest and rehabilitate means sacrifices have to be made.

Mentally, you are continually tested in this game. Every move on and off the field is heavily scrutinised. Weaknesses are exposed. And you need a fair slice of luck to avoid injuries that will end or restrict careers.

Half a dozen 19- and 20-year-olds who could tick off all of the boxes are Carlton's Marc Murphy, the Pies' Scott Pendlebury, Geelong's Joel Selwood, Jesse Smith of the Kangaroos, Hawk Lance Franklin and exciting young Bulldog Shaun Higgins. There's no doubt football lovers will get plenty of thrills and much satisfaction and enjoyment as they watch these six careers develop.


The son of former Fitzroy great John, this little fellow was born to excel at whatever sport he chose. Taken at No. 1 in the 2005 draft, Murphy has justified his selection with mature, courageous and classy performances in his first two seasons. Better still, he is a class act off field and should be appointed Carlton captain sooner rather than later. Currently, in the absence of Nick Stevens, Murphy is receiving plenty of physical attention from the opposition. It's not nice, but it is a situation that will make the teenager stronger and wiser.


You have to love smart players, and at just 19, Pendlebury sums up situations much much better than most. At 190 centimetres, the lithe Pie with the sweet left foot is agile enough to play "in-close" midfield and can hold his own as a key forward. Taken at No. 5 in the 2005 draft, coach Malthouse gave him a taste of the big time with nine games last season. In 2007, he has played every game and leads his team for hard-ball gets.


The Bendigo boy had great wraps on him as a junior footballer and even though he played only a handful of games last year due to a knee injury, the Cats snapped him up with their first pick in the 2006 draft. Was shown the way as a youngster by older twin brothers Adam (West Coast) and Troy (Brisbane), who are enjoying successful careers well away from Bendigo. Good judges rate him a mini-Nathan Buckley. He does all the extras, doesn't tolerate fools, is switched on and looks set to be an elite midfielder who should one day captain the Cats.


Another son of. Father Ross played more than 200 games for the Roos and Jesse is set to follow suit. Only six games in his debut 2006 season, but has been settled at half-back and wing in 2007. So far, he hasn't dominated, but the 20-year-old does a couple of things a game that put him above the rest. Smith reads the game exceptionally well and has a rare balance and poise. There's a lot like David Rhys-Jones at his best to be admired. With a perfect athletic and running build, an exciting career awaits.


This teenager will be a star. With only 17 games under his belt, in 12 months, Higgins already has become one of the Bulldogs' key players. Played mainly across half-forward, he has a creative football brain that helps him seize the moment to kick and set up goals. Taken with the Bulldogs' first pick in the 2005 draft, the kid from Geelong is one we will enjoy watching for years.


Into just his third season and yet to play 50 games, the boy they call "Buddy" has the world at his feet. A genuine buzz of excitement ripples through the crowed whenever the lanky speedster nears the ball. With his height and speed, Franklin is extremely hard to match up on. While there are still a few rough edges to smooth out, Franklin looms to be the player of the next decade.