McPhee will be a free hit at the Dockers

Ben Somerford Roar Guru

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Essendon's Adam McPhee leaves the field after the AFL Round 21 match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Essendon Bombers at Subiaco. Slattery Images

Essendon's Adam McPhee leaves the field after the AFL Round 21 match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Essendon Bombers at Subiaco. Slattery Images

At first glance it’s tempting to agree with the chorus of criticism from the likes of AFL commentator Dwayne Russell and Herald Sun journo Craig Hutchison directed at Fremantle’s decision to recruit Essendon’s Adam McPhee.

McPhee is expected to join the Dockers on a three-year deal in the pre-season draft, becoming the fourth Essendon player to head to Freo since ex-Bombers man Mark Harvey took over as coach in 2007.

But at 27-years-old the 2004 All-Australian and Essendon Best & Fairest winner hasn’t been at his best in the last few years although he still remains a good AFL player.

And ironically McPhee actually began his AFL career at Fremantle before heading to Melbourne only to return west well into his twenties, much like Peter Bell and Heath Black have before.

Add to that with Freo’s inglorious recruitment history and the fact that they’re supposed to be following a youth policy right now, and it seems signing up McPhee is a bad call.

Earlier this week, Hutchison was scathing in his assessment of the move writing, “The hard, cold, brutal truth for Fremantle is that Gold Coast, now, is closer to a premiership than the flailing Dockers.

“And the three-year offer to Adam McPhee does little but remind us all just how bad the Dockers have been built.”

Basically, it seems the Dockers are making the same old mistakes again.

Indeed, jumping to that conclusion is easy to do because the Dockers have a history of dodgy recruiting policies and failing to follow through with plans.

But that assumption is based on history rather than what is happening now and Fremantle insist recruiting a 27-year-old like McPhee is part of their ‘youth policy’.

Fremantle assistant coach Chris Bond explained this week, “The plan was made in 2008 what we wanted to do. We got 14 new players last year in the national and rookie draft.

“We will take eight players in the national and rookie drafts this year. And we have said all along if there was a chance to get a player in the pre-season draft – and hopefully Adam McPhee falls our way – we are getting him for a free hit.”

There’s no doubt Fremantle have firmly promoted youth since that decision in 2008, with the club becoming the first since the Brisbane Lions in 2005 (who were re-building after their golden era) to have 11 debutants in one season.

And they enjoyed some good success with that policy in 2009, with debutants Stephen Hill, Nic Suban, Hayden Ballentyne and Greg Broughton all looking capable of enjoying long AFL careers.

And doing the sums on Bond’s previous quote, considering their turnover in the last two seasons, the Dockers could field a whole 22-man side of first or second-year players in 2010.

But blindly throwing youngsters into the pressure cooker of AFL footy isn’t ideal. For every success, there’s a failure, and exposing some of the strugglers to loss after loss can burn them for ever.

Indeed, there’s more to developing a good footballer than just blind faith and that’s where McPhee’s recruitment comes into it.

This is a very young side who could do with an experienced player or two.

We shouldn’t forget McPhee is a pretty good AFL player who will help the Dockers stay competitive whilst they blood the youngsters. Avoiding demoralizing, weekly losses is important for young sides.

And players like McPhee have a role to play in development by setting the standard and leading by example and with experienced types well and truly outnumbered nowadays at Fremantle, the recruit will be handy in this facet.

The Dockers will hope to replicate Hawthorn’s 2008 Premiership success after their concerted youth policy in the preceding years, but it shouldn’t be ignored that the Hawks struggled in 2009 when experienced players like Trent Croad and Shane Crawford were absent.

Hutchison does point out McPhee’s arrival will mean whenever he plays one youngster will have to miss out, but in a weak, youthful side such as the Dockers, opportunities will be fairly readily available anyway for the rookies.

Nevertheless it is easy to think the Dockers just never learn, but ignoring their inglorious past, there’s more to this story than meets the eye in the context of where they are and what they are losing (very little).

The Dockers have a fresh-faced youthful list right now and adding an experienced body like McPhee will help.

And while some critics believe McPhee won’t prove a hit at Freo, the Dockers know he is after all just a ‘free hit’.

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