Would an AFL mid-season trade window work?

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Tyrone Vickery of the Tigers shows his emotions after losing the AFL Round 17 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Gold Coast Suns at Cazalys Stadium, Cairns. Slattery Images

Tyrone Vickery of the Tigers shows his emotions after losing the AFL Round 17 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Gold Coast Suns at Cazalys Stadium, Cairns. Slattery Images

It’s Round 11. Richmond is hoping to play finals for the first time in nine years and sits half a game outside the top eight. Disaster strikes. First-choice ruckman Angus Graham goes down with a season-ending knee injury. He joins fellow ruckman Andrew Browne on the Tigers’ injury list.

What do you do?

Do you throw Tom Derickx in the deep end, even though he’s far from ready to play in the AFL? Or do you force natural forward Tyrone Vickery to play in the ruck for the majority of the game?

Or do you make the most of the AFL’s new mid-season trade period? Do you surrender a second-round draft pick for a legitimate ruckman? Do you approach North Melbourne and work out a way to lure Hamish McIntosh – an injury prone yet proven ruckman who has lost his spot in the senior side – to the club?

This is the dilemma AFL clubs could face sooner rather than later.

The idea of a mid-season trade period arose during a meeting between AFL executives and club CEO’s last Thursday. Melbourne CEO Cameron Schwab was the man who raised the idea and it was well received by the majority of clubs.

The AFL is reportedly very open-minded to a mid-season trade window and will assess whether it’s a realistic possibility in coming months. If it’s approved, we could see it implicated as early as next season, however that’s unlikely seeing free agency will be introduced in 2012.

A mid-season draft was trialled between 1990 and 1993, but former AFL CEO Ross Oakley scrapped the idea in his first year in office. Oakley spoke about his decision for the first time in 2010, describing the mid-year draft as a failure and cited a distinct lack of player and club support.

But it’s back. And it could be here to stay.

So how would an AFL mid-season draft or trade window look?

It would fall midway through a home-and-away season and potentially allow a player to play for one team in Round 11 and another in Round 12. Clubs could use the draft picks it had at the end of the year to trade, as well as its own players.

Many pundits believe the window shouldn’t be restricted to AFL clubs either. Players from second-tier competitions, such as the VFL, SANFL and WAFL, need to be given the best possible opportunity to make their mark. We’d discover more unbelievable footy stories, like Michael Barlow, James Podsiadly, Tendai Mzungu and Paul Puopolo, just to name a few.

Now the burning question: will it work?

The biggest advantage of a mid-season draft would be if a club suffered multiple injuries to players in the same position.

Brisbane captain Jonathan Brown believes it will give clubs a genuine chance of being competitive if injuries do occur.

‘At the moment, our sport is too reliant on good draft picks and not having injuries,’ he said on The Footy Show last Thursday night.

‘We need to create other avenues to make sides better, or to repair your list throughout the season.’

A trade or draft window at the halfway point of the season would also stimulate plenty of interest from the footy public.

The AFL community is infatuated by trade week at the end of the season. It only runs for five days and clubs are always hesitant at the trade table. But it always generates intrigue and fascination, even if nothing happens.

By implementing a mid-season trade period, even more interest surrounding players moving clubs would be stimulated. If a team is on the verge of making the eight, a new player might give the team spice and impetus to make a charge towards the end of the season.

However there are numerous hurdles the AFL would have to clear to get a mid-season trade period up and running.
Perhaps the biggest issue would be loyalty – one of the most controversial and frequently used words in AFL circles.

Loyalty has been preached to AFL players for an eternity, but a mid-season trade period goes against the well-known AFL faithfulness.

Yes the introduction of free agency gives you the sense the AFL is now willing to push the loyalty boundaries. But trading a player mid-season is almost an offence to the culture the AFL has created over many years.

Then there’s contracted players. Would they be allowed to move? Would players only in the final year of their contracts be allowed to move?

Could clubs recruit players on a part-time loan, meaning they would have to return to their original club by the end of the season?

Another concern would be players bringing inside knowledge of their old club to other clubs.

‘I know one issue that has been raised in the past have been with players asking about the intellectual property that’s held within a club in terms of players shifting from clubs understanding game plans and the like,’ said AFL Players Association CEO Matt Finnis.

‘How do we protect the integrity of contracts? When you’ve got players potentially changing employers in the middle of the season it’s not as simple as saying it’s all positive.’

The professionalism of AFL players would also be tested like never before.

If a player was put up for trade during the mid-season window and no other club picked him up, both parties would need to show supreme maturity in the aftermath. Both club and player would have to quickly restore faith in each other, otherwise the relationship would be awkward.

For all the naysayers out there, here’s the most important bit: a club doesn’t have to trade if it doesn’t want to. If it isn’t worried about the depth of its list, it doesn’t have to enter the draft.

The potential is there for a mid-season draft and the benefits for individual players sound juicy. However the AFL must broadly consider what the model looks like and consider all of the implications.

Whatever the final decision on a mid-season draft, it shouldn’t be rushed.

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