Welcome to the world of free agency
It’s here. Consider this Year Zero in the meat market of player movements in the AFL. Free agency has arrived, and everything we think we know is wrong.
Well, not quite.
A lot is about to change. A lot has already changed, in fact, after just one day.
Brendan Goddard, the prized No.1 draft pick of 2002, has done his time at St Kilda and has now opted to ‘defect’ to Essendon.
Richmond secured unwanted Crow Chris Knights, and another player from a South Australian club is likely to follow him – Troy Chaplin, the Port Adelaide defender.
Chaplin’s teammate, Danyle Pearce, looks like he’s off to Fremantle. It will be hard for Port to match either of these offers given there is no coach, no president and half the board is about to be punted.
Power supporters, on the other hand, will happily drive either of them to Adelaide Airport – a fresh start is needed for all parties.
Meanwhile, Quentin Lynch has his sights set on a switch from West Coast to Collingwood, and Demons veteran Brent Maloney will also auction off his rights to the highest bidder.
Quite the flurry of activity.
Especially considering that the AFL universe is so accustomed to anticlimactic trade periods where absolutely nothing happens until 20 minutes before deadline, at which point nothing is still a good chance of happening.
It almost feels like the opening of the English Premier League transfer window – or better still, that date six months out from the expiration of contracts, when round-ball footballers can entertain moves anywhere else in the world.
It’s tremendous. The AFL will be delighted, because it will keep the sport in the headlines for another few weeks yet.
Players are stoked that for once, their moves are on their terms.
And importantly, clubs that have the foresight to plan ahead, manage their lists and work within the restrictions of the salary cap will be further rewarded.
This free agency period comes straight after one of the all-time classic Grand Finals, contested by two teams who have hung around the upper echelons of the AFL for near half a decade.
The Swans in particular stand as proof that you don’t need to bottom out to rebuild. In the context of free agency and the loosening of player movement restrictions, this is key.
After winning the 2005 flag, Sydney flat-out refused to let their premiership window to slam shut.
We all know the story, that the ‘Bloods’ are a side made of bit-part players and unwanted roughies that thrived under the guidance of two coaches who put culture first, Paul Roos and John Longmire.
Sure, there are stars. But the reason why everyone reaches for the ‘Bloods’ card is because of this undeniable truth: culture is king.
Sydney’s culture of excellence is self-fulfilling. The ‘no dickheads’ policy ensures it stays uncontaminated.
Add in the right leadership, dead-eye recruiting and an intelligent tactical framework, and it’s no wonder why the whole of the Swans is greater than the sum of the club’s parts.
St Kilda stands in contrast to the Swans as the side that hoarded draft picks, rose to the top and then failed to capitalise or sustain it.
Now in the space of three years they have been walked out on by a No.1 selection in Goddard and a No.2 in Luke Ball. Both are elite midfielders.
Meanwhile, Sydney’s big fish choose to stay put. If and when replacements are needed, the club either finds treasure in the AFL scrapheap or digs up overlooked gems at the draft.
The challenge for struggling clubs is to emulate the Swans by taking the little pieces available on the market and putting them together in the right way to form a cohesive unit.
Free agency is only going to help speed that process up, but only for those clubs with a plan.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.
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