October 2014 was a tumultuous time for the Western Bulldogs. They lost Shaun Higgins to free agency, they traded away a Brownlow Medallist in Adam Cooney, and their captain, Ryan Griffen, asked to leave the club.
That set in motion a series of events that will certainly become famous in AFL history. Having clearly failed to keep the players on his side Brendan McCartney ‘resigned’ from his position as the Bulldogs’ senior coach.
The Bulldogs dumped Griffen as captain but insisted he would be held to his contract. However even without a senior coach of any kind they began making moves behind closed doors and these moves saw another massive twist in the tale to come.
With a seven-year, $6 million dollar contract they convinced Tom Boyd, the reigning No.1 draft pick who had been with his club Greater Western Sydney for just one season, to request a trade of his own to Melbourne’s west.
At the time Boyd had played nine games and kicked just eight goals – but he was widely regarded as the most talented young prospect in the game and, as a 200cm key forward, was the type of the player the Dogs had been longing to acquire for many years.
Despite both clubs digging in their heels and saying they would not trade their respective players, a deal was eventually struck. The Bulldogs sent Griffen and pick 6 in the draft to GWS, and Boyd arrived at the kennel.
I thought it was a brilliant move at the time. Not only was Boyd the perfect player for the Dogs to pick up, but the decision not to meekly give up their captain when asked but instead strike back with a blow just as hard spoke of a club rediscovering its self-respect.
The Dogs lost three of their most experienced players, including their captain, in Griffen, Cooney and Higgins. They sacked their coach and traded away their first round pick. But you know what?
They got Tom Boyd. Top marks.
A year and a half has passed since then and Boyd and the Bulldogs are pretty much the opposite of where I expected them to be. Boyd, rather than developing his talent at AFL level, is stuck in the state league and getting into late-night drunken ‘incidents’ with his teammates. The Bulldogs, rather than steadily rebuilding, are one of the best-performed teams in the league.
That fire, that self respect that the Bulldogs showed when they recruited Boyd has become symbolic of the club, and while Boyd himself hasn’t contributed much to the effort, it – along with the recruitment of a talented senior coach in Luke Beverdige – has seen them rise up the ladder quicker than we thought possible.
Boyd however has been held back for a number of reasons. The biggest – figuratively and literally – has been the impressive development of Jack Redpath.
While Boyd was hailed for almost a year ahead of his AFL debut as the next big thing, Redpath quietly entered the AFL with no fuss whatsoever, joining the Bulldogs at pick 62 in the 2011 rookie draft. He didn’t make a debut until 2014 and didn’t become a regular until last year.
It’s pretty rare for a quality key forward to come from anywhere but the first round of the draft – for one to come from deep in the rookie draft is virtually unheard of. But 25-year-old Redpath is exactly that. He has kicked 15 goals from six games this year, after kicking 19 from 11 in 2015.
He is, essentially, playing the role that Tom Boyd was recruited to play – providing a focal point in the forward line that allows Jake Stringer to be a more mobile, versatile option. In two years on the same list, he and Boyd have played just three games together, all of them last year, with Boyd kicking only a single goal across the lot.
The simple fact is that, right now, Redpath is better than Boyd – he works harder both offensively and defensively and he contributes. Boyd seems to struggle at AFL level. He lacks aggression, lacks presence. That’s not abnormal in a 20-year-old key forward, but it is still a concern.
Redpath is only 25 and recently signed a new contract with the club – albeit only until the end of 2017. He’s going to be around for some time yet, unless he is given reason to leave.
So it seems that in an area where they struggled for so long, the Bulldogs suddenly have an excess of talent. That begs the question – why not make a trade?
There plenty of clubs in the league who would kill to have a young talent like Boyd, even considering his lack of impact at AFL level so far, and many that would be willing to guarantee him a best 22 spot, no questions asked.
Fremantle and Brisbane would both be heavily interested and will have high draft picks and players to deal. From Victoria, Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon, Melbourne, Richmond and maybe even Hawthorn could all find a place for Boyd in their 2017 side.
A trade could be the Bulldogs’ smartest move here – move on a highly valuable commodity that they don’t really need for a highly valuable commodity that would improve their team. Try to lure away Michael Hurley from Essendon, Brodie Grundy from Collingwood or Max Gawn from Melbourne (in order of most to least likely).
And while I hesitate to read too much into the Boyd-Cordy affair, if there is some sort of trouble among the play group regarding Boyd at the club, sending him away would end that drama and get everyone back on the same page.
It would cost them a bit of pride. They might even need to foot the bill for a portion of Boyd’s salary over the next couple of years as his new club might not be willing to pay in the millions. But, sometimes the smartest move is to swallow your pride and do what’s best for yourself, even if you come off looking a bit foolish.
Well, it’s something to think on, come the end of the 2016 season. Until then, the Dogs should do what they can to see if they can fit Boyd and Redpath into the same side at AFL level. If they can – bully, no need to make a change, and the future is exciting indeed.
If they can’t – well, they might have their answer.