Gary Ablett has requested a trade to Geelong, and if you believe the rumour mill, Jake Stringer may not be far away. Despite some genuine concerns about the structure of their list, they can and should do what it takes to bring both in.
AFL list management series
18 – Brisbane Lions
17 – Gold Coast Suns
16 – Carlton Blues
15 – North Melbourne Kangaroos
14 – Fremantle Dockers
13 – Collingwood Magpies
12 – Hawthorn Hawks
11 – St Kilda Saints
10 – Western Bulldogs
9 – Melbourne Demons
8 – Essendon Bombers
7 – Port Adelaide Power
6 – West Coast Eagles
5 – Sydney Swans
4 – GWS Giants
Geelong’s 2017 ultimately showed no real progress nor decline on their 2016 season, in both cases bowing out of finals a week early having been thoroughly outclassed in a preliminary final.
Again Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood were elite, again that wasn’t enough to take them all the way. Mitch Duncan really stood up this year and Zach Tuohy proved to be a handy recruit.
The highlight of the year was a dominant victory over the Sydney Swans in the semi-final, a clinical performance in a game where the Cats were considered outsiders.
Chris Scott is one of the more difficult coaches to puzzle out in the league, and during this year’s finals series in particular football pundits went hot and cold and back again on him regularly.
He took the Cats all the way to a premiership in his first year in charge of the club and that was a remarkable achievement, but in the time since their finals record has been quite bad, winning three of eleven.
How much credit should really belong to him for taking that 2011 side to the flag, and how much of the Cats’ current inability to get the job done in finals should be laid at his door?
The answer to both questions is probably that there are a lot more moving parts at a football club than just the senior coach. Scott may not be the Messiah, but he certainly is capable of playing the role he needs to.
He signed an extension until the end of the 2019 season during the year, and at the moment there’s nothing to suggest he won’t see it out.
Joel Selwood has captained the Cats for six years now and is one of the most respected and admired skippers in the league.
He is nearing 30 and Geelong will eventually have to turn their eye towards a next-generation leader to take over the role, but he can probably hold it for another two or three years at least.
There isn’t really an obvious choice to take up the mantle in Geelong’s younger brigade at this point, so finding someone to fulfill that role between now and then will be a crucial task on the Cats’ to-do list.
It’s remarkable that the Cats have been able to stay near the pointy end of the competition so long – this goes against the natural order of things in an AFL world were equalisation is increasingly the norm, and can only usually be achieved through regular radical surgery.
When the Cats won their first flag of the new millenium in 2007 Joel Selwood was just a first-year player, and now he is the 29-year-old captain of the club. Given the retirements of Tom Lonergan and Andrew Mackie, he’s currently the second-oldest player on the list.
Below him there’s a handful of players who were drafted to the Cats in the time since and have become genuine stars or at least solid performers – the likes of Tom Hawkins (29), Steven Motlop, Mark Blicavs, Daniel Menzel (both 26), Sam Menegola, Cam Guthrie (both 25), Jackson Thurlow (23), Jake Kolodjashnij (22), Nakia Cockatoo (20) and Brandan Parfitt (19).
These aren’t the players who have sustained Geelong’s success though, it’s been the trade-ins who have kept them afloat. Two years ago the Cats added four 25-year-olds (now 27) in one swoop – Lachie Henderson, Zac Smith, Scott Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield. Last year they added another player of that age in Zach Tuohy.
It’s been a clear strategy to bolster the middle tier of a side that was lacking due to its own success in the past decade preventing it from having access to high draft picks.
This strategy is robbing Peter to pay Paul though, because doing these deals has cost Geelong another generation of first-round draft picks. They’ve only taken one top ten pick in the last nine drafts, and have already sold their 2017 first-rounder. They haven’t solved their problem, they’ve just put off dealing with it for another five years or so.
As a result their 23-and-under group is a bit uninspiring. Thurlow, Kolodjashnij, Cockatoo and Parfitt are the only players I’d bet on having significant AFL careers there.
What would be more accurate though is to say that this was actually robbing Peter to pay Patrick Dangerfield. When one of the best players in the competition wants to come to your club for below market price, there is only one answer.
Geelong have based their list strategy around the arrival of Dangerfield and so they simply must target a flag within the next three years while both he and Selwood are at their peaks. A collapse may well come after that, but after more than a decade of success they should be willing to cop that blow.
Geelong players by age
Tom Lonergan – 33yr 4mth
Andrew Mackie – 33yr 1mth
Harry Taylor – 31yr 3mth
Joel Selwood – 29yr 4mth
Tom Hawkins – 29yr 2mth
Zach Tuohy – 27yr 9mth
Lachie Henderson – 27yr 9mth
Zac Smith – 27yr 7mth
Scott Selwood – 27yr 5mth
Partick Dangerfield – 27yr 5mth
Aaron Black – 26yr 9mth
Rhys Stanley – 26yr 9mth
Steven Motlop – 26yr 6mth
Josh Cowan – 26yr 6mth
Mark Blicavs – 26yr 5mth
Mitch Duncan – 26yr 3mth
Ryan Abbott – 26yr 3mth
Daniel Menzel – 26yr
Sam Menegola – 25yr 6mth
Jordan Murdoch – 25yr 6mth
Tom Ruggles – 25yr 5mth
Cam Guthrie – 25yr 1mth
George Horlin-Smith – 24yr 9mth
Tom Stewart – 24yr 6mth
Lincoln McCarthy – 23yr 11mth
Jed Bews – 23yr 9mth
Jackson Thurlow – 23yr 5mth
Timm House – 22yr 4mth
Jake Kolodjashnij – 22yr 1mth
Darcy Lang – 21yr 10mth
Wylie Buzza – 21yr 6mth
Jordan Cunico – 21yr 4mth
Cory Gregson – 21yr
Nakia Cockatoo – 20yr 11mth
Mark O’Connor (R) – 20yr 8mth
Matthew Hayball – 20yr 6mth
James Parsons – 20yr 5mth
Ryan Gardner – 20yr 3mth
Quinton Narkle – 19yr 9mth
Brandan Parfitt – 19yr 4mth
Sam Simpson (R) – 19yr 3mth
Zach Guthrie (R) – 19yr 2mth
Esava Ratugolea – 19yr 2mth
Jack Henry (R) – 19yr
Jamaine Jones (R) – 18yr 11mth
Geelong do have a few immediate contract concerns that it’s time to make decisions on. Steven Motlop and Daniel Menzel are the two most important, but we’ll talk about them a little later.
Darcy Lang is also one to consider. He just hasn’t really come good in the way the Cats might have hoped for so far. Certainly worth persisting with, but he could be trade bait.
In terms of the 2018 contract group, there doesn’t appear to be any genuine flight risks. Generally speaking, Geelong is a club players want to come to, not go out of, and that’s a big part of why they’ve been so good so long.
Geelong players by contract status
Out of contract
Zach Guthrie (R)
Jack Henry (R)
Jamaine Jones (R)
Mark O’Connor (R)
Sam Simpson (R)
Tom Lonergan and Andrew Mackie, the two oldest players on Geelong’s list, have already confirmed their retirements. They won’t have any other retirees this year.
Josh Cowan, Ryan Gardner, Lincoln McCarthy and Tom Ruggles are all potential delistees, though their futures may depend on the comings and goings of free agency and the trade period.
Josh Cowan (unrestricted)
Steven Motlop (restricted)
Daniel Menzel (unrestricted)
Josh Cowan doesn’t appear likely to have any suitors and will either get a new deal from the Cats or see the end of his AFL career.
Steven Motlop and Daniel Menzel are where it gets interesting for Geelong. Both of them are talented and both have plenty of football left in them, but it seems both of them are on the outer.
Motlop has been a headache at times for the Cats throughout the years. He had an incredible breakout 2013 season but hasn’t been able to sustain that kind of form in the years since, and his fitness and commitment often come under question.
He’s reportedly been on a decent-sized contract these past few years which his form just hasn’t lived up to the weight of. He was shopped around at the trade table last year and there were no takers, likely for exactly this reason.
Now he is a free agent and clubs can pay him whatever they like and don’t have to make a trade deal for him – that makes him a much more attractive prospect to roll the dice on.
There don’t seem to be any clear suitors at this stage. North Melbourne and Richmond were both said to be interested but both seem to have turned away. Port Adelaide might be the most likely chance at the moment but talk of a move there is a bit cold too.
As for Menzel, his story is a remarkable one, coming back from multiple consecutive ACL injuries to be a regular part of the Geelong side this year and ultimately kicking 40 goals from 19 games in 2017.
He was dropped for Geelong’s first final though, with his defensive pressure not up to the standard the Cats expect, despite his ability to regularly hit the scoreboard.
He has reportedly been offered only a one-year deal with the Cats for 2018 and the deal would require him to take a pay cut – it’s going to be hard to sign a contract like that no matter how much he loves the club.
From the outside it looks like both Motlop and Menzel are being pushed out by the Cats, and while both have their flaws, it’s hard to understand at first glance why this might be.
I suspect it largely comes down to salary cap concerns. The Cats have their eyes on some significant targets this offseason and there comes a point where you just can’t afford to pay everyone.
This is particularly a problem when you go down the road that the Cats have of regularly trading in players, as you generally need to pay these a little above market value to attract them to the club.
It may ultimately cost Geelong Motlop and Menzel, but they appear to be players that the Cats believe they can live without.
Of course, another incentive for Geelong to move the pair on is that their departures will result in compensation draft picks, perhaps one each in the second round, and these could be spun into trade deals.
On Tuesday one of footy’s worst kept secrets became official news when Gary Ablett formally requested a trade to come back home to Geelong.
Ablett is contracted until the end of 2018 and Gold Coast have said that for a deal to be done, Geelong will need to meet certain expectations – the Cats say they will work with the Suns to try to make this happen.
The early word is that Gold Coast have asked for Mitch Duncan in return for Ablett, or failing that, Nakia Cockatoo, a pair of requests so outlandishly ridiculous that we’re not going to dignify them with any further discussion.
As they did with Jaeger O’Meara the Suns will eventually bend and take an offer that’s a bit closer to fair, though it’s worth asking what really is a fair deal for a 33-year-old who might only have 20 games or so left in his body.
Much like Hawthorn trying to secure O’Meara last year I suspect the Cats would be happy enough to send a player to Gold Coast in order to get a deal done if that’s really what it takes, but they will run into the same roadblock: no one in their right mind wants to go there. Gold Coast have no one other than themselves to blame for that.
Keep an eye on Darcy Lang here. He is out of contract at Geelong and if told that a new one is not forthcoming might be willing to be part of the Gold Coast deal. A second-round pick, possibly one received as compensation for Steven Motlop or Daniel Menzel leaving the club, could be part of the deal as well.
The other man high on Geelong’s priority list is Bulldog Jake Stringer.
Although Stringer hasn’t officially declared a club of choice just yet, he looks certain to move teams this year and some believe he is set to nominate Geelong as his preferred destination – take this with a grain of salt, of course.
The Cats will need to pay a higher price here than they will for Ablett – Stringer is almost a decade younger and despite what other worries come attached, he is a proven All Australian quality forward.
I would suspect that it will be as simple as a swap for either pick 20 this year (Carlton’s second rounder, obtained last year in the Zach Tuohy trade), or Geelong’s 2018 first-rounder. The Cats will offer the former, the Dogs will push for the latter.
The other player Geelong have been linked to throughout the year is Devon Smith of GWS, and for a while it was believed that they were his most likely destination.
That seems unlikely to be the case now though, with the unexpected availability of Stringer having become Geelong’s top priority, and Smith is reportedly now most likely to join Carlton.
First three rounds: 20, 33.
Both of these picks might well wind up being part of trade deals to land Ablett or Stringer, and it looks like once again the Cats will make little to no real investment in the draft.
As more than a decade of time has passed since they first tasted premiership success the different parts that made up Geelong’s grand era have gradually withered and needed to be replaced, and the Cats have done so by hitting the trade table and hitting it hard.
That’s a strategy that has breathed life back into the club in the same way that an organ transplant will for the human body. They’ve brought in five middle-tier players in the last two years and that has taken them from missing finals in 2015 to back-to-back preliminary finals.
The thing about this kind of strategy is that it’s expensive. You have to pay players well to lure them across and you wind up trading valuable draft picks to get the deal done. It’s also only a temporary fix.
The Cats’ big advantage here is that they’re a club players really want to be a part of. If Patrick Dangerfield sold himself on the open market he could probably make half a million more per year than he does at Geelong. That kind of pulling power is invaluable.
Geelong aren’t dumb, they know that all eras end and they’re probably aware that there’ll be a few years of bottoming out when this one does.
If I thought that changing strategies now, knocking back players who want to come to the club and investing in the draft might prevent that, I might recommend that strategy – but I reckon Geelong have gone too far down this path to not go the whole way.
So long as there’s elite talents like Gary Ablett and Jake Stringer wanting to come to the club they’re making the right call to double-down and see if they can squeeze one more premiership out of Joel Selwood’s career.
A Dangerfield-Selwood-Ablett centre bounce team is going to be something truly amazing to behold. All three would potentially be the best player on the list at most clubs. It’s like the Ark of the Covenant – it’ll melt our faces off, but you want to see it opened just as much as I do.
I predict that in the early 2020s, Geelong will be a bottom-six team – but they may well snag another flag or two between now and then.