Acquiring a prime age AFL superstar has been a fraught and surprisingly fruitless exercise, according to recent history.
Is Patrick Dangerfield set to join the list of names who’ve failed to win a flag after flying from their first home?
This column was sparked by a spicy hot take by a member of the Super Secret Footy Wonk Chat Group who shall remain nameless, who was marvelling at the work of his Adelaide Crows at the weekend. With gusto, said member lobbed this hand grenade into the group.
Hot take: the Crows are in with a chance of winning the Dangerfield trade by the end of Milera’s career
The Patrick Dangerfield trade took place in the 2015 offseason. Not to re-litigate the past, but at the time I wrote quite a lengthy column looking at the then-Adelaide midfielder’s options and concluded staying at the Crows was his best football situation.
(I should not have said the words “I predict he stays” or whatever it was at the end of it because for one how am I to know and two it was pretty clear all along he was moving home)
Guess what folks? Impossible counterfactual aside, this year is looking like it will provide evidence I was (impossible counterfactual aside, ok) maybe right! Broken clocks and all that.
If you take the markets at face value – generally a good idea, except when it comes to picking the actual premiership winner – Adelaide is more likely to win this year’s premiership than Geelong. Public and pundit sentiment towards the Crows is somewhat bullish, whereas it is bearish towards the Cats. This column supports that view.
Indeed, Adelaide look like one of the best value picks in the competition if that sort of things floats your boat. The Crows’ profile as a premiership contender in almost every way you conceive.
They even finished in close proximity to the fabled 13th spot on the ladder which has given us three grand finalists and two premiers in the past three years.
The top of Adelaide’s midfield is among the competition’s best. Few teams can hit with the frenetic ground ball pressure of Rory Sloane, Matt and Brad Crouch, Hugh Greenwood, and Bryce Gibbs. Their midfield depth is itself deep given the names above: Richard Douglas, David Mackay, Rory Atkins, Cam Ellis-Yolman all play mostly anonymous roles, and can be maligned as a result, but help hold the team together.
Off half back and on the wings, the Crows again have quality. What’s more, Rory Laird, Tom Lynch, Brodie Smith and Paul Seedsman can flex into at least two positions and play them at a very high level.
Laird and Lynch, in particular, are somewhat unique pieces that can help coach Dom Pyke go big or small up forward or down back as required. Wayne Milera is set for a huge year; if he hits where he seems to be headed shortly the Crows have four legitimate half backs that can flex higher up the ground. It’s really quite impressive, particularly given Adelaide’s style of play.
That’s before we talk about the forward line, which looks flush with options and combinations. Even if Eddie Betts has entered his decline curve – he’s the 19th oldest player in the competition by the way – the Crows have plenty of small and pacey options coming through their list. Indeed, they acquired Richmond’s Tyson Stengle with this specific spot in mind.
Defensively the key posts are sorted with Daniel Talia and Tom Doedee. The small defender spots are mostly in hand, although the injury to Luke Brown is a sizeable blow; the Crows mostly defend with numbers in the back half on the deck as it is.
Ruck is a problem, but when was the last time the ruck spot held any team back from winning the flag? As this column and many others have said across The Roar, you either want a ruckman who makes a sizeable difference or you don’t care about the spot. The Crows had one of the first real modern ruck workhorses in Sam Jacobs, but he’s ageing like most 200cm, 100kg AFL-level footballers: not so well.
The hang up? It’s hard to find a real one, which is to say Adelaide’s 2018 flame out is not a real hang up. Remember this time last year when Melbourne’s players revolting against coach Simon Goodwin and refusing to partake in some preseason camp activities was a sign the club was in turmoil and they couldn’t be taken seriously?
That take aged as well as well most takes by those people.
If anything Adelaide’s 2018 should be supporting their surge back up the ladder. Amidst all the fugazi with Collective Minds, Adelaide was absolutely wrecked by soft tissue injuries, to the point the club never got out of first gear. Indeed, as the Crows got their players back on the park, it all came together: 6-3 (albeit with a skinny eight-point point differential) in their last nine, including wins against West Coast and Geelong in Rounds 15 and 17.
Brown’s injury aside, Adelaide’s ride on the injury luck rollercoaster is much more joyous than terrifying to start 2019. That, plus a fixture that figures to be in the bottom four in terms of difficulty (double ups against Port Adelaide, St Kilda, Gold Coast, Geelong and West Coast) puts the Crows in a strong position for a top four finish. And from there they have shown their game plan is strong enough to make it to the last game of the year.
To get there, Adelaide will have to dislodge at least one of last year’s top eight. Geelong is one of the candidates.
That’s got very little to do with Dangerfield himself. As we noted in The Roar AFL Top 50 last week, there aren’t many players who can run point through the middle – as a follower or a centreman – for 70 per cent of match time, and then go and play as a leading forward and kick a few goals a game. This season instead may end up being a referendum on the help that came with him.
Dangerfield was acquired in the 2015 offseason. It was a big one for the Cats, which saw them trade for Lachie Henderson and Zac Smith, and bring in Scott Selwood via free agency. Geelong also drafted mature age player Sam Menegola with pick 66 (a bargain in every sense). Henderson is reportedly battling with a cavalcade of Geelong backs for a Round 1 spot, Smith is certainly out due to injury, and Selwood’s troublesome lower leg issues have certainly followed him from West Coast.
The Cats have been carefully straddling the line between overinvestment in today and additional investment in tomorrow for almost a decade. At some point, the portfolio risk will rise to a point where some small external shock will hit them hard. Or something like that, just roll with it.
It could very well be this year. By the end of 2018 Geelong’s game plan struggles came to a head regularly. Coach Chris Scott has his team playing a turtle-heavy ball control game plan, which is quite contrary to the broader league trend of territory and forward pressure. To wit, the Cats had the third largest difference between their uncontested mark tally in wins (87.5 per game) versus losses (65.7 per game) in the league, and the fifth largest difference in scoring shots per minute of possession in wins (0.552) versus losses (0.499).
Geelong’s need for some zip in the forward half has been long known. It was the critical subject covered in this column’s long look at the Cats ahead of the 2018 season. The need is still present, and it will rely on a wholesale change by Scott and his crew to make it happen.
Sending Gary Ablett forward is not part of that change, though it is welcome. It is fitting that as we creep closer to the first ballot Hall of Famer’s exit from the professional game that he can get a chance to kick bags at Kardinia Park once again. He should, and will. But it might be for a team that goes 11-11 and misses the eight.
Superstar trades are super for some
Ablett, Dangerfield, the Crows and Geelong and that long, windy diversion brings us back to the start of the column: superstar trades.
As best as this column can tell, there have been eight “superstar” player acquisitions which have occurred over the past 15 years. These are below.
Nathan Brown (2003): Western Bulldogs to Richmond
Chris Judd (2007): West Coast to Carlton
Luke Ball (2009): St Kilda to Collingwood
Gary Ablett Jr (2010): Geelong to Gold Coast
Brendon Goddard (2012): St Kilda to Essendon
Lance Franklin (2013): Hawthorn to Sydney
Patrick Dangerfield (2015): Adelaide to Geelong
Tom Lynch (2018): Gold Coast to Richmond
There are some which may qualify in the eyes of readers. Shaun Burgoyne leaving Port Adelaide for Hawthorn perhaps, but he was supposed to be on his way out the door with a crippled knee. Brad Ottens had made one All Australian team and was a tier below these guys at the time he was traded. Jason Akermanis was past his prime by the time he moved to the Dogs.
Back to that list. That list. For the first five players on that list, did the acquisition work out as they would have hoped? For everyone except Luke Ball, the answer has to be no.
Nathan Brown’s experience shows it can be down to bad luck. A leg break robbed the Tigers of a Robin to Matthew Richardson’s definitive Batman.
Chris Judd, Gary Ablett and Brendon Goddard show it can be down to bad club management, albeit in very different ways. Carlton’s failure was in what they did to build around Judd, particularly towards the back end. Gold Coast’s failure was everything. Essendon’s failure was everything too.
That leaves the Ball experience at Collingwood. He moved to the Pies after a losing Grand Final, and then won one against his old club as the Pies hit their straps under Michael Malthouse.
Franklin’s time at the Swans has bought sustained success, although that is Sydney’s way. They too have a challenge ahead of them this year if markets are to be believed, and this column remains firm in its view this year could be the one year out of ten the Swans spend figuring stuff out outside of the eight.
Then again that was supposed to be 2016, 2017 and 2018. For it all, the premiership tally for Sydney with Franklin reads zero, and for Hawthorn without Franklin two.
Geelong won a premiership without Ablett, and reached three preliminary finals. Gold Coast is a bad six weeks away from collapsing on itself.
West Coast won a premiership without Chris Judd and with the pieces their trading of him bought. Carlton made the finals a couple of times. The Bulldogs made preliminary finals without Brown as the Tigers languished. St Kilda hasn’t done a lot in the post-Goddard world just yet, and look not every pattern is perfect.
The point is perhaps that timing means a bit when it comes to bringing in a superstar player in the AFL. Ball to the Pies seems to have worked because the Pies were just on the up and ready to ride the peak of a five-year wave. Franklin to the Swans has worked because they are the Swans and their list – to this point – has profiled like a contender.
Dangerfield to the Cats. Was the timing right? Have the Cats tread a well worn and lonely AFL path without even knowing it? Are the Crows – shockingly – going to win a premiership after trading away a superstar player? In a season full of intrigue, and mystery, and questions, don’t sleep on this one.