Essendon list manager Adrian Dodoro isn’t warm and fuzzy at the best of times, and he is positively seething at the minute. When prodded in public about Joe Daniher’s trade request, he uses words like “disappointing”. Behind closed doors, he’s probably about to implode.
Essendon’s time is now. The playing list Dodoro has been building – since the entire organisation was flipped on its head by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2015 – is about to enter the age profile of a theoretical premiership contender.
Of those players, the stalwarts who returned to the club from their bans in 2017 are nearing father time. Most of those players returned on the pretence of at least a first finals victory in 15 years being around the corner.
And now Daniher says he wants to elope to Bondi with Buddy Franklin. His departure will slam Essendon’s premiership window shut and expose the bare cupboard that is the group of developing key forwards at Tullamarine.
As we well know, a trade request from a player under contract doesn’t make the deal a lay down misere. At a time when players exert more power over their clubs than ever before, clubs have started to become more comfortable with the idea of holding them to their contracts. Extenuating family circumstances aside, clubs can be less than sympathetic to young men on CEO salaries wanting a change of countryside.
Matthew Lloyd says that unless Sydney comes to the trade table with a unicorn, that’s a real chance of happening to Daniher. Terry Wallace reckons Lloyd is biased, while Peter Ryan thinks it would be “courageous” of Essendon to take Daniher to Cash Converters ASAP and plunge their forward line into total uncertainty.
The problem for Essendon is that – for almost the last decade – its finals hopes have largely been predicated on its spine. Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Zach Merrett, Joe Daniher and Jake Stringer have fuelled excited murmurings in Bombers circles of late.
All of a sudden, most of those key pylons could be extinct within two years. No picks in this year’s draft – by all accounts void of elite talls – would suffice to replace Daniher in the short or long term.
Squeezing another year out of the Daniher sponge by playing hardball gives Essendon its best crack at a top-four tilt in recent memory. The last time they had a proper run at a season with a spearhead up front was 2017, when they finished eighth and didn’t give a whimper in an elimination against the Swans.
Since then however, they’ve added Stringer, Saad, Smith, Shiel and two seasons of experience to their kids. McGrath, Parish and Francis are on their way to the next level.
Almost as importantly, Dodoro digging his heels in gives Essendon time. In a trade period where the list of key forwards up for grabs is utterly uninspiring, it buys Dodoro 12 months to plot his next move.
12 months to wave Daniher’s spare salary at any goal-kicking tall who will pay attention, or 12 months to convince Daniher he should stay. The precedent is Aaron Francis, who was dead set on returning home to South Australia in late 2017 but has now come around and is locked in for three years.
Peter Ryan differentiates the Tim Kelly situation from Daniher’s because Kelly was “happy at the club despite asking to leave”, implying Daniher isn’t. Until evidence to the contrary comes to light, Dodoro has to be taken at his word that Daniher “has a great relationship with the club…It was just in his eyes that he felt a change of lifestyle.” It can’t be disputed that Kelly’s family circumstances demand much more sympathy and reason to agree to send him west.
Ryan’s logic should be applied to more replaceable players like Orazio Fantasia, who could be farmed off and have his spot filled by an 18-year-old if Dodoro nails his draft strategy. Daniher is a genuine power forward who can sit on heads and kick goals from 60 on Anzac Day.
He’s not to be let go for a first round pick and a steak knife, especially seeing as they’d receive a first round pick if he was to leave via free agency at the end of 2020 regardless. By then Essendon can position itself to be more prepared, with the monkey of the finals drought off its back.