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The best players that slipped through the cracks since 2000

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Roar Guru
20th May, 2020
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16369 Reads

Hindsight in the AFL is beautiful, and there are many times clubs wish they could re-write history.

For every example of AFL draft steals and success stories, there are an equal amount of failures and head-scratchers leaving fans bewildered.

Player movement is at an all-time peak in the current day and age, when free agency has ruled in the United States and crept its way into the AFL.

There is nothing strange about a player moving on from a club and proving to be a great success elsewhere. This often makes for an excellent story when a player like Tom Mitchell decides to leave his original club and becomes a Brownlow Medalist at Hawthorn.

Equally, clubs de-list players that are not up to their standards, and occasionally, players earn a reprieve and receive an opportunity to ply their trade elsewhere.

And on rarer occasions, some clubs voluntarily part with their players without giving them much of an opportunity, if any, and it comes back to bite them.

This is the target of this article, which explores the top ten times since 2000 when clubs have chosen to part with players they drafted and gave few opportunities to, only for them to excel elsewhere.

Here are the ten players that might have made their initial clubs wish they could re-write history.

10. Nathan Lovett-Murray (Essendon: 145 games, 73 goals) – Pick 33, 2000 Rookie Draft (Collingwood)
Nothing if not a rock-solid player, Lovett-Murray’s career was interrupted by injuries and inconsistency at times but proved to be important for Essendon.

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Nathan Lovett-Murray of Essendon is carried off the ground by team-mates. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

(AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Initially selected as a rookie in his draft year by Collingwood, Lovett-Murray found himself on a list that was heading on a rapid rise, and wasn’t looking for a utility forward at the time.

Collingwood entered a period when they featured in back-to-back grand finals and Lovett-Murray was simply a throwaway rookie selection in the end.

It took until the 2003 national draft for Lovett-Murray to get back onto a senior list, but he became a regular for the Bombers immediately as a forward, before being shifted into defence.

While he never reached any great levels of success at Essendon, Lovett-Murray proved to be an important intercepting option in 2006 when he averaged 19 disposals and six marks a game, while later in his career he became a hard-bodied, inside midfielder with a strong veteran presence.

Lovett-Murray might not have had an immediate impact for Collingwood but the decent start to his AFL career coincided with the Magpies languishing in the bottom four, perhaps causing a few fleeting moments of regret.

Regardless, it was a decent AFL career that Lovett-Murray ended up having, one that any club in the 2000s would take from a rookie selection.

9. Stephen Gilham (Port Adelaide: one game, Hawthorn: 98 games, GWS 15 games) – Pick 16, 2002 National Draft (Port Adelaide)
Due to injury and a slight frame, Port Adelaide opted to de-list Stephen Gilham after three seasons and just one game at the club.

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Investing pick 16 on the former Vic Metro captain, the Power were looking for a player who could develop into a top-line successor for Darryl Wakelin and Matthew Bishop, who were performing well in one of the league’s top teams.

After his de-listing at the end of 2005, Hawthorn immediately rookie-listed him and after one season playing mainly in the VFL, Gilham became a regular for the Hawks.

Gilham was never a star defender, but in the Hawthorn system, he got his body into a strong enough position where he became a crucial part of a well-oiled defence that relied on reading the player rather than one-on-one dominance.

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Becoming a premiership player in 2008 and playing almost every game in 2007, 2008 and 2010, Gilham ended up proving to be an excellent selection for Hawthorn in a period when defence reigned supreme.

While the Power made the grand final in 2007 after a strong season, the years to follow were grim and the defence built around Troy Chaplin and Alipate Carlile struggled under pressure.

While Gilham wasn’t a world-beater, the Power will have regretted not exercising greater patience with someone they selected so highly in his draft year, and his subsequent longevity for the rest of the decade would have hurt.

8. Mark Hutchings (West Coast: 113 games, 46 goals) – Pick 20, 2009 Rookie Draft (St Kilda)
A rookie selection at the height of St Kilda’s powers, it was always going to be hard to imagine Hutchings breaking into the team’s midfield.

However, being an accomplished and prolific junior that slipped through to the rookie draft for the Saints, the de-listing of Hutchings after one season at the club might have prevented the Saints unearthing a more than handy player.

While the big names were ever-present, what we have since seen from Hutchings could have been an improvement on games from the likes of Robert Eddy, Brett Peake and Dean Polo in the rough 2010 to 2012 period.

Upon his de-listing, Hutchings went back to the WAFL and was one of the league’s best players, earning another opportunity at the Eagles.

Whether it’s a tagging role or as a defensive forward, Hutchings has been a very handy contributor for the Eagles, becoming a premiership player in the process.

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Hutchings has had a successful career at the Eagles, and the Saints certainly would’ve liked him in the midfield as a young, emerging talent in the struggles from 2012 onwards.

7. Tim Membrey (Sydney: one game, zero goals, St Kilda: 92 games, 170 goals) – Pick 46, 2012 National Draft (Sydney)
Membrey is one of the more modern, well-known examples of a player with known talent who failed to break into his initial team.

Tim Membrey of the Saints

(AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

The situation surrounding Membrey’s departure from the Swans was a little murky.

Membrey was extremely prolific as an old-school forward in the TAC Cup and posted big numbers in the NEAFL but by the end of 2014, the young forward wanted to leave and the Swans couldn’t facilitate a move.

We have seen many occasions where disgruntled players end up staying at their clubs, but with the situation where it was, the Swans ended up de-listing Membrey.

It took the 25-year-old a while to get going, and he became a whipping boy of sorts, but since moving to the Saints, Membrey has been the club’s leading goal-kicker on three occasions in his five full seasons.

His fitness has continued to improve and while he’s an undersized key forward type, Membrey is also underrated with his work rate and ability to push harder up the ground.

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Entering his prime, Membrey’s style has translated strongly to the AFL and in hindsight, the Swans should’ve fought harder to keep him.

While there were forward options at the club in 2014, Sydney has struggled without Lance Franklin over the past five seasons and they let the one prolific young forward they had slip through their fingers without the strength they’ve had in keeping other players since then.

6. Joel Patfull (Brisbane: 182 games, GWS: 38 games) – Pick 14, 2002 Rookie Draft (Port Adelaide)
Taken in the same draft as Gilham, the Power were probably expecting more of a forward or utility type with the selection of Patfull in the rookie draft, and picking the local player was an easy selection.

In his two years at Port Adelaide, the club finished on top of the ladder on both occasions and Patfull wasn’t going to break into the team.

The Lions took Patfull with pick 56 in the 2005 National Draft and despite starting as a forward, he was a regular that earned the praise of fans due to his work rate and athleticism.

While Patfull never experienced the great successes of Brisbane’s historical greatness, there was arguably no more important player in the early stages of the 2010s.

This was highlighted by the fact he won back-to-back best-and-fairest awards in 2012 and 2013, in years of great improvement for the club.

Patfull was traded to GWS for the final two years of his career, where he assisted in developing the team’s young key defenders.

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The timing was never right for the Power but they’d be kicking themselves that they never gave Patfull an opportunity, as his legacy as a star is well-established at Brisbane.

5. Ed Curnow (Carlton: 166 games) – Pick 40, 2007 Rookie Draft (Adelaide)
Curnow has been one of Carlton’s best and most consistent performers over a long period of time, proving to be the ultimate team player.

Once the competition’s best tagger and one of the better two-way players going around, the fitness base Curnow possesses has separated him from many a competitor.

The Crows picked up the 30-year-old in his draft year as a rookie, but saw nothing in his output for Glenelg and let go of him after one season.

VFL aficionados would be familiar with his dominant season at Box Hill in 2010, earning him the opportunity to get onto Carlton’s rookie list and subsequently he never looked back on this second chance.

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Curnow’s 2016 season was exceptional, averaging 25 disposals, seven tackles and four clearances a game, breaking out into a prolific stratosphere that taggers rarely enter.

Adelaide had a settled team in 2008, finishing fifth and perhaps on an uphill trajectory, but relying on the veteran midfielders and not giving an opportunity to a young player like Curnow probably hurt the club going forward.

4. Jack Crisp (Brisbane: 18 games, ten goals, Collingwood: 117 games, 37 goals) – Pick 40, 2011 Rookie Draft (Brisbane)
For all the players that voluntarily left the Lions in the early parts of the decade, Brisbane voluntarily throwing in a young player as steak knives only for him to become an excellent player is an ironic sense of karma.

Crisp wasn’t a regular in his three seasons at Brisbane, but in averaging 19 disposals, six marks and a goal a game over the final six rounds of 2014, it appeared he had finally locked himself into the club’s best 22.

The Lions then unexpectedly traded Crisp to Collingwood as part of the larger Dayne Beams deal, shocking the player himself. But in the end, it benefited him greatly.

Crisp hasn’t missed a game since moving to Collingwood, shifting his role from attacking midfielder to inside bull to tagger and finally, and most successfully, to the halfback line.

While his kicking has been inconsistent, Crisp is penetrative by foot and an adaptable player to game situations.

The 26-year-old currently plays anywhere across the defensive half, suiting the possession style of play currently implemented, while also getting decent minutes in stoppage situations around the ground.

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A reliable and prolific contributor, Crisp is far better than the steak knives he was used as at the end of 2014.

In terms of all the players Brisbane lost in the early part of the 2010s, Crisp is the only one who truly got away from the Lions and the club will have rued their decision in the dark years.

3. Andrew Carrazzo (Carlton: 194 games, 48 goals) – Pick 5, 2001 Rookie Draft (Geelong)
In 2001, Geelong drafted Jimmy Bartel, James Kelly, Steve Johnson, Gary Ablett Jnr and the one that couldn’t get his way into the team, Andrew Carrazzo.

Known as one of the best taggers going around, a fan favourite and arguably Carlton’s most consistent player for nearly a decade, Carrazzo had an excellent career at the Blues that could have panned out so incredibly differently.

Carrazzo was a rookie selection for the Cats, a steal having had a successful junior campaign. In his second year on the club’s list, he won Geelong’s VFL best-and-fairest.

This was the period when the Cats were building the incredible core that was to bring historical success to the club, but they did not see their VFL star in the future plans.

Carlton swooped presumably based on the proven reserves form following up the excellent junior career, and could not have been happier with one of their better steals.

Carrazzo played 194 games for the Blues, winning the 2007 best-and-fairest and the best clubman award in 2008, before injuries ended up limiting his longevity.

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While the Cats obviously enjoyed their incredible success and hardly had a fault in their team, Carrazzo is one player they had under their noses that could have been an excellent contributor, but they let him go.

2. Tom T Lynch (St Kilda: six games, four goals, Adelaide: 134 games, 187 goals) – Pick 13, 2008 National Draft (St Kilda)
For a first-round pick to not become a regular in three seasons and be traded cheaply, Lynch might not have had the career he has if he stayed at the Saints.

Bryce Gibbs Adelaide Crows

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

In the few games the Saints gave him, Lynch was either subbed out or was stuck to playing in the forward half as more of a shadow figure rather than anyone expected to perform.

Realistically, Lynch leaving the Saints was the best move he could’ve made, and St Kilda wouldn’t have been upset with the output of Jack Newnes, who they picked with the selection they received for Lynch.

But hindsight is a beauty, and Lynch has developed into the league’s best forward-half score contributor, averaging 1.5 goals a game at the Crows as well as nearly a goal assist per game.

In his first season of regular senior AFL in 2013, the 29-year-old was Adelaide’s leading goal-kicker, ironically kicking more goals than any St Kilda player bar Nick Riewoldt, and finishing with more goal assists than any Saints player.

It didn’t take long for the realisation that Lynch was well worth keeping to kick in for the Saints, with the Crows picking up a perfect fit for a forward line that was lacking classy entries.

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The veteran has never received the individual accolades he may have otherwise deserved from an All Australian perspective, but Lynch goes down as one of the great players to slip through the fingers of his initial club.

1. Josh P Kennedy (Hawthorn: 13 games, four goals, Sydney: 234 games, 145 goals) – Pick 40 (F/S), 2006 National Draft (Hawthorn)
This is an obvious choice, but one of the modern era’s best midfielders has to be first on the list of the ones who got away.

Josh P Kennedy Sydney Swans AFL 2017

(AAP Image/David Moir)

Hawthorn won the premiership in 2008 and eventually built an incredible and historical dynasty, having strong midfield depth all the way through.

But the fact they voluntarily let Kennedy go after 2009, when he had played 13 games and looked like a decent talent, was one of few errors Hawthorn has made since 2000.

Kennedy didn’t necessarily want to leave, but there were opportunities at Sydney and he barely had a look-in at the club his family was so connected to.

The 31-year-old is a three-time best-and-fairest, a three-time All Australian, a premiership player and club captain at the Swans, with a top-three finish in the Brownlow and five further top-three finishes in Sydney’s best-and-fairest award.

As one of Sydney’s most acclaimed players in modern history, Josh Kennedy has built a big legacy after being an unwanted player at the Hawks.

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Both clubs are happy with how everything has played out this decade, but the romanticism of another Kennedy starring in the brown and gold has to hurt Hawthorn and its fans.

Easily the best player that got away, Kennedy has another first-place finish to add to his impressive resume.