There’s arguably no type of player more difficult to find in the AFL than a good key forward – but for clubs who looking around, 2020 might just be the year.
With only a handful of matches left to go and the contract freeze only recently lifted, a lot of players are trying to work out their future and many are big goal-kicking forwards.
The obvious name that jumps out here is Jeremy Cameron, who is a restricted free agent this year and, while his 2020 form hasn’t been great, he has a Coleman Medal to his name after a dominant 2019.
Cameron hasn’t been the topic of conversation that Tom Lynch was in 2018, partially no doubt due to discussion of this season being dominated by the impacts of COVID-19 but also because it’s expected he will remain at Greater Western Sydney.
Not everything is sailing smoothly at GWS but it seems unlikely Cameron will be wearing anything other than orange and charcoal in 2021.
Perhaps a more realistic key forward target from Sydney’s west is Jeremy Finlayson, who is out of contract and was dropped for last week’s game against the West Coast Eagles.
Jake Riccardi on debut filled his spot in the line-up and performed well, making it unclear how Finlayson will find a way back into the side.
And with the Giants – as usual – needing to negotiate a number of talented re-signings, if there’s a club out there who believes he’d be a good fit, he could prove gettable.
Far more high-profile than Finlayson are names like Joe Daniher, Ben Brown, and Charlie Dixon, who have all been thrown up to varying degrees in trade talk during the year.
Daniher has been a story to follow for more than 12 months, while a confluence of poor form, knee injury, and North Melbourne’s need to rebuild has seen many raise the idea of Brown moving.
Dixon is far more speculative. Mark Ricciuto intimated earlier this week that Brisbane were targetting the big forward, with a four-year contract offer on the table.
Right off the bat that’s a sceptical story – the football director of the Adelaide Crows, a club having a woefully poor season, putting out a rumour that will draw focus in the direction of his crosstown rivals? Plenty of room for ulterior motives there.
But leaving the source aside, there is a kind of believability to it. Dixon is a Queenslander, originally hailing from Cairns, and the Lions badly need a mature key forward presence to take some pressure off Eric Hipwood.
A four-year deal seems outlandish for a player who will turn 30 before Round 1, 2021, but the Lions have shown a willingness to offer long-term security to their trade targets in the past.
I wouldn’t be putting much stock in that rumour just yet. But Brisbane are a club to watch when it comes to those targetting tall forwards.
The Lions have been linked to Daniher too, who is finally off Essendon’s injury list and a chance to return for the club this week. His future remains unclear but staying at Essendon is reportedly not off the table.
There are plenty of other names worth keeping an eye on too.
Taylor Walker is contracted until the end of next year at Adelaide but recently suggested that, if the best thing for the club is for him to exit, he will accept that.
Jesse Hogan has been the subject of speculation since the news went around that Fremantle are trialling him as a defender. He is reportedly fit to play but can’t crack the side, which is certainly not a position he was expected to be in.
Another Docker is definitely on the market, with Cam McCarthy securing an early release from his contract last week after being told he was unlikely to be offered an extension for 2021 and beyond.
Peter Wright is known to have drawn interest from clubs as the likes of Sam Day and Ben King are keeping him out of the Gold Coast forward line, while Jarrod Witts is keeping him out of the ruck.
Josh Schache too seems to have an uncertain future at the Western Bulldogs after sturggling for game time. It’s hard to see him beating out Aaron Naughton or Josh Bruce for a spot and he will face more competition next year with NGA prospect Jamarra Ugle-Hagan to land at the club.
And if you want to get really speculative, there’s even the prospect that Paddy McCartin might return to the AFL in 2021 – the former No.1 draft pick has reportedly made great strides in his recovery from concussion and wants to return to football.
While the Saints are no doubt still sentimental about him, the emergence of Max King suggests his best opportunity, if he can get one, might be elsewhere.
Many of the names reeled off here haven’t necessarily been superstars in recent years, with Dixon the only player who’s having an in-form 2020, and even he comes with queries over his age and durability. But key forwards are so hard to find that second or even third chances are often plentiful for big men who can kick goals.
A club like Collingwood, for example, would so benefit from the addition of a tall target or two that it would seem mad for them not to roll the dice, even if they’re doing so on a less-than-thrilling prospect.
Most will stay where they are, and some may find that their time as AFL players is about to come to an end. But some could prove to be important moves come the 2020 trade period.
Watch this space.