The lead-up to the AFL grand final has been punctuated by the somewhat unexpected news that 2019 Coleman Medallist Jeremy Cameron is leaving Greater Western Sydney, set to join one of the sides who will compete for the premiership on Saturday – the Cats.
The Giants released a statement confirming Cameron’s decision to exit the club on Monday and CEO Dave Matthews said on radio later that day that Cameron would be taking up an offer from Geelong.
Because of the calibre of the player alone, this move will be the biggest made this year and one of the biggest of the era. But it may also make free agency history.
Matthews also stated that it was “highly likely” the Giants would match Geelong’s offer to the restricted free agent and thereby force a trade – which, if the clubs go through the formal process, would be the first time that has ever occurred.
The closest we have come before was when Patrick Dangerfield joined Geelong five years ago, but the Cats and the Crows negotiated and submitted a trade without going through the formal offer-match process.
We will probably see the same here – Geelong are renowned for their trade period professionalism and, if GWS indicate to them that they’ll match any offer made to Cameron, the Cats will presumably be happy to skip that rigamarole and go straight to the trade table once again.
Geelong have three first-round picks this year – 11, 13 and either 18 or 19 depending on the outcome of Saturday night’s grand final – plus their future 2021 pick and a handful of potentially movable players to offer. Compared to the best-case scenario of free agency compensation, which would be pick 9, it’s an easy decision.
Matthews indicated that while GWS had previously accepted two first-round picks in exchange for the likes of Adam Treloar or Dylan Shiel, they would expect even great compensation for the loss of Cameron given the difficulty of finding AFL-quality key forwards.
I would suspect that picks 11 and 13 is a starting point, and the Giants will still expect more beyond that. He could well be the first player ever traded for three first-rounders.
There’s no way other way to describe Cameron’s departure than as a devastating blow, one that could completely derail the development of the Giants’ talented list.
But there is, as Homer Simpson would say, some “crisi-tunity” in the situation – the chance to turn bad news into leverage and perhaps make changes that will revitalise the club after a difficult 12 months following their 2019 grand final defeat.
One positive for them is that while they will lose Cameron, they won’t want for key forwards. Jake Riccardi, Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg can all play the role, even if none have shown themselves to be of Cameron’s calibre just yet.
While they’d certainly prefer to have Cameron as an option, GWS might find they can create a more unpredictable forward line mix with three dangerous targets, none of whom is the clear No.1. Opposition sides may find that challenging to defend against.
And Cameron’s depature – along with those of Zac Williams, Aidan Corr, Zac Langdon, Jackson Hately and perhaps Jye Caldwell and Xavier O’Halloran to come – should leave GWS with an abundance of draft capital and salary cap space with which to go shopping.
We already know they will secure Braydon Preuss from Melbourne, likely at a low trade cost, which should provide them with a dependable ruck option in the style of ruckman that they like – big and aggressive.
But there’ll be currency enough that they could look for other role-players too. A key defender would be great and they could look to pry someone like a Daniel Talia out of Adelaide to fill that role or perhaps Nathan Broad from Richmond.
One they’ve been linked to before is Luke Breust at Hawthorn, who – although he will be 30 next year – would provide another mature goalkicking option in their forward line.
The Giants have had some great success bringing in recruits over the years, such as with Heath Shaw, Shane Mumford and Steve Johnson. While losing Camerson is disappointing, and no doubt the biggest blow their list has suffered so far, perhaps it can prove to be a positive.
As for Geelong, they have pulled off a great coup, adding to their already star-studded team one of the best key forwards of the generation.
It’s been a long time since Tom Hawkins had a key forward of established quality to partner with, and the thought of he and Cameron in the same forward line next year is genuinely fearsome.
I wrote last week about Geelong’s ever-ongoing decision between topping up with mature recruits and going back to the draft, and regarding the prospect of them acquiring Cameron, had this to say:
“That Geelong are pursuing Cameron et al suggests they believe the continued addition of mature recruits is their best path. And if he is the calibre of player they can expect to see continuing to walk through the door, well, they may be right.”
If anything, that comment was far too understated.
This is the kind of outcome that (along with playing in a grand final this week!) completely vindicates Geelong’s list management strategy, and could see them remain a premiership threat for years to come.