Free agency is one of the most contentious concepts in the AFL in recent times, with such inequities as Tom Lynch walking to the powerful Richmond club from an expansion franchise seemingly powerless to prevent it. Or were they?
What if the Suns had matched the bid on their co-captain, forcing the Tigers into a trade?
That was the scenario facing the Greater Western Sydney Giants when Geelong came calling for former local junior and 2019 Coleman Medallist Jeremy Cameron, but they didn’t flinch, matching the offer and figuratively punching the bullies of free agency with a straight left they never saw coming.
The Cats had been the trade aggressors in negotiations with West Coast in 2019 over the Tim Kelly trade, earning a windfall of future picks that would embolden the Giants to do what no club had done before and match a free agency offer.
Geelong was filthy and the standoff lasted right up until the trade deadline in a fascinating negotiation that saw the Cats giving up three first-round picks and only getting back only a pair of future second-round picks along with their very expensive prize recruit.
Can you imagine the tension in the room when GWS said that it wasn’t enough and they wanted the Cats’ future fourth-round pick as well? Seriously?
The Cats went away to lick their wounds, having moved out Lachie Fogarty to be able to secure a trade for Shaun Higgins, signed Issac Smith as an unrestricted free agent and shifted injury-plagued ingenue Nakia Cockatoo to Brisbane for a future third-rounder.
They got the better of a pick trade with Gold Coast, giving up their future third-round pick tied to Melbourne while getting back into the draft order in the second round.
In the week before the draft, Geelong tempted up-and-coming basketballer Paul Tsapatolis into a code switch to join as a Category B rookie as an experimental ruck-forward, with Troy “Bunnings” Selwood responsible for bringing another local into a system with a great track record with project players.
Draft night was looking promising for the Cats and their first pick slid back into the mid-30s with all the bid matching in the first round, but then they pulled a shock trade with a straight swap of their future first-rounder for Richmond’s Pick 20.
Not only was Geelong’s plunge into the first round surprising, but it was also bewildering because they used their pick to select Max Holmes from the Sandringham Dragons, a raw speedster who only came into calculations late because of his excellent combine results.
As their second-rounder from the Gold Coast eased to Pick 33, Geelong picked another athlete in South Fremantle’s Shannon Neale, a ruck-forward projected to go right about where he landed.
Stephen Wells is renowned for finding talent on the later rounds, which has underlined Geelong’s ability to continually remain competitive near the top of the table, so their selection of Greater Western Victoria Rebels and Geelong Grammar defender Nick Stevens, a prototypical Cats-style tall rebounding halfback, is one to watch in coming seasons.
That completed Geelong’s draft as they bypassed the rookie draft having filled out all remaining positions open on their roster, after three retirements, two trades and only three delistings.
The Cats are obviously in win-now territory, with ten players on their list over 30 (nine of whom are best 22 unless Josh Jenkins comes in) and the acquisition of star talent instead of spending four picks that landed between 15 and 36 on premium draft talent.
The flat-track bullies of free agency copped a beating from an opponent that appeared to be easy pickings at first blush, but they ended up paying a heavy toll for their ambition to form a premiership forward line.