After another year of COVID-19 lockdown interruptions, the 2021 draft class appears just as cloudy as the 2020 batch. However, three players have emerged as the consensus best prospects and they all have famous footy names.
A year after being able to climb to the top of the draft order to match a bid at pick one for their next generation academy player Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, the 2021 grand finalists will again be able to claim a top player without a high draft pick with third-generation Bulldog father-son Sam Darcy certain to attract a bid.
Vic Metro teammate and NAB League standout Nick Daicos has been at the centre of Collingwood’s rebuild plan, with the club restructuring their salary cap and trading out picks to set up for matching an early bid for the son of their 1990 premiership hero Peter Daicos.
With these two players off the board, the scrutiny of clubs, media and fans has been to sort out which player comes after them and is therefore fair game in the trade market for draft picks, but there’s only one name and that is possibly the number one prospect of all, Jason Horne-Francis.
Until last month, the South Australian had been playing senior footy for South Adelaide in the SANFL under the name of Jason Horne, but as the draft approached the 18-year-old took the decision to change his name to reflect his relationship with his famous stepfather, ex-Port Adelaide player Fabian Francis.
However, unlike the other two famous sons of club heroes, this one cannot be claimed under the AFL’s time-honoured father-son policy, primarily because they are not biologically related as Jason was adopted at four years of age.
Another reason why Port Adelaide’s claim on him is academic is that Fabian Francis only played 86 AFL games for the Power, although he also played 33 games for Port in the SANFL including their flag side in 1996, yet those do not count and the argument is moot.
At this juncture, with only one game remaining after this strangely football-less fortnight in September, all eyes are searching further down the field past the Brownlow and grand final to the draft combine and then trade period circus, until they can glimpse the mirage that is the 2021 national draft.
Who will be pick one? Who cares! These three players are going to receive the top three places and only one of them is really up for grabs because Darcy and Daicos are already guaranteed to be going to the clubs of their fathers.
This leaves North with a number of decisions to make and plenty of time to make them if they make any decisions at all beyond picking the kid from Noarlunga.
Just because that is the most likely scenario regardless of whether the Shinboners make Collingwood and the Bulldogs pay top price for the offspring of their past champions, it does not mean that speculating about North doing the unthinkable and trading out of pick one, something that no club has ever done before, isn’t a perfectly rational approach.
Scenario one is as boring as it comes for North. Bid on Darcy, bid on Daicos, pick Horne-Francis. But what if they just did the first two things and then traded back out of the third pick? Or even better, traded pick one earlier for a player and a high pick?
Considering North only has picks one, 20, 38 and 69 and they may also be using some of that capital to trade for Callum Coleman-Jones, with a full set of 2022 future picks as well, trading out of top spot could be a real temptation for the club as they look to the next phase of their rebuild.
Scenario two: Collingwood swoops to trade for North’s top pick, thereby getting ahead of a bid for Nick Daicos and ensuring that they get the two best midfielders in the draft, probably also bidding on Sam Darcy just to keep the Dogs accountable with maximum effect.
As outlandish as it sounds, there are two ways for the Pies to do this and they both involve salary cap relief as an added bonus. In no particular order, trade either Jordan de Goey or Darcy Moore, who are both restricted free agents in 2022, so at least one will go in free agency anyway.
Both are worth it as a straight swap, but it usually turns into a vastly more complicated trade, so as long as the Pies could still match a bid for Daicos 3.0 and use future picks to live trade back into the draft they would have the cash left over to keep whichever young champion they really want. Maybe chuck in John Noble to sweeten the deal.
Scenario three: the Gold Coast Suns flip pick three to rise up to first, sending former Vic Country midfielder Will Brodie back south to join former clubmates Aaron Hall and Bailey Scott. Should a player not be what North wants, the Suns have a number of ways to come up with an adequate collection of picks that still allow them to execute their draft strategy while carrying out this coup.
The dealmaker will be the AFL commission’s final decision on whether to grant the Suns the third instalment of their concessions package, which consists of the first pick in the second round as well as the ability to pre-draft academy players straight to the rookie draft.
If the former is removed, then it won’t make much difference, but if the latter is retracted then it throws the Suns into disarray because they will have to find senior list spots for drafting their academy players.
Scenario 4: the Adelaide Crows zoom up from fourth spot on the grid to overtake pole position and wins the race to select Jason Horne-Francis, leaving North to make do with the fourth pick in the draft.
They have an above-average array of picks but will need them to replace their departed players, so this manoeuvre may require a player going back to Victoria. One of former Sandringham pair Fischer McAsey and Josh Worrell seem the most likely candidates in such a switch, although in any such trade there will be an exchange of later picks. It is possible for Adelaide to use a straight up swap of picks to secure North’s pick, especially considering that pick one is kind of the value of pick three.
Scenario 5: Port Adelaide come storming in to claim one of their own. This may seem to be the longest of bows to draw, but the Power have their eyes on some famous club names, with Jase Burgoyne, confirmed as a father-son, so mortgaging part of their 2022 draft capital is a sound investment if they can bring home their boy with pick one.
This all assumes that North Melbourne comes to the trade table without Port having a high draft pick to offer, but if they put pick 16 with next year’s first-rounder plus a solid player then it could be the best deal in prospect. Tom Clurey might just be that player having fallen out of favour at Port, while Sam Powell-Pepper’s name would have to be very enticing.
All in all, the likelihood of North holding onto this pick and taking the best player available in the draft is high, and yet watching top-end talent walking out of the SANFL each year has to be frustrating for both SA clubs while the clubs right behind first spot don’t want to die wondering.