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THE LOW RENT PUB by Whispering Jack

In the old days, long before the draft and salary caps, club recruiters would travel the length and breadth of the land trying to find players to enhance their club lists. Often they would have to use their wits to beat opponents to their man.

Legendary club secretary Jim Cardwell mastered the recruiting art at Melbourne in the early 1950s when he skillfully assembled the side that was to win six premierships in the decade 1955-1964. In later years he maintained that much of his success depended on perseverance and sheer determination never to give in when chasing his targeted player.

Until last week it was thought the Cardwell spirit had long departed the Melbourne Football Club. Others with a more professional approach and more money to spend took away Jim's mantle as the prince of recruiters and it was left to other clubs to score the major recruiting coups. More recently, those with the patronage of wealthy entrepreneurs or the power of the AFL bolstering new franchises prevailed when it came to snaring the prize signings of the competition.

Things changed on the Wednesday of trade week when the Demons moved in cloak and dagger style to wrest Brisbane Lion ruckman/forward Mitch Clark away from his intended club Fremantle. The story was told this morning on radio station SEN by new Demons' coach Mark Neeld. 

The Melbourne recruiters were discussing how the Lions and the Dockers were unable to do a deal on Clark and a decision was made to go after him. Thanks to some of Chris Connolly's contacts, Clark's management was contacted and permission obtained from Brisbane to speak with their player. Following an initial telephone conversation it was decided to pursue him. Neeld, his new assistant coach Jade Rawlings and club CEO Cameron Schwab were off to Brisbane in hunt of their quarry on the 8 o'clock flight.

When they arrived, there was no accommodation to be found and the trio settled on a shabby one roomer in a low rent pub near the airport.  Here they were - a high power AFL club delegation of three trying to recruit a power forward. It was the Belgian Beer Festival and Schwab's personal assistant could find only room at $91.00 for the night in horrendous conditions.

"When we got up in the morning we thought we can't meet Mitch Clark in this place so we got up and Jade Rawlings got us to the Stamford Plaza, we walked into the buffet breakfast and got a little room to the side. We acted as if we stayed there and no-one asked any questions," said Neeld.

They met Mitch and his partner at the swank Stamford where they had the run of the place from 8 o'clock until well into the afternoon even using offices and going off at one stage to buy new clothes. The group finally left the Stamford at 3.30pm when they felt they had overstayed their welcome, finished up at the Marriott and caught up with Mitch again. At this stage they thought they were a real chance.

The deputation met Clark again the following day and at one stage Fremantle's Chris Bond interrupted their meeting. They met their man again before returning to Melbourne on the Friday night feeling they were still in the running.

It should be pointed out that by the Saturday morning, the football world believed that Clark was off to Dockerland having repeated his preference to return to his home town Perth.

However, Melbourne persevered through phone contact with Mitch and then "at 10 o'clock, he said 'OK you won't leave me alone. You've persisted, you've done this and that, I'll come and play for you,'".

Neeld says the result in the end was worth the effort. When he came to the club and went through the list, clearly a power forward was one of the gaps. "Mitch fitted the bill, his age (24) was critical and ... we're going to have him for that period of his career ... we did what we believe every Melbourne supporter would have wanted us to do." 

Neeld believes that Clark's presence will help the way the club is going to move the ball in the forward and there will be a ripple effect in that it will help the other forwards like Jack Watts and Liam Jurrah with the roles they will have to play and with the opponents who will have to go to them. 

"There are a whole range of options that we didn't have a week ago."

Melbourne takes on the Brisbane Lions in round one next year at the MCG. For their return match, I suspect those extra options won't extend to the team's accommodation near the airport. 

   

              

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