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CHANGES 2020 by The Oracle


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Part One: A very strange year

Things might have been somewhat hairy when the 1919 football season opened up in the wake of the ending of a world war and in the middle of a pandemic that took millions of lives but it’s difficult to imagine a more unusual football season than the one that ended a week or so ago. For starters, the footy is supposed to finish on that one day in September on the MCG in mild spring weather; not deep into October at the Gabba amid warnings of tropical storms and heavy rain.

I suppose therefore, it’s only fitting that the Covid19 affected season which oddly enough, produced the same final result as last year will be followed by an even more wierd player exchange and recruiting period. 

There’s confusion aplenty because club recruiters haven’t been apprised about the size of their team lists going forward into 2021. How then are they supposed to manage such delicate issues as their club’s total player payments? Then there’s the issue of the uncertainty of the forthcoming national draft with a large number of projected academy and father/son selections pushing draft selections around and the question of how do you assess a crop of up and coming young talent of who more than half haven’t played a game for twelve months?

None of this prevented the immediate deluge of activity yesterday as the 2020 AFL trade period officially got underway with the opening of the free agency period. The first player to change places was Adelaide’s Rory Atkins who moved to the Gold Coast Suns. By the end of the day, the following key moves had been done:-

1. Rory Atkins accepts a four-year deal, with a trigger for a fifth from Gold Coast as an unrestricted free agent. The Crows received a second-round compensation pick, No.39 at time of deal.

2. Isaac Smith accepts a two-year deal from Geelong as a restricted free agent. Hawthorn doesn't match the offer and will receive a third-round compensation pick, No.45 at time of deal.

3. Zac Williams accepts a six-year deal from Carlton. GWS doesn't match the offer and will receive a first-round compensation pick, No.10 at time of deal.

4. Aidan Corr accepts a five-year deal from North Melbourne. GWS doesn't match and will receive a second-round compensation pick, No.30 at time of deal.

5. Joe Daniher accepts a three-year deal from Brisbane as a restricted free agent. Essendon doesn't match the offer and will receive a first-round compensation pick, No.7 at time of deal.

6. Geelong lodges paperwork for GWS restricted free agent Jeremy Cameron. Giants have three days to decide whether to match the offer.

In addition, the day produced plenty of scuttlebutt around possible player movement and there will no doubt be many more changing places over the coming fortnights, especially once the formal trade period begins on Wednesday.

From a Melbourne perspective, the club’s plans to recruit Isaac Smith on a three year deal were nipped in the bud when he accepted Geelong’s offer. Given the risk involved in taking a player of his age for a three year term, his decision to go elsewhere wasn’t a matter that raised great concern from the Demons’ supporter base. 

Looking forward to the coming week or so, the club’s main target seems to be tall forward Ben Brown from North Melbourne and then perhaps a skillful outside player as a bookend on the wing opposite Ed Langdon and/or a solid half back flanker would be a nice addition to the list. There are also players to be moved on to allow the freeing up of the salary cap to allow for incoming recruits.

In looking at these scenarios, let’s start with the state of the list when the final siren sounded at Metricon Stadium to end the club’s season a little over a month ago:-

PRIMARY LIST: —

Oskar Baker Toby Bedford Angus Brayshaw Bayley Fritsch Max Gawn Mitch Hannan James Harmes Michael Hibberd Marty Hore Jayden Hunt Luke Jackson Neville Jetta Nathan Jones James Jordan Kade Kolodjiashnij Ed Langdon Jake Lever Oscar McDonald Tom McDonald Steven May Jake Melksham Alex Neal-Bullen Aaron Nietschke Clayton Oliver Christian Petracca Harrison Petty Kysaiah Kropinyeri Pickett Braydon Preuss Trent Rivers Christian Salem Charlie Spargo Joel Smith Tom Sparrow Adam Tomlinson Aaron vandenBerg Jack Viney Josh Wagner Sam Weideman   

ROOKIE LIST: CATEGORY A 

Harley Bennell Mitch Brown Kade Chandler Kyle Dunkley Jay Lockhart Corey Wagner  

ROOKIE LIST: CATEGORY B  

Austin Bradtke 

Without the advantage of knowing the ultimate make up of its 2021 list, the club acted conservatively in the week after Round 18 and delisted only one primary list player, Josh Wagner. He was followed by three rookies in Harley Bennell, Kyle Dunkley and Corey Wagner. Bennell’s departure after a Covid19 breach was well documented and unfortunate because a one year contact extension was on the cards. 

So we move forward with only slight modifications and a list that presently looks like this:- 

PRIMARY LIST: —

Oskar Baker Toby Bedford Angus Brayshaw Bayley Fritsch Max Gawn Mitch Hannan James Harmes Michael Hibberd Marty Hore Jayden Hunt Luke Jackson Neville Jetta Nathan Jones James Jordan Kade Kolodjiashnij Ed Langdon Jake Lever Oscar McDonald Tom McDonald Steven May Jake Melksham Alex Neal-Bullen Aaron Nietschke Clayton Oliver Christian Petracca Harrison Petty Kysaiah Kropinyeri Pickett Braydon Preuss Trent Rivers Christian Salem Charlie Spargo Joel Smith Tom Sparrow Adam Tomlinson Aaron vandenBerg Jack Viney Sam Weideman   

ROOKIE LIST: CATEGORY A 

Mitch Brown Kade Chandler Jay Lockhart 

ROOKIE LIST: CATEGORY B  

Austin Bradtke 

Braydon Preuss has requested a trade to the GWS Giants, the McDonald brothers are being mentioned in dispatches as possible “outs” and others are possibly being shopped around. Nothing should surprise us at this time of year anyway but 2020 has been something else.

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Part Two: The Year Got Stranger

Those of us who have a keen interest in the machinations of the AFL Draft were treated with a night to forget last Wednesday when treated with what seemed a never-ending extravaganza as the 18 clubs gathered to select players, exchange draft picks, pass on them and swoon over every player selected from Jamarra Ugle-Hagan who was taken by the Western Bulldogs at #1 nearly 40 minutes after the telecast began to GWS’s Jacob Wehr who’s name was called out at #59 an excruciating three plus hours later. As usual, every player drafted was a future star and a bargain and every club declared it was happy with the new additions to their lists but by that time, a large quota of viewers were in dreamland.

The Melbourne Football Club declared on its website that ... “on the back of an active Trade Period, the Demons were able to capitalise on two First Round Picks, walking away with some exciting young talent.” 

That “active Trade Period” actually produced only one recruit in Ben Brown, the trading out of Mitch Hannan and Braydon Preuss and a movement of draft picks landing the club with two first rounders that happened to finish up being #21 and #22. Those choices —Jack Bowey and Bailey Laurie — addressed the need for speed and precise disposal of the football while the club’s third and last pick, #34, produced a speculative athlete in Fraser Rosman who played school football and only two games of NAB Under 18 League football in 2019. Like most of his Victorian counterparts, Rosman did little else of major note in this Covid ravaged state in 2020. 

All three of Melbourne’s selections were locals and therefore can’t be compared with the field of players from other states who were able to play and develop this year in local competitions and some of who made names for themselves against men at SANFL or WAFL level. Time will tell whether this apparent strategy produces dividends.

The first two selections were already well known for their efforts as bottom agers in strongly performing teams in 2019. Bowey was a regular with the Sandringham Dragons who were early NAB Cup premiership fancies contending with eventual premier Oakleigh Chargers. The teams played an exciting Round 17 game at Avalon Airport Oval with the Chargers winning narrowly. The result was more decisive in the Preliminary Final.  The Chargers with Laurie playing a significant role thrashed the Eastern Ranges in the Grand Final

Jake Bowey  played his junior football with Highett FC. The smallish 175cm, 67 kg midfielder/half forward is the son of former St Kilda player Brett Bowey and is a highly skilled footballer who “won't take a backwards step.” His coach at the Sandringham Dragons, Josh Bourke says:

“Internally, he could not be rated higher. (He’s a) super kid, has learned what it takes to train and play at the level. Has power. He can run quickly and jump high.” 

Bowey also featured in the 2019 Under 17 Curtain Raiser on Grand Final Day at the MCG.

Bailey Laurie is a 180cm 78kg creative, smallish forward/midfielder from Beverley Hills with great composure who comes from the strong Caulfield Grammar system. His Oakleigh Chargers coach Leigh Clarke describes him:

“He gets the game. His ability to see play and execute skills and fundamentals is as good as I’ve seen. His touch and his sense of the game is as high as I’ve seen.”

Fraser Rosman is tall, athletic 194cm, 84kg with pace and endurance who can play wing or forward. He attends Wesley College and made Vic Metro’s under 16 team in 2018 but played only two games with the Dragons the following year. 

He was showing signs of improvement in this year’s preseason before the Covid19 restrictions put paid to the chances of a NAB Cup season. The Demons’ recruiters must have seen something for them to place him ahead of others in the running at pick #34. There is also the prospect that the strong marking Rosman will grow into a key position player further down the track.

Here is some more reading on Rosman the athlete

The club finished draft night with the obligatory pick swap which enabled it to trade pick No.46 and its 2021 Fourth Round pick to the Hawks for their 2021 Third Round pick. This leaves the Demons with one second rounder and two third rounders for next year. Melbourne passed on its two remaining possible selections in the Preseason and Rookie Drafts held on Thursday.

Prior to the draft, the club delisted Oscar McDonald and Josh Wagner as well as rookies Harley Bennell, Kyle Dunkley and Corey Wagner.  Kade Kolodjiashnij retired after his recurring concussion injuries and the club was also able to shuffle players between the Primary and Rookie lists with Jay Lockhart going to the senior list and James Jordan and Aaron Nietschke moving to the Category A Rookie list, leaving the player lists looking like this:

PRIMARY LIST: —

Oskar Baker Toby Bedford Jake Bowey Angus Brayshaw Ben Brown Bayley Fritsch Max Gawn James Harmes Michael Hibberd Marty Hore Jayden Hunt Luke Jackson Neville Jetta Nathan Jones Ed Langdon Bailey Laurie Jake Lever Tom McDonald Jay Lockhart Steven May Jake Melksham Alex Neal-Bullen Clayton Oliver Christian Petracca Harrison Petty Kysaiah Kropinyeri Pickett Trent Rivers Fraser Rosman Christian Salem Charlie Spargo Joel Smith Tom Sparrow Adam Tomlinson Aaron vandenBerg Jack Viney Sam Weideman   

ROOKIE LIST: CATEGORY A —

Mitch Brown Kade Chandler James Jordan Aaron Nietschke

ROOKIE LIST: CATEGORY B —

Austin Bradtke 

And that’s not all. The club has two vacant rookie positions which it can take in 2021 during the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP) which runs from January 6 until March 9 or the mid-season draft tentatively scheduled for June 2. There’s also potential for another Category B rookie but one wonders whether the cost is justified in these days of Covid-induced austerity.

In the week before Christmas clubs can nominate a maximum of six players being considered for the SSP to train with them from January 6 when club's senior players return.

I would imagine that the Demons will be looking at an experienced ruckman in the SSP to act as a backup for Max Gawn in case of injury. There should be plenty of candidates for selection in the MSD with the NAB Cup becoming an Under 19 competition which might hopefully reveal some late bloomers from our Covid affected and very strange 2020.

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