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Trading places not necessarily the premiership panacea

Bryce Gibbs: Great for Carlton but does recent history suggest he’ll be the person to push Adelaide all the way to a premiership? Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Trading places not necessarily the premiership panacea

Luke Michael    

As the dust settles on season 2017, the AFL community’s attention inevitably turns towards the trade and free agency period.

It is the time of wild whispers – where far-fetched trade scenarios are debated on social media and talkback, and fans conjure up dream trades which they think will take their team to the next level.

Take Bryce Gibbs, for instance. The Carlton star failed to negotiate a trade home to Adelaide last year, but is expected to push again this period to join the Crows. After Adelaide’s crushing Grand Final loss, he is already being touted as the “missing piece” to the premiership puzzle.

But recent history suggests that trading for star power to top up your list is unlikely to be the catalyst for ultimate success.

After West Coast’s 2015 Grand Final defeat, the Eagles looked to put the icing on their premiership cake by trading for talented duo Jack Redden and Lewis Jetta.

But both these players have been plagued by inconsistency, and even the recruitment of Sam Mitchell at the end of last year has not been enough to take West Coast past the second week of finals.

Similarly, Brett Deledio’s recruitment last trade period was another “missing piece” style selection, that failed to lead Greater Western Sydney to greater success.

Jordan Lewis, Pearce Hanley, Dale Thomas and Jake Carlisle are but a few star players who have (so far) failed to significantly improve their new team. Even Patrick Dangerfield and Lance Franklin, for all their astonishing brilliance, have failed to be that “missing piece” to take their successful clubs back to premiership glory.

In fact, to the contrary, it has been the clubs losing star players which have seemed to prosper most in their absence.

Geelong won the premiership in 2011 the season after losing Gary Ablett. After Lance Franklin left Hawthorn in 2013, it won the next two flags. Even the Western Bulldogs and Richmond dealt with the loss of two of two of their biggest stars – Ryan Griffen and Deledio – before achieving ultimate success without them.

Besides demonstrating that our game has a cruel sense of irony, this also shows that success has more to do with home-grown talent and astute recruiting than landing star players.

Recent premiership teams have been built mostly without recruiting big names from other clubs, with a few notable exceptions.

Richmond’s big four of Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt are all “home-grown” talent, while most of the Tigers’ best recruits have been astute and not necessarily higher profile pick-ups like Bachar Houli, Jacob Townsend, Shaun Grigg and Toby Nankervis.

The Tigers’ only real high-profile recruit last summer was Dion Prestia, who admittedly was one of the key cogs to Richmond’s victory on grand final day.

Similarly, the Bulldogs’ engine room of Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Luke Dahlhaus and Tom Liberatore were all home-grown, and complemented by bargain basement recruits such as Joel Hamling and Shane Biggs.

Grand final hero Tom Boyd was indeed a high-profile recruit, but one who was by no means a star when he joined the Bulldogs.

Hawthorn perhaps has shown that “missing piece” trades can lead to a premiership, with Brian Lake and Shaun Burgoyne brought in as star players who became vital cogs in Hawthorn’s remarkable “three-peat”.

But even the Hawks built their premiership nucleus through the draft, with Luke Hodge, Mitchell, Lewis Franklin and Jarryd Roughead all developed from within the club.

If Gibbs does land at Adelaide, even if he keeps up his impressive form, he is no certainty to make the Crows a better side. By the same token, the departure of Jake Lever should not signal alarm bells, with the evenness of their playing group a better measure of their success.

Eyes will be on the other big names expected to depart this trade and free agency period, among them Jake Stringer, Gary Ablett and Tom Rockliff.

All three will look to join top-eight clubs who are looking for that “missing ingredient” to achieve premiership success.

But pundits and fans eager to discuss the value of these recruits when predicting the results of next season should focus also on some of the lesser known targets up for grabs this trade period.

Players such as Anthony Miles, Aaron Young and Hayden Crozier may not be household names, but they could be the next Townsend or Biggs, willing role players who can prove important additions in taking their new team to glory.

In the aftermath of this trade and free agency period, their contributions could be just as important to deciding a team’s fortunes as the stars whose futures are currently taking up the limelight.

  1. For all the breathless commentary about moving, the fact is no one has done the analysis on the effectiveness of previous moves except you, Rohan. Collingwood lost a lot of talent after Malthouse left: Was Thomas really good for Carlton? Wellingham for West Coast? I doubt it. Only Heath Shaw for GWS has been beneficial – and perhaps not in finals? (Although great for the Pies in 2010 and 2011.) No smart club lets a quality player go – why?

    So please keep analysing the trades during this month, Rohan. At last we get some sober perspective.

  2. Good piece.

    As a Collingwood supporter, I’ve been bemused by some of our recycling, and would’ve preferred we went to the draft over the last five years. Our trading’s a far cry from when we were thumped in the 2009 PF, and added two genuine starters to the 2010 list in Darren Jolly and Luke Ball, both addressing deficiencies in our list (a dominant ruck, and a fanatically hard in and under player).

    Sometimes, I feel that Collingwood did so well recycling the likes of Shane Wakelin, James Clement, and Paul Medhurst under Malthouse, they’ve developed a misguided belief they can turn anybody into a star.

    Hawthorn’s generally done a great job targeting needs, e.g. first adding Gunston and Burgoyne to their list build, and then Lake. The addition of Tyson Vickory (and this isn’t intended to bash Vickory) seemed desperate.

    I feel clubs have to be realistic about how close they are, and the caliber of players they’re adding to their lists. Richmond added Nankervis, who’s obviously still developing, but he filled a need they’ve had since Maric declined.

    A lot of clubs seem to have a revolving door, where out goes one middling player and in comes another for very little gain either way.

  3. Rohan Connolly

    Thanks John, but this is Luke Michael’s very fine work!

  4. Great piece Luke. I fear that this is exactly what the Hawks will try and do this trade period as we don’t have any valuable picks for the draft and I think they will try and fill holes instead of being patient. I’m hoping they don’t trade and instead if they offload players it’s for future picks but I fear they don’t have the patience for it. I understood the Vickery pickup even though it didn’t work but I don’t understand why they are going after some of the names I’ve heard bandied around – going to be a very long 2018

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