Monday 29 October 2012

The longest month (part one)

Though it may have seemed like it lasted longer than the war in Afghanistan (all of them combined), you may be surprised to find out that there were only 27 days between Sunday 30 September and last Friday's finish to the end of the AFL Trade/Free Agent/Wacky Drafts/Franchise Club Rorts and Compo Period.

Would you like a review of the off-season so far in tiny, bite-sized pieces? Well you've come to the wrong place because in true Demonblog tradition there's so much waffle I've had to split this over two posts - the next one will turn up sometime tomorrow night.

Chapter 1 - Wearing tinfoil hats and going through the recycling at AFL House

You can blame the league for the first edition of what they'd like you to believe is a 'brave new era' going at least one week, if not two, longer than was absolutely necessary. Not that they'll admit it mind you, and if their own media department has already declared it a success on their website, so that's nice because you can always accept the word of a journalist dangled off the Bolte Bridge with A. League Executive holding his ankles until he agreed to write fulsome praise about the league's remarkable vision and foresight.

Nobody's really that concerned though, because stretching the off-season past credibility doesn't smash the fabric of the game and confuse buggery out of players, umpires and fans alike as much as - say - changing the rules of the bloody game every year. Not that anybody really does anything about the constant rule changes either, but that's because 'stakeholders' and 'consultation' are the only management speak phrases that the AFL haven't printed out in six foot high letters and stuck up on their office wall.

Having said that you can be sure that even if there was a groundswell of anger from the last few people left who think the league isn't a total dictatorship and voices were raised about another round of pointless changes that the people who implement them will do what they always do when they want to justify introducing something shonky to the game and drag out stats massaged to prove their point and justify another year of enormous salaries just for encouraging a captive audience to turn up or watch on TV.

Any explanations they do come up with will be exposed as utter cobblers, because every person with half an interest in sport in Australia knows they were trying to smash soccer, cricket, horse racing and all the other minority sports and keep them out of the papers for as long as possible.

The month of trades (which actually worked out to about three days in real time) tactic worked for a while, but there's only so far you can drag something out which used to take place relatively comfortably within a week or nine days before everyone realises what you're up to. By the middle of the third week you didn't even have to be the sort of person who will believe any conspiracy theory about the league (i.e me) to realise what they were up to. Even the 'mainstream media', who would usually kill each other for the chance to slurp the AFL's royal plums were calling them on it and started to risk being kicked out of the press box next year by reporting on other sports.

Safe in the knowledge that they couldn't string second rate player trades out for a month and keep it interesting they also had a few other crackers on hand to fill the dull times (i.e week three and most of week four). There was drip-fed 'hints' about next year's fixture, and of course some rule changes because we couldn't possibly go one full season leaving the sport to do what it does best without tinkering to try and engineer the game based on decisions made in boardrooms.

The worst bit about this year's rule changes isn't what they put in (i.e ruck changes invented so that shoehorning Nic Nat into the All Australian Team every season for the next decade won't look so obviously cynical) but what they left out. Does anyone really believe that the 'refusal' of the league to implement 2/2 interchange as recommended by the Rules Committee for this year isn't just a softener so that we're 'used to it' when they cave in and agree to 2/2 in 2014?

Kevin Bartlett and Adrian Anderson can pretend they're unhappy with each other about it all they like, but their 'feud' had acting that would be laughed out of a pro wrestling ring. No doubt they'll have a tearful reunion in the centre of the ring next year - telling us that they've got spreadsheets with stats to prove why the 'continuing trial' in the NAB Cup has been such a spectacular success, and that from 2014 onwards we'll be forced to watch a product where the players run themselves into the ground with fatigue while two teammates ponce about the boundary line in fluro vests. It will be shit, but if you want to keep following your club you'll have to bend over and cop it.

They've got us by the collective grapefruits (incorporating the lady grapefruits) and until the fans from all sides mob up and do something about it we'll keep getting treated with contempt. Anyway, enough of violent sporting revolution and a people's storming of AFL HQ. Let's get back to MFC related issues.

Chapter Two - [Sponsor Name] Trade Period

Wait, I haven't quite finished on the league's cavalcade of scumbag moves just yet. Is here anything they haven't or won't sell the naming rights to? Next thing Kurt Tippett and the Adelaide Crows will be appearing at the Slater & Gordon League Tribunal and he'll be deregistered for six Red Rooster weeks before he makes a triumphant comeback (presumably playing for GWS against his will) by driving down the race in a  new Toyota Hilux.

I'm all for rampant capitalism and the making of money, but taking any interest in footy is starting to become like listening to a match on SEN where everything they can get their hands on has some kind of sponsor. You think the sums aren't being done on how much more they'll get for selling the rights to the substitutions when there are four a match instead of two? SEN has an excuse for putting a sponsor's name on anything they can get their hands on, they're a struggling radio station making its money from some of the worst sponsors going around. The AFL, on the other hand, is worth billions and paying its executives million dollar plus salaries - do we really need to flog the naming rights to a minority interest part of the season just to get a few thousands bucks extra? If you can prove to me it's going directly the clubs I'll shut up. Otherwise cram it.

Ok, I promise no more conspiracy theories from now on... Back to the Malev Hungarian Airlines Trade Period which seemed like it started about six months ago, and for us it pretty much did thanks to Moloney and his agent using the Herald Sun to brag about how he was going to 'explore free agency' (which is second only to 'make a play for' in the list of hot new footy cliches). Forget there still being half a season to go, it was off to the races from that point on.

Despite his heroics in 2011 nobody really seemed that concerned if Beamer left, including the football department it seems, so despite his half-hearted "Oh yes, of course I want to stay" interview about five weeks later we all moved on to other hot topics, including whether we'd get away with picking Jack Viney in Round 2 (We did. Hoorah!) and whether or not we'd pay zillions to sign Travis Cloke as a free agent (We didn't. Hoorah I think, but am not entirely sure).

With pretty much everyone coming to the same conclusion about it being better for Moloney to be anywhere but Melbourne with Neeld in charge the Cloke saga was the one that really fired up 'the fans' and threatened to end in somebody getting punched in the face.

It was a wild ride for a few weeks when we were being spoken about as top contenders for his services. As it turns out given what we paid for his chum Dawes both in draft picks and financially we might as well have taken the main event for nothing and paid him a fortune instead, but it wasn't to happen and we all hope that we'll be better off for it. As for Cloke we had already declared ourselves out of the race (though whose choice that was is up for debate) by the time he held the Pies ransom long enough to rort them out of big money to do whatever else it was that he does (take marks, miss sitters) then we were looking elsewhere anyway.

So it was left to Moloney and Rivers to provide "where will they go?" drama, and at least in Riv's case the slighest hint of "will he go at all?" By the time Beamer was subbed out of the St Kilda game at three-quarter time most people assumed he was off anyway, so it was no surprise when he confirmed that he was off about ten minutes after the season finished.

No hard feelings from me I must say. His speech about McLean at the Best and Fairest that year was from a different era, and personally I'd rather somebody go than hang around when unhappy - or not fully committed - just to live up to an off the cuff comment made to a partisan audience. But at the same time while I wish him nothing but the best in Brisbane his quest to find a new home had the stench of desperation hanging around by the end. When his famous manager came out to tell us he'd been in talks with ALL 17 CLUBS it might have been true, but "in talks" obviously didn't mean the other parties were showing a great deal of interest. Does leaving a voicemail and sitting by the phone waiting for somebody to call count as 'in talks' in the brave new era?

It seemed that bombing out from being the best player in a mediocre team to a mile off the pace in a rancid one, then whoring yourself halfway through the year out to the entire competition via the pages of a popular daily newspaper surprisingly didn't cause those 17 clubs to fall over themselves in a bidding war to sign him. Just as it looked like he might have to come crawling back to Neeld with flowers and chocolates his dreams were saved by Crazy Vossy - the man with a fetish for mature age players second to none (though Neeld is rapidly catching up to him it must be said) and a strike rate with them almost opposite to the Swans - who signed him as a last desperate attempt to avoid starting 2013 as the red hot favourite to be first coach sacked.

Not withstanding the fact that if you're over 15 years old you should never boo a player when you've got the chance to verbally abuse him I can't see myself joining in any anti-Moloney sentiment when he plays against us. $cully has set the bar has been set so high for treachery that even if he does a Woewodin and gives one to the crowd after kicking a goal against us or grabs the MCG mic and calls us all SOBs I don't think I'd be all that concerned.

So farewell then to the 2011 Allen Jakovich Medallist. We had some good times 2005-2011 when he wasn't injured, I'm not going to let his stunt with the Herald Sun, apparent disinterest in his last few matches and fallout with the coach taint the good memories. We'll always have the Psychic Friends Connection's day of days against the Crows when our Neil Craig didn't bother to realise that we were beating his side to the bejesus belt and that he should do something to stop them. Sadly their finest hour was also the beginning of the end. Russian got hurt, but even before the extent of his injury became apparent they had done such a comprehensive demolition job on Adelaide that other clubs couldn't fail to notice. It was never the same for them again.

Far more personally distressing was the loss of Rivers to Geelong. I don't pretend to know what the guy was thinking when the two offers were on the table but surely the fact that it took so long for him to decide to leave us means he was wavering on whether to go or not? In the end it seems that he decided he's only got two or three years left and that he's more chance of at least playing finals with Geelong if not winning flags and that's what made his decision.

He's right too, on paper and by any objective measure he is far more likely to be a winner at Kardinia Park than he is staying with us, and if we don't fire up and stop being shithouse soon this won't be the last time this will happen to us. I think we're ok next year with Sylvia and Davey as potential UFAs (also Bartram if he signs a one year contract extension) but the fear that grips me in the night is that if we're no better in a couple of years that we're going to lose Frawley for practically nothing, and with our luck probably in the year they abolish compensation picks.

That's the reason you'll probably never see another 'strategy' like we had in the Baileyball era of bombing out deliberately and hoarding 500 draft picks just to select kids, because clubs will recognise that they don't have the power to emotionally blackmail their 'stars' into staying anymore or force them to take their chances in the draft. Loyalty isn't dead yet but the paramedics are thumping furiously on its chest.

With the exception of Gold Coast and GWS who have a few years before they have anybody free agent eligible, every team right down to 18th will at least need to be 'competitive' when this brave new era of player movements gets going. If you're a team like we are now, or like the Bulldogs are threatening to become, you'll have two ways to convince your 'stars' to stay when they can go wherever they like absolutely gratis. One will be to lean heavily on loyalty, one will be to pay ridiculous sums of money on lengthy contracts that they probably don't deserve - then when the player suddenly hits the wall halfway into a four year deal you're stuck with them.

That's why maybe, deeply held cynicism aside, this could turn out to be a good thing. Forget Moloney, let's look at Rivers. If we'd convinced him to stay by throwing a shitload of cash around (even though we can afford it now) and next year it turns out that he'd gone as far as he possibly could and plunges straight off the cliff we'd have been forced to keep playing him at least semi-regularly for the next two or three years to justify it. Now that he's gone the spot opens for a kid who wouldn't have had the opportunity otherwise. Whether said kid is good enough or not is another matter, but at least they'll get a chance now and it's up to the experienced players to cover for them until they either get it right or are proven to be rubbish, at which point we'll chop them and start against for the 50th time.

So if it turns out to be a blessing in disguise I'll be even more keen to welcome Riv back as an all-round nice guy who gave us 150 games of good service, but either way he'll get nothing but good will from me. Anybody who has served in our backline for the vast majority of the last six years deserves a bloody medal and a ceremony, not to be booed by dickheads.

Still, at the same time with all the love in the world it would obviously be better for the common good if he became this decade's Nathan Brown (the Footscray/Richmond one - and don't panic I'm not talking about his injury here so cancel the obscene emails) and did the big swap to play finals only to find that his new team has become shithouse overnight while the old one goes on to play finals by the truckload.

Coming back the other way from Geelong was Shannon Byrnes, who we're assured is good even though he couldn't get a game for them this year and has only played 13+ games in a season three times out of nine. I'll take their word for it because a) he's free and b) clearly they're trying to add players who have come from clubs with decent cultures. I'm a bit concerned that he's 28 and we're banking on his speed, but even if that goes by Round 1 and he plays three games what have we lost? It's a free hit, we're presumably not paying all that much and if he knows when to put his hand up and step aside for a younger man in a couple of years he'll have done his job.

Of far more long term interest are (most of) our trade selections. I know this is where people start getting clammy hands and sweat begins running down the forehead as they think about what we've done, but let's start with the ones that were fairly popular before moving into those that have caused angst and consternation.

I'm tying the Jack Viney coup into the trading section, because it was the franchise vs franchise 'mini-draft' deal which took Gold Coast out of the running for pick 2 and allowed us to get him for the same price that has previously been paid for huge names like Sam Kerridge, Kieran Harper, Callum Bartlett and Sam Wright. And thank god for that too, because it opened the door do using pick three to all but lock away Hogan who would have ALLEGEDLY been a top pick next year, as well as Barry who was SUPPOSEDLY worth a second rounder this year and Pick 20 which would come in handy later.

Are any of these players good? Well I'm buggered if I know, but no doubt that even if both Hogan and our #4 pick are both 'good' that #3 will be the greatest player in the history of the game. That's just the way we do things around here. I'm happy with the idea of locking Hogan away now though, especially considering that for the first and last time this year it was us who got the cherry on top, because at least he can go to Casey and do whatever he has to do as part of the real club rather than playing against juniors for another year then having to start his development from scratch.

After that triumphant day everything went quiet for a while. We were supposed to be getting the much maligned Chris Dawes (worrying described to me more than once as "Collingwood's Brad Miller") and the not maligned but seemingly unwanted Cameron Pedersen from North. While the Pedersen deal dragged on for about ten years, to the point where I was starting to get sick of him even before he belonged to us, the Dawes swap was the only moment of any interest for the whole third week of this wretched shambles.

There's plenty of people who are nervous about this one, and I don't blame them, but let's take what he's being paid personally off the table when discussing whether the whole thing is a good idea or not. Fact of the matter is that the total amount of the salary cap that you have to pay is at least 95% (and I can't find the source but I'm sure it's going even higher), Rivers and Moloney would have been on very good money and who else do you think really deserves an enormous pay rise after the year you've just seen? So they pay Dawes enormously above what he's worth this year - and maybe next year - to help with that, it all balances out in the end to paying over but not enormously so and hopefully exactly like Mitch Clark we're back here in a year praising it as a great deal.

If he continues on like he did at Collingwood this year we might be in some trouble, but it's not like we've given up all that much in the draft to get him anyway. No doubt pick 20 is good and all, but once you get to that point anything could happen - AND you have to wait a couple of years to find out if you've stuffed up. This is intended to take the heat off Clark - who otherwise everyone would have known we were kicking at EVERY TIME, with a semi-experienced player who already knows Neeld and has come out of a place where they put a premium on professionalism. He's also got something to prove, which admittedly could go either way.

So generally I'm ok with that one. It's a gamble, but how many trades aren't? Mitch Clark for pick 12 outright was three times the gamble this was, so if he turns out to be Melbourne's Brad Miller Pt. 2 we'll live. Comparing draft picks in different years is really stupid and pointless but let's do it anyway - Pick 20 = Tony Notte (no), Tom Swift (no, but good hairdo), Nat Fyfe (yes), Jayden Pitt (who?) and Hayden Crozier (Is this some sort of WA zone selection pick?) so by applying Footy Maths again you've got a one in five chances of landing a top shelf player (and a 100% chance of getting a Western Australian). I'm well prepared to take the chance.

If pick 20 for Dawes with some minor sweeteners represented a mid-range gamble then pick 88 for David Rodan was as close to a freebie as you could have gotten without waiting for the delisted free agent period.. Supposedly did the throwaway pick deal to Port because somebody else wanted him as well, which seems odd but hell why not. To the naked eye it seems bizarre but Neeld is all about average games experience, and with Green/Moloney/Rivers (526 games) out of the 'best 22' he's got to find somebody to at least plug some of that drain.

My early prediction is that he's footy's first pinch hitter who starts as sub every single week. You can't apply the same theory about coming from a super-professional outfit to somebody out of Port as opposed to Geelong or Collingwood, but they must have something in prospect for a guy who has never had more than 30 disposals in a game or kicked more than 28 goals in a season and has a knee held together by polyester fibres. Again, if it doesn't work what have we lost?

Whether it turns out to be a worthwhile surprise mature player pickup (J. Shanahan) or not (C. Turley) I'm just thankful they've realised the "He won't be in our next premiership team" theory is absolute bollocks. What we need to realise from the pre-Neeld era is that hoarding draft picks by the thousands and picking kids, kids and more kids is fine but it all goes tits up ten minutes later when they play in a million losses. They're not picking him to hang around for two years playing mediocre games and keeping a kid out of the side, he would know full well that if some draftee or rookie bursts onto the scene in a similar role that he might get the boot for a few weeks at a time - and I suspect having just been saved from unemployment that he won't be too concerned about that.

Here's where it started to get a little bit controversial. Having had three weeks of the Club X Trade Period to finish everything off, or the option to do a Carlton and just put the feet up from the start, we managed to go into the last five hours with three unresolved storylines.

The first was the long delayed Pedersen deal. Obviously we wanted the guy, we'd spent the entire month reading about it after all, but the idea of a straight swap for a pick in the 30's after we got our compensation for Rivers/Moloney was squashed after the AFL's Random Number Generator spat out #49 instead. Obviously there's not a great deal of poker face work going on at the Dees, because somehow instead of a mid-range draft pick we ended up not only giving them two-time rising star nominee and former #12 pick Jordan Gysberts BUT also ended up giving THEM the cherry on top by handing over pick 63 for 74.

Why in god's name we needed to add a sweetner to swapping a kid who played some belting games early in his career but was unlucky with injury for a 25-year-old who has played 16 games and barely played seniors all year is a mystery to me but there you go. Somebody obviously walked into the meeting with a rampant horn and all the North representatives spotted it, turned to each other and nodded knowingly.

In the grand scheme of things losing pick 63 (Guy O'Keefe! Luke Lowden! Tom Derickx!) isn't anything to panic about, but let's try to not look like horny teenagers on the verge of getting the leg over when we're publicly pursuing players in the future shall we?

As for Pedersen his form outside the AFL stacks up, but when it comes down to it what does that really mean? We've seen the likes of Bate, Newton and this year Couch dominate the VFL and not be able to translate it to the big leagues. Also not entirely sure what is role is going to be with Clark and Dawes up forward - is he the new second ruckman? North fans assure me that even though they think they've ripped us off blind by getting Gysberts AND a pick upgrade that he's still a good player. That's still to be decided, but one thing we can be sure of is that he's bringing a quality nickname to the table.

Gysberts is a strange case. Apparently Team Neeld had little interest in keeping him but were prepared to wait it out if no suitable offers came, which is probably why he got thrown into this deal at the last minute just to seal the deal and ensure we didn't get a case of trade period droop by missing out on Pedersen after the frantic month long chase. No doubt he can play, as his stats indicate, and as late as Round 11 last year he was racking up 30 touches and two Brownlow votes as we beat Essendon. This year he got injured, came back, got injured again, came back again, played a stinker against the Gold Coast and got dropped never to be seen again.

You do not get dropped after one game back from injury in a win unless there's something seriously wrong behind the scenes so let's see how he goes at North before deciding we've been totally ripped off. I suspect Brad Scott is no less insane/intense than Neeld, so if the Gys suddenly finds himself wallowing in one of North's reserves teams next year then you'll know it was him not us. Either that or he'll win the Brownlow and it'll be proven that we can't/couldn't develop players for shit.

Speaking of fast starts which eventually petered out to nothing our second last deal involved the people's favourite Cale Morton. The first trade exclusive ever to be broken on Twitter from inside Wagamama spread like wildfire into the mainstream and by Thursday morning we were supposedly off-loading him to the Eagles for pick 61. Again, we know the guy can play but it would have been precious for anybody to start crying about a net loss of 57 picks on him considering we've all spent the last three years whipping him to death every time he touched the ball.

Still, I couldn't help but feel moderately cheated when the paperwork went through and we'd flogged him for our own original pick 88 which the Eagles had got from Port in their own chump change deal. Again somebody must have walked into the meeting with a raging boner which was quickly spotted by the other side who ducked out into the corridor to alter their deal accordingly.

Again it's not the picks that I have an issue with (61 = James Craig, Jarryd Lyons, Alex Brown etc.. etc..) but the way that we were so eager to get rid of these players that we allowed other people to get good deals on us. Are they trying to lull everyone into thinking we're easybeats so we can come out of nowhere and trade pick 45 for Pendlebury next year? Newsflash - nobody else is falling for it.

Now watch him turn out to be good in Perth. It's not like he was never any good for us, but like Gysberts all the major action came in a burst at the start of his career and it was all downhill from there. Unlike Gysberts he got 70+ games to try and recapture the magic but from his last really good game, when he had 36 touches against St Kilda on the last day of 2009 when we were supposedly tanking furiously, is was 32 straight mediocre performances and out. Not for the first time we thought we were about to unleash a superstar, then he hurt his knee in a pre-season match at Princes Park, didn't play until R9 2010 and that was it. We can't be accused of not trying though.

This is a guy who has taken 17 and 16 marks in a game - ironically both against West Coast, which may have helped them to decide to give him a chance - and there's every possible chance that his mid-career mental turn may cure instantly when surrounded by quality players. For him I hope it does, but for the sake of not adding yet another embarrassing chapter to our dark ages let's hope he's nothing more than a good ordinary player for them. Will probably sneak his way into a flag now. If Mitch can do it etc.. etc.. Sadly for him nobody will remember the 17 mark or 36 disposal games, but they will remember this. I'll remember Queen's Birthday 2011 when he didn't go up for a mark in the backline and Joel Macdonald gave him a fearsome spray.

Finally, with just 50 minutes to go, we off-loaded the Stefan Martin Experience to Brisbane for two slop  basically throwaway picks. Out went a mobile ruckman who can kick goals or play in defence for Pick 53 (formerly occupied by Tom McDonald, which at least seems to have worked out) and 73 (PASS, Matt Spangher and rookie promotions). Apparently we wanted pick 33, which the Lions scoffed out and offered 53 instead. After days of heavy negotiations, and with the clock obviously ticking towards the last few moments, we caved in and if you ask me (who is obviously well biased) the Lions got a cracking deal. They stared us down, threw in a dinky pick that we might use on a rookie promotion and got a decent player out of it. I mourned, but more on that later. At least he was proven to be worth heaps more than Morton, which was something for the thousands of SME fans out there.

And after a month of trying to wring some interest out of nothing happening for days in a row it thankfully ended shortly after the end of the SME era. Do you think the sponsor secretly wished that trade period had been rammed into five days of helter-skelter trade drama finishing with Heath Black missing out because nobody could work the fax machine at 1.59pm on the Friday? By the third week the only people acknowledging the sponsor were the AFL, and the rest of the country had given up to the point where the only people who still cared were Kurt Tippett and Koby Stevens. And despite all of this to nobody's surprise not a solitary shit was given in New South Wales about any of it.

To be continued

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