The AFL landscape is no longer what it was. For all those who say that free player movement is ruining the game, pick up your walkmans and your VCRs, because the game that you knew has bypassed you in the blink of an eye.
Free player movement allows the strong to get stronger, and the weak to become feeder clubs. From the outside, this is an unfair system, but that’s the way it is. Two of the weaker teams in the Bulldogs and Lions have decided to stop whinging and make sure they are a club that adheres to their own rules.
To be a destination club, you need to be successful, have an excellent coaching staff and most importantly, a Gina Rinehart sized wallet. You do not need to be a club that has it all together, you just need building blocks.
Brisbane started their decline with Michael Voss’ poor trading strategy. Whilst he seemed to be a decent coach, he was not the type that personified the new era.
Justin Leppitsch came in last year and lost five former first round draft picks. What did he do? He ensured his club took in one of the best draft hauls of the last five years. James Aish, Lewis Taylor, Dan McStay, Darcy Gardiner, Nick Robertson and Tom Cutler. All of those players were considered genuine first round talents at some point of 2013.
After an indifferent year on the field, the Lions brought in Greg Swann to bolster their football operations.
Leppitsch’s third master move was to show that he would not get bullied by a stronger club. They laughed in the face of Collingwood’s deadline, and said that they would never give up Aish. Of the six or so players the Pies demanded, Swann, Leppitsch and co held strong and let go only a fringe player and fair draft picks.
All of a sudden, the Lions have attracted two A grade players and now have arguably the best midfield in the league. It was Leppitsch’s honesty, strength and willingness to stand by his players that made the Lions a destination club.
Gold Coast must hire a coach who has similar principles to Leppitsch. Their appeal is similar to the Lions, but they do not have the off field demeanour that the Lions radiate.
The Bulldogs did much of the same. Their club was, from the outside, a basketcase. The Lions had an exodus, which made them stronger. The Dogs lost their Captain, Coach and Adam Cooney. Yet it was Simon Garlick’s honesty and candour that allowed them to execute their greatest, most risky move ever.
Damien Barrett reported earlier in the year that the Dogs had tabled an offer to Jonathon Patton, which was then withdrawn. Whether that is true or not, no one is sure, as the Giants have refused to comment on that on several occasions.
So they put millions towards Tom Boyd. While Carlton and St Kilda were nice enough to wait until Boyd finished his contract, the Dogs decided they were sick of mediocrity and lost everything for a chance to gain it all.
It’s the ruthless decisions that are key to making a small club a place where big name players want to come. The Dogs were honest, and realised they couldn’t land a big fish, so they had to throw serious money at a player with a lot of promise.
Clubs like St Kilda need to realise that several small moves and developing players through the draft will no longer work in this new world. Rebuilding is a new ball game altogether. Money and draft picks should no longer be prized as much as they used to be.
The reason why money is no longer as important, is because of the changing landscape of sport. You only have to look at the perplexing case of Eric Bledsoe in the NBA. Bledsoe was a restricted free agent, who had shopped himself around. He has all the upside in the world, but he’s really only showed his value in half a season of NBA, with the rest of his time being spent recovering from injury.
Bledsoe was probably worth somewhere between eight to ten million a year, if a club was really ballsy. The Suns decided that money no longer mattered, as the new TV rights deal would see their salary cap increase by ten million dollars in the next few years.
Bledsoe, despite attracting no interest from other clubs, earned a five year $70 million dollar deal. Indeed, the Boyd deal is on par with this in terms of the eye boggling nature.
Clubs that can’t attract the big free agent stars essentially must pay overs for a budding star. When that starlet is a building block such as Bledsoe and Boyd are, the money no longer becomes an issue, as the minnow club becomes instantly more attractive for other free agents.