When a dysfunctional Melbourne Demons board appointed Dean Bailey as coach in 2008, amidst a pending internal and external financial crisis, the message to the former Port Adelaide assistant was clear: rid the club of Neale Daniher’s clutch of mature talent and reinvigorate the list.
The same applied in 2010 when a Richmond board, determined to lose the tag of perennial losers, appointed the enthusiastic Damien Hardwick to finally initiate the cleansing that the self anointed ‘list manager’ Terry Wallace had failed to do.
Two years on, at the conclusion of the 2012 transfer period, the teams are pictures of disparity.
Bailey has moved on from Melbourne, falling on his sword after a 186-point loss that will fester long in the minds of the Demons faithful, despite their conquerors Geelong going on to win the ultimate prize that season.
Meanwhile, Hardwick has come close to similar feats over the journey, but has managed to steady his budding Tigers in their pursuit of excellence – and that long-awaited finals series.
At the end of 2010, Hardwick famously cut over 10 players from his list, including the likes of Jordan McMahon, who booted the famous goal after the siren against the Demons in 2009 to validate the claims of tanking, held against Melbourne in their desperation for a priority pick.
The Dees, meanwhile, decided to cull their list through forced retirement. Jeff White, Adem Yze, Russell Robertson, Cameron Bruce and, most tragically, James McDonald were each given their unceremonious marching orders by a brave Bailey, backed by the board. It was announced that they would be pillaging the draft for the finest talent in the country in their rebuild attempt.
In 2012, under new coach Mark Neeld, the same Melbourne side that Bailey guided to 8.5 wins in 2010 and 2011, minus Tom Scully and plus Mitch Clark, managed to win just four games.
Hardwick’s Tigers, despite a frustrating July and August where they spectacularly ruled themselves out of finals contention, won 10 games. The young Richmond side was led by the explosive Trent Cotchin, his senior influence in Chris Newman and a band of loyal foot soldiers, recruited from clubs who hadn’t considered them worthy enough of a best 22 spot.
Shaun Grigg, Bachar Houli, Steven Morris and the outgoing Brad Miller were joined by Troy Chaplin, Chris Knights and Aaron Edwards over the free agency and trade period.
Melbourne, on the other hand, in a spectacular policy turnaround under Neeld, has decided to stop waiting on the likes of Lucas Cook, Jordan Gysberts, Stefan Martin and Cale Morton to realize their potential. In a couple of days. reminiscent of the scene in the movie Moneyballwhere Billy Beane cuts underperforming stars Carlos Pena and Jeremy Gianni in favour of committed experience, Neeld has poached Cameron Pedersen, David Rodan, Chris Dawes and Shannon Byrnes to set a standard for a young group devoid of senior influence.
Is it any wonder that, in this tale of two cities, Western Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney, tasked with replenishing one of the oldest groups of talent in the league, has recently poached 21-year-old West Coast on-baller Koby Stevens, and a similar player in Tom Young from Collingwood?
In an era where youth is all the rage, McCartney is bravely overlooking the potential riches of the draft in favour of developed talent. Their failure to win an elusive premiership in the Rodney Eade era has left a list devoid of quality youth, but the Bulldogs will go into the 2013 season bolstered by the additions of Young, Stevens and whomever they select at picks 5 and 6 in the National Draft.
The youth craze in the AFL will endure for as long as the expansion sides insist on guarding their groups of talented draft selections, but history says that, as we look back in retrospect, it’s far more likely that McCartney’s Bulldogs will be deep into September before Bailey can slyly tell Guy McKenna and Leon Cameron ‘I told you so’.