There’s no place like home.
It’s a line increasingly used by rival clubs in a bid to lure a potential recruit back home and it’s a line increasingly used by some players to try and explain a request to be traded to a club closer to said home.
While several high-profile trade requests over the years have centred on the ‘go home’ factor – and it is being considered as closely as it ever has been ahead of this year’s draft – a closer look at the dynamics between club and player show it is far from that simple.
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Different clubs have different approaches, but foxfooty.com.au understands that factor is being weighed into deliberations on picks more heavily than ever before.
Some club officials admitted publicly this year’s trade period had in part altered their approach to potential prospects in this year’s draft pool and behind closed doors, there’s an acknowledgement player preference is more transparent than it has ever been.
It’s easy to understand why, given the successful trade request lodged by No.1 pick Jason Horne-Francis after just one year into his AFL career at North Melbourne.
Horne-Francis returned to South Australia, but his eyes were set squarely on Port Adelaide and that is where he got to.
The other big fish of the trade period, Luke Jackson, was also successful in getting to his club of choice, joining Fremantle after a request to move home to West Australia after three years in Victoria.
Like Horne-Francis, the request publicly for Jackson was for a move to his home state, but in reality only one of the two clubs was ever truly in the market.
While a far from ideal situation, there is some comfort in examples such as the above pair compared to those who hail from Victoria.
For Horne-Francis and Jackson, the much smaller market in their home states mean the onus is on those clubs to get a deal done once they’ve been earmarked as a preferred destination.
Perhaps neither North Melbourne or Melbourne are entirely happy with the eventual trade outcome, but many looking in from the outside would suggest the deals were on or around the mark given the circumstances at play.
Even Izak Rankine, for example, who requested a trade to Adelaide, ended up moving in exchange for pick No.5.
It’s a tough blow for the Suns in the immediate future given the capabilities of Rankine and the investment put into him, but it is also close to the best possible deal that could’ve been done in the circumstances.
DIFFERENT STATE, DIFFERENT ISSUES
More issues begin to arise when players request trades back to Victoria – a 10-club town that offers no shortage of avenues for those wanting to make a move home.
While at times more potential suitors can drive the asking price of an asset up, it can also open the door for more aggressive negotiating tactics that could ultimately force the club’s hand.
For those wanting to move home to Victoria, the threat of the pre-season draft (while rarely used) becomes a far more imposing weapon to wield.
With the pre-season draft in reverse-ladder order and 10 Victorian clubs, the balance of probabilities suggests several of those clubs will have early picks, meaning the chances of losing a player for nothing become substantially greater.
There’s plenty to parse and recruiters and managers certainly earn every cent of their pay cheque trying to navigate through the permutations for their club and their client.
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One recruiter told foxfooty.com.au this year’s draft class has capped off what for clubs is a “perfect storm” of sorts.
Into the pot goes a marked shift towards players in the power dynamic with clubs, the isolation suffered during covid-19 and a top-end of the predicted draft order hailing from inner-city Victoria.
The end result is a draft in which the potential risks of an interstate recruit have to be considered more closely than they ever have been.
SHOT ACROSS THE BOW
Frustrations behind-closed-doors bubbled to the surface in a way rarely seen when Greater Western Sydney list team Jason McCartney and Adrian Caruso both stated that non-Victorian clubs had to take on extra risk given the glut of prospects that often hail from the state.
“When you’re an interstate club and the draft board is predominantly, at the top end, looks like it’s littered with Victorian talent, you’ve got some risk there,” McCartney said on Trade Radio this year.
“You might think it’s fine that you just pick this player and you get them into your environment and your system and it’s all fine, but if there’s apprehension about a player right from the word go about making the move interstate and they may go home, you just can’t take the risk unfortunately.
“The draft board for us and maybe some other interstate clubs, it’s not the same draft board (as the Victorian clubs). And that’s OK, that’s the reality. We’re not complaining about it. So we do have to look at things a little bit differently.
“Everyone can throw up the players and we love all the players that have been talked about but there’s some we can’t pick. That’s the reality.”
Foxfooty.com.au understands McCartney and Caruso’s comments rankled the feathers of some rival clubs for in effect reinforcing such an ideology, while others saw it as a clear and accurate shot across the bow of AFL House.
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In any case, there’s a very likely prospect several interstate clubs will overlook one top prospect in favour of another in large part due to the risks that have reared their heads in recent years and particularly 2022.
Someone like Cameron Mackenzie, for example, who lived in France for a year (albeit with his family) and had to adapt to school without speaking any French could be considered less of a ‘flight risk’ as a result.
Such factors are becoming more pronounced as the build-up progresses.
DRAFT IMPACT SO FAR
The state of play has already impacted the very top of the draft order.
During the trade period, the Giants did a deal with North Melbourne for the number one pick, which saw picks three, 12 and a future second-round pick go out in exchange for the first pick, pick No.53 and 57.
It allows the Giants (after a potential bid for Lions father-son prospect Will Ashcroft) to pick Aaron Cadman – a key position player who has come along in leaps and bounds this year.
Crucially, the Victorian is not considered by interstate clubs to be a flight risk.
In the past, clubs have taken a multitude of players in the top bracket, but have been made to pay for it two years later when their initial contract is up for renewal.
As the game has grown so too have the contractual expectations, with many first-round selections getting a salary of at least $400,000 in their new deals.
Pushing the initial contract out by a year to three years is one option, but the AFL Players’ Association in agreeing to that could push for a quid pro quo, which for example would see the free agency window fast-tracked by a year.
There are no perfect answers, but instead a set of factors that demand more and more consideration with each passing year.
In doing a deal for pick one, the Giants have opted for a more calculated approach that could safeguard them from a mass exodus or future salary cap squeezes, which played a part in trades for Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper when coupled with the mega offers they received from Richmond.
For North Melbourne, with plenty of high-end Victorian talent in the draft, the extra picks allow them to bolster their list without the flight risk factored in by clubs like Greater Western Sydney.
NEW-GEN, NEW RULES?
Another factor emerging in the talent pools of recent years is the simple generational shift.
At the risk of sounding too philosophical, some clubs believe players in their adolescence in 2022 have, on average, less patience than those of those in prior generations.
It would not be a perceived generational shift that exclusively applies to footballers, but it’s one that bears mentioning.
Young players struggling to get a senior game early in their career may already be getting impatient, but that impatience is only amplified when the avenues for fresh starts are, as mentioned, continuously growing.
Couple that with the fact clubs will traditionally offer more money to get a player out and it once again becomes a perfect storm for movement.
Ollie Henry perhaps was the most extreme example of the go home factor in recent years, requesting a trade from Collingwood to Geelong in part to be closer to home.
Eyebrows were raised at the request and the deal took considerable time to get done, but Henry’s request is understandable given the factors mentioned above, which make such a move feasible when in years gone by it may’ve been deemed incredulous.
The reality for Henry is he was offered a lucrative deal to perform the same job at a club that is closer to home – if the pathway to accepting that job was as clear as it has become in the AFL world, why wouldn’t he push for it?
Once again, the desire to be closer to home plays a part, but it’s merely one part of a greater whole that has resulted in clubs placing more and more weight on it come the draft period.
Transparency is great for the game and it is becoming more and more common concerning draft prospects.
Clubs and players alike have big decisions to make and it will unquestionably affect the draft order when all is said and done this year.
There may be no place like home, but several other trends are emerging (and strengthening) that explain why players may continue to sing ‘Homeward Bound’ long into the future.