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If Patrick Dangerfield leaves Adelaide, it will be to play for Geelong. If Scott Selwood vacates the Eagles’ nest, it will be to play with his illustrious brother at Geelong. And if Lachie Henderson decides he wants out of Carlton, the most likely destination, yep, is the team closest to his home town of Birregurra.
It is therefore possible that the Geelong Football Club will recruit three valuable 25-year-olds in the space of one post-season. The Cats could land one, two or three of these targets. Dangerfield is odds on to come, while the futures of Henderson and Selwood are up in the air.
To pull off all three raids would be audacious, bordering on outrageous – like getting Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep into the same movie, or dating each member of Destiny’s Child in their day. Not that Henderson and the surviving non-Joel Selwood are superstars. They’re merely good players. But getting multiple good players who aren’t old and crippled is quite a feat.
Is Geelong’s triple treat possible? Yes, it’s quite achievable.
If Sydney can purloin both Kurt Tippett and Lance Franklin over two seasons, without exchanging a single player or draft pick, then anyone can get anyone. Dangerfield and Selwood are restricted free agents – theoretically, they can leave without a trade, though there is some chance the Crows will match any Dangerfield offer and force the Cats into a trade.
Exactly three decades ago, another club managed to secure four gun players over one summer. At the end of 1985, Carlton were heading south as premiership heroes declined and fell. Coach David Parkin was traded in for Robert Walls, and the rapacious Blues entered 1986 with four imposing recruits from west of the border: Stephen Kernahan, Craig Bradley, Peter Motley and Jon Dorotich. They might have had Johnny Platten, too, had he not had the gall to sign with Hawthorn first.
The Blues went from a fading fifth to a grand final in ’86 and then took the 1987 flag. Should the Cats get Dangerfield and Henderson, they’d be quite capable of a similar quantum jump – from fringe finalist back to contention in one swoop.
It will cost them their first draft pick and potentially players, depending on whether the Crows become the first club to match a free agent deal. Steven Motlop, who remains out of contract, is an obvious candidate to be traded (or leave of his own volition), though by no means the only option.
Carlton shrewdly signed the Kernahan quartet just before the introduction of the salary cap – an inconvenience that the Blues largely ignored for the next 15 years. The Cats, however, will need to find room under the cap. Typically, a team in their position could find space for Dangerfield only.
The reason the Cats can bring in these players is that they have eight veterans, all 30-plus years of age, coming out of contract and can open up as much as $2 million (e.g. 4 x $500,000, or 5 x $400,000) with the exodus. Five of the vets are triple premiership heroes: Corey Enright, Jimmy Bartel, Stevie Johnson, James Kelly and Andrew Mackie. Mathew Stokes, a double premiership player, plus the imported Hamish McIntosh and Jared Rivers, complete the G8.
McIntosh, whose body hasn’t held up, will finish this year. Enright, who plays his 300th on Sunday, is 34 in September. He seemed a probable retiree but has the formline to continue, if he wishes. Bartel, Johnson, Kelly and Mackie’s prospects will be determined by what happens in the remainder of this season.
The Cats should shed at least three and more likely four of the G8, regardless of the pricey players they bring to the club. They need to stagger the exits of their veterans, rather than having seven finish at once – a recipe for trouble.
Managing the exit of magnificent servants presents a challenge, but it is one that the Cats are well equipped to handle, having already seen off Paul Chapman, Joel Corey, Cameron Ling and Brad Ottens. Chief executive Brian Cook, coach Chris Scott, recruiting boss Stephen Wells and football chief Steve Hocking will be sensitive to the legacies of club greats, but not to the extent that they would compromise the club’s future.
To plunder players in their prime is very Carlton of the ’80s and ’90s, not so Geelong of recent times. The Cats didn’t want free agency.
Scott has repeatedly stated their dislike of the free market. But, just as North Melbourne voted against the short-lived 10-year rule and promptly signed Doug Wade, Barry Davis and John Rantall en route to their first flag (1975), the Cats are happy to exploit the regulatory framework.
Why do free agents and alike want to play for Geelong? Until Ottens came, the Cats had struggled to land a sardine, let alone a sizeable fish. Last year, Mitch Clark chose the Cats over Collingwood for lifestyle reasons. The club has succeeded in selling the idea that players can escape from the spotlight (a dubious assertion) by heading down the highway, potentially settling on the coast.
Serendipity has seen the region surrounding Geelong – particularly the surf coast – producing a stream of desirable players. Travis Boak, who flirted with becoming a Cat, is from Torquay. Dangerfield is from Moggs Creek, St Kilda’s Jack Steven hails from Lorne, Henderson, too, is a local.
The Cats have long lusted for Dangerfield, as they did for Boak. That Frank Costa, their seminal ex-president, employs Dangerfield’s mother and aunt (they have looked after the Costa palazzo at Airey’s Inlet for several years), is one of the meaningful connections between the Dangerfields and Geelong, albeit the Crows also happen to employ Paddy’s dad in a part-time recruiting role.
It’s strange to think of the Cats as a predator when their success was built upon patient use of the draft, plus a generous father-son rule.
But having been overtaken by the Hawks, who excelled in targeted recruiting from other clubs, they’ve cottoned on and become, however reluctantly, serious players in the freed up marketplace.
No matter where they finish and whichever greats finish their careers, they shape as the post-season bandits, the team to watch in October. The Age SportThis story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.