Hawthorn received scant compensation after 2008 premiership player Clinton Young's move to Collingwood
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WHAT WE LEARNED: The league may as well get rid of compensation picks, the struggling clubs face a hard sell and the Lake rule could change the game...
Draft compensation doesn't cut it
If Hawthorn had known they would lose back-up defender Tom Murphy and premiership player Clinton Young (plus his laser-guided left boot) for the sum total of pick 66 in the draft, there is no way they would have agreed to free agency in its present form. Likewise, Melbourne can consider themselves harshly treated after the AFL determined Jared Rivers and Brent Moloney minus Shannon Byrnes equalled pick 49. Meanwhile, Port Adelaide made out like bandits with two second-round picks (30 and 31) for Danyle Pearce and Troy Chaplin.
Adrian Anderson told clubs throughout the free agency process that the formula for calculating compensation was to remain secret until the draft picks were doled out. Now we know why. The AFL should do away with the farce that is draft compensation for departed free agents and let clubs use the freed-up salary cap space as their reward. At least they would know where they stand before the whole exercise instead of being disappointed at the end.
There is such a thing as a quick fix
Prior to free agency, rebuilding an ageing squad was a laborious process that often took at least two years and sometimes three. Cut the dead wood, trade an ageing star with currency and draft heavily at the top end of the talent pool. Rinse, repeat and hope your draft picks blossom in time. But as Melbourne have shown, that strategy doesn't always work. Free agency has given clubs that need fresh talent another way to acquire new players - and it doesn't cost anything except salary cap space.
The result is that clubs can overhaul their lists in the same way as before, but they don't have to make a choice between top draft picks or experienced talent. They can have both - like Essendon's coup of landing Brendon Goddard and a likely top-five teenager in Joe Daniher. Had the Dons been forced to trade for the star Saint, the deal wouldn't have gone through as their first-round pick was earmarked for Daniher.
Similarly, Richmond added a strong-bodied half-forward (Chris Knights) and a reliable key defender (Port Adelaide's Chaplin) to help Alex Rance handle the opposition's gorillas. While Knights was on the outer at Adelaide and would have come cheaply, Chaplin would have cost the Tigers a pretty penny. Damien Hardwick's men are now considerably stronger heading into 2013 - and they still have all their draft picks.
Perception is everything
More than ever before, clubs must be able to sell a positive vision of their future to prospective recruits. Melbourne coaches Mark Neeld and Leigh Brown used their existing relationships with Chris Dawes to land the former Magpie, but that would have meant little had they not been able to convince Dawes that the hapless Demons could turn it around quickly. Even Port Adelaide, which battled to hold required players throughout the free agency period, were able to convince Angus Monfries that four years of likely struggle at Alberton were better than two promising seasons at Windy Hill.
This is the reality facing the Western Bulldogs, whose coach Brendan McCartney was nothing if not honest in predicting a six-year wait before success revisited Whitten Oval. McCartney's frank speech is laudable but how does the club then turn around and sell a bright future to a free agent with five, maybe six years left in the game? Answer: they can't.
Our version of the Bosman rule has arrived
In world football, it is common to see star players sold a year before they come out of contract to avoid the prospect of said star walking to another club for free when their deal expires, under a European court judgment known as the Bosman rule. Arsenal's sale of star striker Robin van Persie to bitter rivals Manchester United is a prime example.
After the Western Bulldogs opted to trade veteran defender Brian Lake to Hawthorn for pick 41 and a six-spot upgrade of their second-rounder, the practice may become known in AFL circles as the Lake rule. Lake, a two-time All Australian, would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2013 and the Hawks - or any other potential suitor - could have landed him for nothing. The Dogs considered that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, and took what profits they could. When the AFL releases its list of free agents at the start of 2013, the real interest may lie in those who are due to earn FA status the following year.
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