Even as a diehard footy fan, it can be a struggle to buy in to the pre-season. Perhaps some of the reluctance is due to the time needed to make the mental transition from cricket to footy. Supporting your footy team takes a sizeable emotional investment, and fans need to psych themselves up for it. It’s a long season.
Some of the apathy could also be due to the experimental nature of the pre-season competition, this year called the NAB Challenge, with clubs having an opportunity to try players in new positions as well as strategies they’ve been working on over the summer. Fans of less successful clubs have learned the hard way that pre-season success is absolutely no indicator of September action.
And finally, many don’t like the fact that the AFL finds it necessary to constantly change the competition’s format, or trial the latest rule change that Kevin Bartlett has pulled out of his backside.
But what is good about the pre-season competition is that it’s the first time we get to see traded players play for their new clubs. This is of interest, not just because it looks wrong (Buddy in red and white? Heath Shaw in orange and grey?), but we get our first glimpse of the trades that are likely to succeed, and which ones will stink.
Let’s start with what look like the best ones.
Paul Chapman – Geelong to Essendon
I don’t care that when you do a Google search on Paul Chapman, the term “paul chapman hamstring” is second from the top in the related searches section (after you guessed it, “paul chapman girlfriend”). He didn’t play in Essendon’s first NAB Challenge game, and you know what, I’m not even going to bother to look up why. I’m that sure it was the hammies.
Essendon’s handling of the supplements saga was one of the disgraces of last year. But they redeemed themselves by reaching out to Chappy, one of the hardest, most skilful and baldest men to ever play the game, and for that they should be applauded. He’ll only play 16 games at most in 2014, but the example he’ll set to the younger Bombers will be invaluable.
Nick Dal Santo – St Kilda to North Melbourne
The Saints had no real choice but to let Nick Dal Santo go as a free agent. Stuck with a top and bottom heavy list, they needed to get some value from one of the fewer experienced players who still had any currency.
Dal Santo could be the missing piece of the puzzle for the Kangas. Last year, their lack of on-field leadership was a factor in a slew of narrow losses that they should have won. Dal Santo is the epitome of calmness on the football field, and there is virtually no one better to have the ball, one point up in your back pocket with a minute to go.
Jesse White – Sydney to Collingwood
The 26 year old had his best AFL season last year, playing 15 games and kicking 20 goals, but was one of the many players to make way for the Buddy Trade. Not only will he give Collingwood an even further lead in the club-with-most-players-with-sleeve-tats stakes, his presence will be a welcome release of pressure for star key-forward Travis Cloke.
In fact, I would rate Collingwood as having one of the best trade periods of all teams, also picking up talented duo Taylor Adams and Patrick Karnezis.
Now, for the not-so-good ones.
Shaun Hampson – Carlton to Richmond
Shaun’s been lucky on two fronts: snaring Megan Gale and getting traded to Richmond. His five years and 44 games at Carlton were sprinkled with moments of promise, but were generally unimpressive, particularly given his fine physical attributes.
Richmond got him to take the pressure of Ivan Maric in the ruck, but I just don’t think he’s good enough to make a major impact. At least he’s got Megan.
Lance Franklin – Hawthorn to Sydney
As I said in my Sydney Swans preview, signing Buddy to a nine-year deal is club mismanagement at its very finest, and completely in contrary to the style that has brought Sydney much more success in recent years compared to the prior three decades.
There’s no doubting Buddy’s a sensational player, but the Swans have put too many eggs in his basket.
Scott Gumbleton – Essendon to Fremantle/Xavier Ellis – Hawthorn to West Coast
I don’t dislike either of these trades; in fact, they’re solid moves by both West Australian clubs and fill holes that needed to be filled. But I just get the feeling that one of them won’t work out. Gumbleton and Ellis have a lot in common: they’re both top five draft picks with lots of talent, who’ve had their careers seriously hampered by injuries.
Clearly, the risk factor for players with significant injury histories is high, but these two both deserve some long-term success. And that’s the only positive thing I’ll write about a West Coast player all season.