What?s old is new: Brisbane?s Tom Rockliff (left) is a young player going places, whereas Brendan Fevola?s time in Brisbane proved more a second going than a second coming. Photo: Digitally altered imageWe hear a lot in the AFL about the natural evolution of football, particularly in recent times as an argument against too many sweeping rule changes.
It’s a conversation primarily about game styles, but AFL football evolves in all sorts of ways and, at present, we’re also seeing a rapid transformation of philosophies towards list management. This is not only about clubs’ greater preparedness to recruit players recycled from other clubs, but about how quickly an inadequate list can be turned into a decent one.
There’s no better flag-waver for the recycled philosophy than reigning premier Sydney, which this season picked up 11 players from the senior or rookie lists of AFL rivals.
The Brisbane Lions’ progress through this pre-season’s NAB Cup may also prompt a rethink about the supposed dangers of dipping into football’s ”used car yard” and the allegedly dire consequences of getting it wrong.
”Buyer beware” was the popular slogan about Brisbane 18 months ago as the Lions crashed to one of their lowest ebbs, finishing 15th of 17 teams with just four wins.
Indeed, coach Michael Voss’ gamble on a raft of players from other clubs at the end of the 2009 season might well remain one of the most spectacular misjudgments the modern game has seen. It’s certainly hard to think of a worse advertisement for trade pick-ups.
Half-a-dozen (including the delisted Matt Maguire) were shipped in all at once for 2010, the former Saint’s new teammates being Brendan Fevola, Andrew Raines, Xavier Clarke, Amon Buchanan and Brent Staker.
As has been well documented, Fevola brought Brisbane only a ton of trouble. Clarke played one game, Buchanan 18 in three years while, of the other trio, only Staker had any immediate impact.
Six potential selections of talented teenagers at the national draft table had been given up for a speculative punt on the next couple of years.
That claim looks patently silly now and not just because the Lions are about to contest a pre-season grand final or because they finished 13th last year with 10 wins – an usually high tally for that spot.
This is as much about the layers of talent Brisbane has been able to gradually add to the point where finals campaigns seem likely for the next few years, than the memory of that ill-fated topping up growing more distant.
Daniel Rich, Jack Redden and Rockliff are now well-known Brisbane names and established keys to the Lions’ success, but Voss and co have continued to push new faces – both youthful and a couple a little older – into the system with some impact.
It’s quite a roll call now beyond the three R’s. Dayne Zorko was a revelation last year at half-forward, as was Mitch Golby off half-back before he was injured. Jared Polec began to find his feet after a slowish introduction to AFL football and Claye Beams has shown plenty in between injuries in only 13 games.
Those four can be expected to improve further this season, along with two whose pre-season signs have looked particularly encouraging – a lightning quick small forward in Josh Green and a hard runner in Rohan Bewick who, as he showed against Collingwood, can also kick goals.
Then there’s a couple of wildcards in Patrick Karnezis and Aaron Cornelius, the former seemingly ready to become a bona fide midfielder with a touch of class, the latter starting to deliver more up forward than cameos.
To top it off, what remains of the foreign legion from the end of 2009 is still capable of pitching in; Raines a reliable run-with player, Maguire coming off his best year since his early St Kilda days, and Staker ready to contribute again after a couple of injury-ravaged seasons.
It’s a bright future barely visible at the end of 2011 when it appeared Voss’ cards would forever be marked by those recruiting indiscretions and by the perception of having overrated his list. Perhaps, though, in hindsight, he merely got a little ahead of himself in developmental terms.
Rich, Redden, Rockliff and Cornelius were already there when Brisbane went the senior player route. As poor as the Lions’ player choices seemed post the 2009 draft, the 2010 recruiting period alone might in time come to be seen as more than making up for it, delivering Polec, Karnezis, Green, Beams, Bewick and Ryan Lester.
Brisbane now has a list that in terms of games experience ranks eighth but in age terms is 12th, with 28 of 39 senior-listed players aged 24 or younger.
They’re a nice mix of numbers for any club, youthful experience a prize outcome. But also more evidence, as Brisbane sets its sights on 2013, that even a serious injury sustained at the AFL trade table need not be fatal.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.