October 18, 2023

Why this version of the trade circus has Buckley’s chance of transforming clubs’ fortunes

By Jake Niall
Updated October 18, 2023 — 10.20pmfirst published at 9.07pm
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If the frenzied interest in the AFL’s annual trade circus derives from the hope that it gives fans, you should know that this year’s over-souped version has Buckley’s chance of transforming the fortunes of clubs.

On exposed form, there does not appear to be a game-changer who has changed clubs. Brodie Grundy, as a two-time All-Australian, is the most decorated player to move (to Sydney) and Lachie Schultz might be the most productive player lately to move to a contender (Collingwood), but there isn’t a deal in the same postcode of Geelong landing Patrick Dangerfield and Jeremy Cameron, the Tigers purloining Tom Lynch and the Demons grabbing Steven May from a vulnerable Gold Coast.

Taylor Adams and Brodie Grundy will be excellent additions at Sydney.Credit: The Age

No player commanded a top 10 draft pick in a trade. Schultz, who cost Collingwood a future first rounder, was the only player swapped outright for a first-round selection (Carlton gaining a late first rounder, now pick 22, as part of a multi-pick trading of Zac Fisher to North).

Hawthorn and Essendon were probably the biggest players, in terms of transactions. The Hawks will field a vastly different forward line next year, with Jack Ginnivan at the feet of Mabior Chol and Jack Gunston, the latter returning to his old club 12 months after leaving.

Essendon gained three free agents, two of them in their prime years (Ben McKay and Jade Gresham), to fill urgent needs. Fittingly, the Bombers were one of the last pair of clubs engaged in brinkmanship in what was Adrian Dodoro’s last stand as list impresario (Dodoro suggested he’ll still be around, though).

And they “won” the stand-off with Port Adelaide, if you judge that deal purely on who got what they demanded, with Port not getting the future second rounder in the swap of Xavier Duursma for Brandon Zerk-Thatcher.

Duursma didn’t deliver this year, but he has more upside, in this column’s view, than BZT. Port were right to ask for a half-decent pick.

This year, the player movement industrial complex suffered a downturn. There were many more blogs and journos seeking small bits of information, like seagulls descending on scraps of bread, than meaningful trades.


The trades have been a hit show for several years, because as Craig Hutchison – a driver of the NBA-style flood of trade media content – observed some years ago, they’re the game’s answer to The Shawshank Redemption, representing hope to all.

Jade Gresham has made the switch to the Bombers.Credit: Essendon FC

But the show slumped this year, in part because the clubs did not know what the salary cap would be (it ended up a 10 per cent increase) for this year until the season was over, as the AFL dawdled in negotiations with the player union. They couldn’t make room when they didn’t know what was available, and they contracted better players accordingly.

The draft, too, was widely viewed as weak, so no one wanted to trade into it.

That said, no one would’ve thought that Bobby Hill would be a Norm Smith medallist when he was traded by the Giants last year, when Tom Mitchell (and Jaeger O’Meara) also defected from the Hawks, who were – rightly – clearing out midfield minutes for Will Day and Conor Nash.

So, while the trades aren’t big ones, it’s worth asking if there’s a Bobby Hill – a relatively cheap acquisition who turns into a jewel – from among the younger or mid-career players who’ve shifted.


Carlton landed Elijah Hollands cheaply and, as a former pick No.7 who had injuries and then was behind other midfielders at Gold Coast, he is the kind of player who might bring more than his modest draft return suggests.

Liam Henry, who went to St Kilda after a tussle for his services, is another young forward drafted in the first round who has upside if the Saints can unlock his obvious talent. The Hawks, from what they’ve said – and by handing him a four-year deal – think Ginnivan has that possibility for growth.

But they’re all maybes. There are more question marks than players who will prove the answer.

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Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.Connect via Twitter or email.


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