Had conversations gone only slightly differently, David Hale would this week be playing his 200th game for Melbourne against Greater Western Sydney. In which case things would have gone very very differently for Hale. And Hawthorn. And Melbourne.
Hale toured the Melbourne facilities, met Dean Bailey, and was enticed by the options. He had played VFL for most of his last season at North Melbourne and was playing VFL finals when he spoke with Melbourne, and soon after went for the full presentation at the club. He appeared set to become a Demon until Hawthorn came knocking. ‘‘Obviously at that time Melbourne were very keen,’’ he said. ‘‘They were a few weeks ahead of Hawthorn in talking to me. I had pretty much decided I needed to leave North, so it was a matter of where I was to go.
‘‘I spoke to Melbourne and obviously Gold Coast [he is originally from the Gold Coast] but at that stage of my career they were just starting up and not going to play finals for a while and then Hawthorn came into it and you looked at the gap in the ruck and you could slot in next to Roughy [Jarryd Roughead] and Buddy [Lance Franklin] in the forward line, so when you broke it down it was a pretty easy decision.
‘‘Your football journey becomes a lot different if you go to Melbourne in the last few years. It worked out pretty well for me.’’
It was an easy sell to Hale. Hawthorn as a destination was also an easy sell for North Melbourne – it had the floating Campbell Brown compensation pick which trumped Melbourne’s best offer. [North took the quick small forward Kieran Harper with the pick].
Hale had been a forward-ruck at North, was recruited as a ruck who might play forward for Hawthorn, and became a premiership forward who relieved in the ruck.
He has proved critical in rounding out the Hawthorn forward and ruck divisions. As a bona fide ruck and forward he is the rarest of commodities.
Hale is, coincidentally with Mitch Clark at Melbourne, about the most adept forward at playing ruck or blending the two.
At Hawthorn was the second stage of the deliberate targeted top-up – loosely Moneyball – policy that began in 2009 with Shaun Burgoyne and Josh Gibson, and continued in 2011 with Jack Gunston and 2012 with Brian Lake. Premiership players all.
Last summer it was Ben McEvoy the man whose arrival ensured Hale’s now entrenched forward-first then ruck role was not flipped over to send him to the centre square first.
‘‘Even though he has outstanding ruck attributes and is a very good ruckman in his own right, he has been more one than the other,’’ said a Hawthorn insider. Hale kicked 20 goals in 24 games last year.
He still took his time to settle at Hawthorn and disconnect from the idea after 129 games at North, that he was a North player.
‘‘I think the first pre-season and six months I still said ‘we’ about North when I was talking about ‘them’, so it took time to get my head around it,’’ he said. ‘‘When I got to Hawthorn I was injured and didn’t play for the first 10 games and when you get to a club you just want to play seniors and prove yourself and show your value. Once I got in the team and was a permanent member, the North Melbourne stuff stopped pretty quick.
‘‘It was the only injury I have had in my time at Hawthorn and it was when I arrived and you are trying to fit in and we had just had our first child, so it was a pretty dramatic time in our lives. Now I have just signed a contract for another year, things are good.’’
Things might though have been very different for Hale, Hawthorn ... and Melbourne.