Marc Murphy. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
RON Barassi was mocked when he unveiled a five-year plan for Melbourne in the early '80s. The five-year plan was fine for Chairman Mao, but to the impatient football fan, it seemed an intolerably long time span for seeking a premiership.
Yet, in 2012, five years undersells the period it takes to build a premiership from scratch. On recent trends, it takes a minimum of seven or eight years to win a premiership if a club doesn't have a strong base of ''residual'' senior players on which to build.
In round one, we were reminded of how far Melbourne and Richmond still have to travel on their journey to premiership contention, much less to a drought-breaking flag. The Demons really began their total rebuild in 2008 when they bottomed out; Richmond, which had even fewer senior players who might be around for the good times, were probably in year zero when Damien Hardwick took over in 2009 and half a dozen veterans were culled. The Tigers, fortunately, had already uncovered three pillars in Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio and Jack Riewoldt.
Thus, unless free agency dramatically accelerates the cycles, the Demons and Tigers will not be in contention for a flag until 2015 at best, and that's assuming they make the right calls; Melbourne arguably has been pushed back another year or two by losing Tom Scully, since the first-round draft picks the Demons received for Scully have yet to be utilised - that will happen in this year's draft, when they pick up father-son recruit Jack Viney.
When Mark Thompson arrived at Geelong after the 1999 season, the Cats had a declining core. By the time they'd smashed Port in the 2007 grand final, en route to an extraordinary era, only five players from that 1999 list remained in the premiership 22: Matthew Scarlett, Tom Harley, David Wojcinski, Darren Milburn and former captain Steven King.
''Certainly Geelong's experience was seven years [until contention],'' said Cats football operations chief Neil Balme. ''That's probably as good an indication.''
Carlton bottomed out in 2002 and 2003, but were denied early draft picks in those years (with the exception of one choice) due to the draconian penalties for salary cap cheating; hence, for the Blues, year zero didn't arrive until 2005, when Marc Murphy and Josh Kennedy were selected at picks No. 1 and No. 4 in the same draft. Seven years have passed, Bryce Gibbs, Matthew Kreuzer, Chris Yarran and Chris Judd have joined Murphy (with Kennedy traded for Judd) and, for the first time in more than a decade, the Blues are regarded as a bona fide flag contender.
Carlton was similar to the Tigers and Demons in that it didn't have much of a foundation of senior players, or even 22 to 23-year-olds, on whom to construct a contending team.
This is in contrast to Hawthorn, which won the 2008 premiership in year four for Alastair Clarkson, Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Jordan Lewis. The Hawks, however, had actually started the process in 2001, when they traded Trent Croad, picked up Luke Hodge with pick No. 1 and pulled off a blinder by selecting a small, slow VFL midfielder called Sam Mitchell.
That flag team was equally divided 11-11 between players from Peter Schwab's five-year term as coach and Clarkson's. Collingwood, which lost grand finals in 2002-03, dived down - some would say semi-intentionally - in 2005 and snared Dale Thomas and Scott Pendlebury. The Pies are seen by rival clubs as a different case, having a longer chronological spread of players, over a decade, while adding Darren Jolly and Luke Ball and expediting their premiership.
Jolly and Ball were tantamount to free-agent acquisitions, which raises the question - and hope for the Tigers, Demons and even the new expansion clubs - that the process can be sped up by free agency. ''These are things that may well change with the freeing up of the market,'' said Balme.