IF THERE was a club that seemed made for the new, ruthless business of free agency, it was surely Carlton.
The Blues have long been a rapacious club that likes to take players - and coaches, administrators and even stockmarket shares, if necessary - from others. They love their own, but they also love to pull off a deal; at significant moments in their history, they've revived their stocks by purloining someone - Ron Barassi, Chris Judd, Greg Williams, David Parkin, and while Mick Malthouse was a free agent, he's still in that category of a big-ticket Carlton acquisition.
Yet, at the close of free agent trading, Carlton hasn't bought a single player. The Blues have behaved like Geelong, which traditionally grows its own and is conservative in chasing mature players, while the Cats, interestingly, have been more like the old dark Navy Blues in their lust for players who might keep them thereabouts.
How did these clubs trade places? Well, it's not as though the Blues wouldn't have minded a raid or two. They just didn't have sufficient room in their salary cap, and were also tight for positions on their senior list. The decision to re-contract Robbie Warnock limited their options.
There's also a long-standing reluctance of new coaches to make major changes until they've made a complete audit of the playing list's capabilities. Malthouse wanted to have a close look before reaching for the sword.
The Blues think their list is in decent shape, albeit they recognise that their key-position players (Jarrad Waite, Michael Jamison, Matthew Kreuzer and maybe even Lachie Henderson) are often hurt. Thus, they would have liked Quinten Lynch as a support forward, but the Pies pushed harder for Lynch, in the knowledge that they were giving Chris Dawes the shove.
At the close of the free agency portion of trade month, the Blues have - sensibly - eschewed trading for trading's sake.There's still a week of trading, but a major deal is improbable. Lynch aside, there were few players who fitted their needs anyway.
The Cats, meanwhile, were more like the dog who performs a particular ritual. They traded because they can. For the first time in several years they had a large hole in the salary cap, created in part by retirements but also by a new veteran's allowance rule that handed them several hundred grand extra to spend on the here and now. Geelong will not go gentle into the good night. The Cats have spent the past three years stockpiling kids - helped by Gary Ablett's exit - and, as Brian Cook noted, have a list divided between old and young.
Josh Caddy is really like a semi-proven draftee, while Hamish McIntosh and Jared Rivers are replacing Brad Ottens and Matthew Scarlett; they're not as good as that triple premiership pair, but the Cats hope they're good enough. McIntosh is clearly a gamble.
Collingwood was the most creative club in terms of combining free agency with trading to produce what - provided the free agents aren't hurt - was an excellent yield. Dawes is replaced by Lynch, Sharrod Wellingham by Clinton Young, whose exit was a sign of the way both clubs and players will make hard-headed business decisions. ''Player movement is a reality in the free agency market,'' said Alastair Clarkson in response. The Hawks needed Brian Lake more than Young, who chose a three-year contract with fewer strings attached. For Collingwood to net two top 21 picks, while finding free replacements was the result of a well-executed strategy.
The Pies went for Young and young. The former's arrival prompts a thought on football's capricious nature: Would he be a Collingwood player if he hadn't fallen over in the goal square late in the grand final?