The political layers beneath Melbourne’s poorly timed decision to apply for a 2014 priority pick appear as complex as the national draft that the AFL is working to simplify.
On the face of it, the Demons looked a little foolish on Monday. Dare we say but the strategy indicated a lack of direction as stark as the horror show that unfolded at the MCG against Greater Western Sydney last Sunday.
The club put its hand up for compensation barely one week after coach Paul Roos had pointed his finger at a system that rewarded mediocrity in discussing how tanking for draft picks had poisoned Melbourne’s culture.
Added to which Melbourne has already received a direct line of seven-figure funding from head office to pay out a series of unworkable contracts, a chief executive installed by the AFL and the highest-paid coach in the competition.
The scenario added up to one as ill-judged as last-year’s priority pick bid, which came less than a year after Melbourne was punished for tanking.
Not only is the AFL attempting to create a more even draft but football boss Mark Evans made it clear this week that the priority selection had been retained only for use in dire circumstances – more drastic than that facing the hapless Demons. Evans even referred to human tragedies such as the death of a player.
The AFL Commission meets on Monday but the indications are that this comes too soon for Melbourne to be an agenda item. More realistically, the Demons will push their case when the commission meets next month during grand final week.
The club has argued it now boasts a more stable and better-qualified environment to make better use of any improvement to its list. Certainly Roos has extended his commitment to the end of 2016 and the club is interviewing candidates with a view to succession planning beyond Roos.
But Peter Jackson’s future as CEO remains unclear. Contractually his time is up in October and it seems bizarre that the club would apply for a priority pick in a less than stable administrative environment. Club president Glen Bartlett told The Age: ‘‘We’re in talks at the moment but we won’t be making any further comment on contracts.’’
Jackson has said he, too, hoped to put in place an executive succession plan, with a strong internal candidate as Melbourne’s next CEO once his time was up. He did as much at Essendon with Travis Auld, but the club chose to head-hunt Ian Robson instead and Auld is now headed for a top job at the AFL via a successful five years as boss of Gold Coast.
It would make sense that Jackson remained along with Roos and surely that situation will be made clear either way by the time the commission deliberates on the priority pick bid. No one at Melbourne appears prepared to explain the delay over a decision on Jackson.
And the plot thickens with the impending departure of James Frawley. It now appears that the Demons will lose their key defender for little in the way of compensation just months after losing their big forward Mitch Clark – Melbourne traded pick No.12 to secure him – to a long-term illness for no compensation.
If it is correct that Frawley could finish up at Geelong or Hawthorn for a similar contract to that which Melbourne is offering, then it is no wonder free agency is on the nose. All the coaches who attended AFL chief Gillon McLachlan’s dinner last month made their disdain known for the system. The gap between the rich and poor clubs will surely widen if the trend of players leaving bottom-four clubs for top-four clubs for similar money continues.
Worse for Melbourne is the fact that Frawley’s past and future contracts could be structured in a manner that would earn the club relatively poor compensation and not the automatic first-round choice that has been mooted.
The evidence is mounting there is more than meets the eye in Melbourne’s decision to put forward what seemed an audacious and seemingly ambit bid for list improvement off the back of a second hopeless on-field performance. This seems as much about compensation for Frawley and even Clark as it does about a priority pick.