WHEN the AFL coaches gathered at Gillon McLachlan's $3.6m South Melbourne property last August they did more than just marvel at the new league boss' Georgian terrace.
Over dinner, they discussed the implementation of a mid-season draft and mini-trade period ... as early as next season, if approved by the commission.
The issue was back on the agenda in a more public forum recently, for two different reasons: One, a team (West Coast) lost its two key defenders (Eric McKenzie and Mitch Brown) to season-ending injuries, and two, it became apparent a young player (James Aish) was enduring a wasted year because he's unhappy at his club (Brisbane).
The AFL last conducted a mid-year draft back in 1993, giving clubs a chance to plug some holes with state-level stars such as eventual 200-gamer Daryn Cresswell, who was plucked by the Swans from Tassie. Trade periods, though, have always been confined to season's end.
Backing an in-season 'meat market', former player manager Ricky Nixon says it "should be three days", Richmond coach Damien Hardwick reckons it "should just start when it normally starts in October and have a cut-off point at the 30th of May", while Collingwood premiership skipper Nick Maxwell believes "it's time that we can trade at any time".
Whatever length, it would open the door for an injury-hit team such as the Eagles to restock on the run with necessary replacements, say West Australian tall defender Tayte Pears, who can't get a game at Essendon.
It would also allow Brisbane to cut its losses and send Aish either home to Port Adelaide, maybe for out-of-favour forward John Butcher, or down to Carlton to (re)gain marking target Lachie Henderson.
Not every coach was a fan of the concept, however, with Geelong's Chris Scott saying "to have a safety net there takes away a little bit from the art of list management", which was my thought a couple of years back.
One of a clubs' great challenges is getting their playing lists battle-ready before the season, and having contingency plans in place for injuries to key players.
That, for instance, is why there's a rookie list now open to players of any age.
Prime example is James Podsiadly, who was rookie-listed by Geelong at age 28 in 2010 to provide it with depth. And when Adelaide knew it was going to be without Taylor Walker for a large chunk of 2014, it recruited him from the Cats as cover.
Coming from low down on a list to act as a fill-in can be the making of a player.
When Crows full forward Scott Hodges went down at the start of the 1993 season, little-known Tony Modra was called up. By round 19 'Mods' was booting his 100th goal.
And while Brown and McKenzie are sidelined for the Eagles, Jeremy McGovern has made his mark down back and been pivotal to his side now sitting second.
If anything, I'd rather see December's pre-season draft scrapped, especially after just one player - Jason Tutt (Carlton) - was involved last year, and replaced with a short season-eve top-up period.
With Jono Freeman, Jackson Paine and Luke McGuane all suffering summer setbacks, Brisbane certainly could've benefited from an 11th-hour replacement service just before round one.
Forward must rise from Aishes
BRISBANE Lions may have erred in taking James Aish, part of South Australian football royalty, in the 2013 national draft.
But after the midfielder was talked up as a possible top-three selection, the Lions had to pounce when he was still available at their pick seven.
Aish, though, looks to already have one foot out the door, and it will now be up to the Lions to get the best deal for him in October.
As good as their young crop of key forwards promise to be, the Lions still need a more experienced man in attack.
As established stars, Gold Coast's Charlie Dixon and Carlton's former Lion Lachie Henderson are the main targets.
Other options could be:
Daniel Gorringe (Gold Coast)Played only 22 games in five years, and probably won't be going home to SA after criticising the Power after a failed trade bid last season.
John Butcher (Port Adelaide) Played round one, for a total of 24 games in five years, but is back on the outer. Seems there's no room with Justin Westhoff and Paddy Ryder playing.
Sam Grimley (Hawthorn) Topped the VFL goalkicking last season, before being delisted and then rookie-listed by the Hawks. Has played three senior games in six years.
Jack Redpath (Bulldogs) A 100kg bulldozing behemoth may struggle for much senior action if Jake Stringer, Tom Boyd and Stewart Crameri are all up and about.
Liam McBean (Richmond ) Drafted in 2012, the 202cm beanpole is still yet to debut, despite Richmond's scoring woes. Currently heads the VFL goalkicking this year.
Ty Vickery (Richmond) Former top-10 draft pick doesn't have a lot of fans - and coach Damien Hardwick probably isn't one, instead favouring Ben Griffiths - but can mark and kick goals.Any one of these would head north with their own degree of baggage, but both parties could benefit from some time in the sun.
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