With trade period in full swing, it’s difficult to not reflect on what happened to me this time 12 years ago.
After being drafted by the Tigers, and spending the first seven years there, I identified that a fresh start was required, but that entire process was so daunting to even contemplate.
I had a bit of a horror year in 2004 and I’d come to the end of my contract at Richmond. Spud had been sacked leading into the last month and my form was probably a bit reflective of the season that we had.
I broke my ankle and finished the year injured. At the end of the season, I’d come to a crossroads in my career and I felt like that was a good time to consider moving on from Richmond to extend my career elsewhere.
I received some really good advice from my manager Dan Richardson in that off-season. He said to me that I needed to make the decision first on whether I wanted to leave Richmond. That process probably took about week after the season had concluded. He said to make that decision first and not really worry about who I wanted to go to just yet.
After that call was made, it was up to me to consider where I might want to go, based upon who was interested in me. Sydney and Geelong were the two clubs that had shown the most interest and had an opening for a position that I could fill.
I went up to Sydney and had a few beers with a few of their boys who had been knocked out by St Kilda in a semi-final. I had a similar meeting with the Geelong boys including Brian Cooke, Stephen Wells and Mark Thompson.
It was a really tough call to make because both teams were in a strong position. From my perspective, I had to select the one I thought would offer the best chance for me and then just hope that everything worked out during the trade period.
After a lot of thought, I chose Geelong because of the list and because the town really appealed to me based on where I was at with my life at the time. It was then in the hands of Geelong, Richmond and a few other clubs to agree on a deal. It was a bit of process, that’s for sure.
The trade period was a lot shorter back then, it was over the space of about four or five days. My trade was left right up until the last day, but I was always confident that it would happen, it was just a couple of chess pieces that needed to be moved.
I must have been pretty naïve at the time, because I just thought that the clubs would get a deal done, so there was no contingency plan if a deal wasn’t struck. I went down to the Cats to have a medical and when I saw Bomber he looked pretty stressed.
He said that they would need to lose someone to get me and I know that Andrew Mackie’s name was thrown in there, and clearly, they didn’t want to lose him.
Funnily enough, Mackie was one of the blokes who I became really close with when I walked into the club. Over the years, we definitely made a few references to the fact that he might have been traded to make room for me.
A year or two prior, Jade Rawlings had a bit of a disaster trying to get to North Melbourne, and ultimately, he had to go into the draft and he ended up at the Western Bulldogs.
Around that time, there’d been a few drafts that hadn’t worked out the way some of the parties would have liked, so that was a factor in my mind.
As it got closer to the day, I started to get pretty nervous, but Geelong kept assuring me that the deal would get done. Sure enough, I got the call to come down to the club and put the jumper on for a few photos.
Going down to Geelong is a little bit like moving interstate from Melbourne, so I was lucky in that regard when it came to backlash after requesting to leave.
Because of that, I was probably unaware of the scrutiny that comes about due to high-profile trades, so leading into the pre-season was just business as usual. Once the season rolled around, the pressure grew because of mine and the team’s performances in the first couple of seasons.
At the time, it was more confronting than I had previously thought it would be.
The transition from disappointment to success
How did things turn around for us at the Cats? I’ve been asked this question a lot and I still don’t really know the answer. It was a combination of a number of things – we had some strong leaders, we had a group of players that had grown up and come through the system together.
It would be fair to say that 2006 was a real disaster for us because we just couldn’t get it right on the field. That meant the off-season was incredibly unnerving and stressful.
It was a strange time because during the offseason, there was talk that Bomber was hanging on by a thread after a tense review process after we played like a rabble in 2006.
From my memory, we took our two months and got some space from the footy club. We all knew something was going on and that the process was taking place, but it wasn’t until afterwards that we realised how in-depth Brian Cooke went with it.
I left Richmond looking to play in team success, and we’d fallen short, to the extent where the 2006 season mirrored what occurred at Richmond in some respects. I was probably thinking that we could hopefully turn it all around after that review system, without exactly knowing how much went into it.
Being the strong club that Geelong has always been, thankfully they stuck with the staff that were already there, and we came out of a tough time bigger and better for it.
We had a meeting early in 2007 when we were beaten by North Melbourne down in Geelong because it had shades of 2006 just repeating itself.
Kenny Hinkley instigated a meeting down in the rooms and told us quite sternly that we didn’t realise the opportunity and the position we were in.
It was a confronting, face-to-face meeting where he pulled players up on some things. From that day on, we went on to win 17 straight. The leaders of the group really came into their own and we moved forward.
Ironically, the next week we beat my old team by 157 points in what was a line-in-the-sand kind of moment.
The Leading Teams mechanism really helped us through a number of challenges, because I think we were a really selfish group leading into our dominant period. For whatever reason, we managed to sit down and turn our heads in the right direction. Not only did we play good footy, we became a really strong team.
When I sit back and reflect on my career, I realise just how lucky I was to be a part of that team, because making finals seemed like it was a mountain to climb when I was at Richmond.
In the successful years at Geelong, it just felt like we were going to win most weeks. It’s not very often that guys can play part of their career in that frame of mind. It wasn’t an arrogance thing; we just knew that we were a hard team to beat.
If we played the way we expected, we’d be hard to beat. Footy is pretty enjoyable when you play like that.
I reflect on it a bit these days, and feel fortunate to be part of such a strong club in a strong period.
Things have improved significantly for the players
Clubs probably aren’t as happy with the system now, especially when you compare it to what happened in the late 90s and early 2000s, but the free agent mechanisms that have come into place are definitely great for the game.
We all love seeing players play 200 games at one club, and that will still happen, but it had become quite hard for players to move clubs at one stage. Now, it’s a lot easier.
We also don’t like seeing players continuously moving clubs, and that might be the case a little more, but it had to even up where players who were after opportunities elsewhere were granted that choice.
Guys were previously stuck and languishing at clubs where their services weren’t required, but they just stayed there.
The system is pretty right at the moment. The trade period is long which can allow for some crazy stuff to occur. Free agency is pretty even for everyone which is healthy.
Not so long ago, certain aspects suited the club a lot more, whereas now it seems that the power has shifted slightly to a more even playing field for club and player.
The Sam Mitchell trade is a great example of that, where three parties had a discussion and were able to come up with an agreement that suited all.
Careers only last so long and players need to have the chance to make the most of it. Long ago, players would have liked to have left a club, but they may have been afraid of the process and the uncertainty of it.
Accountability is required on both sides and we’re getting that now.
I look back fondly, but back then it was the toughest decision I’d ever made being just 25.
It’s exciting to see guys right now changing clubs and the new starts that they get, as confronting as it can be for all involved.
So often you see players who change clubs and they play their best footy after their trade. The challenge of meeting your new teammates and coaches can bring the best out of yourself.