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The Age

Dons' Operation McPhee

Author: Emma Quayle
Date: 21/08/2004
Words: 1050
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 4
Essendon always wanted Adam McPhee, but it took three clubs to get him, reports Emma Quayle.

Would Fremantle have freed Adam McPhee so easily had the club known then what it would see this season? Possibly not.

"The general consensus around Fremantle was that he'd probably go on to play 150 games," coach Chris Connolly said this week. "What we know now is that they're going to be 150 very good games. If you had your time again, you'd never give up a player like Adam McPhee quickly."

That said, the Dockers did not believe they were discarding a dud when they realised 18 months ago that the only way to get Des Headland home was to send McPhee to his own state of origin. At the end of the 2002 trade period, Fremantle chief executive Cameron Schwab posted an 800-word explanation on the Dockerland supporter website's message board, emphasising Headland had been an "absolute priority" but conceding the club had given "a little more than we had hoped" for Brisbane's homesick midfielder.

Schwab wrote that some "mid-range players", such as Essendon's Cory McGrath, had almost been drawn into the three-club deal, and bemoaned the club's inability to trade into the third round of that year's draft because of salary cap penalties, and, after using most of the message to rationalise Leigh Brown's move to the Kangaroos, logged on again to explain why McPhee had gone, too.

"I should have mentioned Adam McPhee specifically," Schwab wrote.

"He was integral to the Headland deal, but we are aware that we are trading a player who is likely to go and play a lot of AFL football. As I said, we had to give a lot to get the Headland trade finalised."

In truth, McPhee would probably have found his way to Windy Hill even had he not joined Headland, Blake Caracella and Damian Cupido - all former first-round draft picks - and the selections that would spawn Jared Brennan, just-blooded Bomber ruckman Jason Laycock and untried Docker Ryan Crowley.

Then an injury-stricken 25-gamer, McPhee might have been the lowest-profile link in the trade, but as Connolly explained, the deal would not have happened were it not for Essendon's intent on getting him.

The Bombers had hoped to draft the unfashionable full-back from the Dandenong Stingrays as a 17-year-old, but expected he would survive until later in the 2000 draft than he did. So they opted for James Davies (now on their rookie list), Jordan Bannister (now at Carlton) and Sam Hunt (struggling to break into the senior team) with its first three picks, and watched the Dockers grab McPhee at No. 39.

As soon as his first contract with Fremantle expired, Bombers recruiting manager Adrian Dodoro met the teenager and his parents in the Carlton offices of IMG: when the trade period started soon afterwards, he was Essendon's primary target, the club understanding its need to replace Caracella, Chris Heffernan and Justin Blumfield with inexpensive but ready-to-play youngsters.

The club did not so much jump into dealings between Brisbane and Fremantle as steer them, directing the negotiations between the Dockers and Lions that had stalled because, while Fremantle had high draft picks, it could not produce a player of enough experience and ability to suit the Lions.

"Brisbane had the high ground because they had Dessie and we were kind of desperate because we were the young team," explained Connolly.

"But Essendon drove the deal. The first team we met at Optus Oval at the start of trade week was Essendon, and they put the deal on the table. They said, 'Here's the deal we want you all to consider'. They kind of came from nowhere, but Brisbane wanted experienced players and we didn't have any.

"Essendon came in as the third leg and helped us get Des. They were strong. They wanted Adam, and the deal was basically built on the back of him. He ended up becoming the key component of the whole thing."

But while the Bombers agreed to deliver only Heffernan, then Caracella, if they got McPhee, the Dockers might still have found themselves answering the "how did they let him go?" question with even more sweat this year.

Fremantle offered McPhee a two-year deal at the end of 2002 for minimal money, but ranked him outside their first 25 players.

While Connolly included him in the group of players he ultimately felt would bring his young team together, even he has been surprised by how quickly he has sharpened almost every aspect of his game. "I think Essendon would be, too," he said.

"He's evolved into a top-level player quickly, but you've got to make decisions that are hopefully in the best interests of everyone.

"He'll end up a leader at Essendon, but we wanted Des and Des is going to be a terrific player for Fremantle."

Still, were it not for Headland, it seems the Bombers would still have got their man.

While the Dockers would have kept McPhee - and he would have been happy to stay, said his manager, Liam Pickering - the club was equally content to let him leave.

"Adam had one side coming at 100 miles an hour saying, 'We'll definitely play you', and the other side saying, 'The opportunities will be limited'. It was an easy choice and Freo was going to cop whatever it was for him," Pickering said.

"I'm not sure what they say now, but they were going to release him regardless, for a selection of some sort. Looking back now, you can't really have a go at Freo, because Adam hadn't played well, but we would have got that deal done anyway.

"Once he made his decision, they weren't going to stand in his way."

ESSENDON - ADAM McPHEE, 33

HOW THE DEAL WAS DONE

BRISBANE LIONS

GAVE UP: Damian Cupido, Des Headland.

RECEIVED: Blake Caracella (29 games with this club), draft pick 3 (Jared Brendan, 16 games), pick 19 (Tony Selwood, 0 games).

ESSENDON

GAVE UP: Blake Caracella, pick 55.

RECEIVED: Adam McPhee (44 games), Damian Cupido (27 games), pick 15 (traded to Melbourne with Chris Heffernan for pick 10 - Jason Laycock, 2 games).

FREMANTLE

GAVE UP: Adam McPhee, pick 3, pick 19.

RECEIVED: Des Headland (40 games), pick 55 (Ryan Crowley, 0 games).

 
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