In a level 12 apartment overlooking the Yarra River at Melbourne’s Docklands a small posse of football aficionados have assembled.
The backdrop is picturesque. A large white ferry approaches the pier, the skipper announcing its imminent berth with a blaring burst on the vessel’s horn.
Rowers synchronise the strokes of their oars, in time with the rhythm being called via megaphone on an accompanying tinnie.
The dozen or so people perched high above the picture-perfect setting are not distracted by a waterscape that would make a lovely sms to loved ones at home.
Their eyes are fixed on a stout figure at the front of the lounge room, a whiteboard at his side; sheets of paper in his hands. Just as the paddlers are striking the Yarra’s surface with precision timing, Rohan O’Brien is looking for synergy, alignment.
It’s the NAB AFL Draft day. And those assembled understand the degree of responsibility they will have about 10 hours later.
This is the West Coast Eagles recruiting team. They have been scouting the 18-year-old hopefuls for a number of years. The draft comes around every year and each year it’s important, but this one is critical.
After a forgettable season, the Eagles have access to the high-end talent.
O’Brien, the List and National Recruiting Manager, is measured and calm as he recites the list of names on the whiteboard bearing 50-odd magnetic name tags. It’s the order this group has established after watching countless games around the country – in the National 18s championships, the NAB League in Victoria and all other State-based competitions.
O’Brien, wispy, mousy brown mop nestling above wide rimmed glasses, perched on his nose. Some wags on social media have suggested he bears a resemblance to Elton John. It’s no stretch.
He quizzes his colleagues as to whether they remain content with their predicted order. They are aligned. He then throws it open for discussion around possible scenarios. The Eagles have two prized first-round selections at eight and 12, although they expect it to change.
They have GWS taking quality young forward Aaron Cadman at pick one. They then anticipate North Melbourne will nominate outstanding midfielder Will Ashcroft, who has indicated he would like to play at Brisbane, where his father Marcus was a premiership star two decades ago.
By calling his name, the Roos will force Brisbane to match their bid or see Ashcroft make his way to Arden Street. The Lions will commit points – the draft and trade currency – towards securing the rising star.
It means every selection thereafter will push back a spot, so the Eagles’ first pick will likely fall to No.9 in the ballot. Strategically little changes, just the number.
The group throws around the permutations, including the possibility of a rival/s selecting a youngster somewhere out of left-field. That can – and often does – happen. Talent is in the eye of the beholder.
They toss around the knock-on effects of such possibilities and the impact it might have on the club’s first selection. They look at it from every possible angle; the level of detail is engrossing.
After a considered discussion, O’Brien calls the assembly to a close. They will continue to mull it over through the afternoon before re-engaging to stroll across to Marvel Stadium for the 7pm draft.
During the day a whisper circulates that Melbourne is keen to jump up the draft order and have made a significant pitch to Essendon to trade into pick No.4. Should that happen it could be a significant curve ball.
It would take something special to convince a club to surrender a selection so high in the ballot. The Bombers, if they did consider it, elect to retain it.
As the recruiting staff, senior coach Adam Simpson, football manager Gavin Bell and CEO Trevor Nisbett settle into suite 24 to begin the process of securing top-line talent for the club’s senior squad, there is a nervous energy; anticipation.
The build-up has been big, but finally the moment has come.
Initially the club had pick two, but in a trade involving Port Adelaide, GWS and North the Eagles opted to split that pick to land two first round selections.
It has been 15 years since the club had two picks that early. In 2007 they drafted Chris Masten at No.3 and Brad Ebert at No.13. The trade period manoeuvre was a strategic decision based on the quality of the top end youngsters, with little distinguishing their attributes.
As the selections roll through, star youngsters are taken off the table one by one. O’Brien and co. were right about Cadman and Ashcroft; on the money too with their prediction that North would follow with Harry Sheezel and George Wardlaw at three and four.
Essendon slipped to No.5 and Elijah Tsatas headed to the Bombers. Six and seven rolled by and Bailey Humphrey was Gold Coast bound, while Hawthorn selected Cameron Mackenzie. Then came Geelong who nominated Jhye Clark.
Relieved smiles swept through the Eagles suite. They could call the name of Reuben Ginbey, a big-bodied midfielder from East Perth via Dunsborough. In virtual silence they had endured each of the eight selections before them.
Each selection had the potential to cause a shift in the Eagles strategy. Finally for O’Brien and his colleagues, the moment had come. The cards had fallen as they had predicted, and hoped.
Simpson had slipped out of the selection room to be on stage to present Ginbey with an Eagles jumper. He was one of 13 players invited to the event, broadcast live on Fox. Life changed for the young powerhouse the moment his name was called.
There was an hour or so of media engagements, ranging from one-on-one interviews with television crews, on-line publications and newspapers to a photo shoot.
While he was jumping through the hoops of the media circus, the draft rolled on.
And the selections continued to follow the Eagles order. Pick 12 became pick 14 when Brisbane also had to match a bid for Jaspa Fletcher, but again nothing changed in a strategic sense. The Eagles wanted Swan Districts star Elijah Hewett. They had him.
He was in Perth with family and friends, watching the coverage at home. Moments after he was announced as an AFL player, he was on a zoom call for the telecast. Fox had recorded the moment he became an AFL player and the scenes were off tap. Unbridled excitement for their son, brother and mate.
The Eagles finished night one with two rising West Australian stars, two they really wanted, and could take a contented breath ahead of night two.
Before that, though, there was a late dinner at a South Melbourne restaurant. Ginbey and his family joined the Eagles contingent, the start of a connection that hopefully endures for a decade or more.