One the eve of big games players struggle to sleep.
Despite the familiar warning that one should not play the game over in one’s mind, that’s easier said than done.
For recruiting staff involved at the sharp end of the AFL draft – their Grand Final – it’s no different. When the head hits the pillow it’s futile trying to block out thoughts of how it will unfold.
With two draft targets banked on the opening night of this week’s NAB AFL Draft one might assume West Coast Eagles recruiters had a peaceful night. Relatively speaking they probably did, but their minds were still flooded by potential outcomes.
In the lead up to the 2022 ballot, the Eagles scouts who had travelled the length and breadth of the country watching, analysing and assessing the claims of the best youngsters were consumed by the myriad possibilities.
They knew who they wanted and on Monday when the first-round selections were made, the Eagles’ plan was exquisitely executed.
A decision to trade pick No.2 that was held after finishing the season in 17th position proved genius.
They assessed that little separated the skills set of a number of the players projected to figure in the first dozen selections. By splitting the pick for two first rounders the Eagles could scoop two classy 18-year-olds from the deep end of the draft pool.
They landed two outstanding West Australian midfielders – Rueben Ginbey from East Perth and Elijah Hewett from Swan Districts. They had hit the bullseye on opening night targets.
But the job was not yet complete. It was only half-time.
Just as they had done 24 hours earlier, they assembled in a Docklands apartment on Tuesday morning. Fresh player lists were circulated with the 21 players selected the previous evening removed.
On night two, the Eagles would have the second selection. It was a prized position, one out, one back from GWS who would have first crack at the remaining talent. Some exceptional players remained and it was expected rivals would sound out those at the head of the queue to see if, for the right offer, they would be prepared to move back in the order.
It would need to be something special for the Eagles to surrender their position.
As the recruiting staff again began the meticulous process of dissecting the ramifications of every possible “what if” Ginbey was on the dock of the Yarra River for a traditional photo shoot with the other first-round selections.
Had List and National Recruiting Manager Rohan O’Brien glanced down towards Marvel Stadium he would have enjoyed affirmation of his vision to see Ginbey in an Eagles guernsey.
But his focus – and that of others in the room – was on the next phase of the player lottery. Monday was a great start, but the club had three more selections. Could things continue to fall favourably?
Their No.1 target was South Australian ruckman Harry Barnett. At 202cm, strong overhead and capable of pushing forward to take a grab, he was regarded as the best ruckman in the draft. He would just need to get past one other club to become an Eagle.
GWS, who would open the batting on night two, had received overtures from a number of suitors through the day. They did not sway from their resolve and selected Oakleigh Chargers utility player Max Gruzewski.
For those not familiar with this young man, perhaps they saw the vision of him at the draft camp when he stopped to help fellow aspirant Lewis Hayes when he collapsed during the 2km time trial.
With Gruzewski heading to western Sydney, the Eagles could call the name of Barnett and add a much-needed developing ruckman to the senior list.
Coach Adam Simpson was on the phone in an instant and Barnett was ecstatic. He had been a Crows supporter all of his life, but it changed the second his name was called.
No players are invited on night two; with less certainty about how the draft will play out the Fox broadcast team prefer to have cameras in the family abode, perched atop television sets to capture the moment.
The scenes in the Barnett household were priceless. The big man and his family were pumped.
So were the recruiters in suite 24 at Marvel Stadium, albeit a little more subdued. Subtle first pumps greeted the third piece of this draft jigsaw falling neatly into place.
No time for back slaps though. There was more important work to be done and it would happen quickly with the club’s next selection coming just six positions later.
This was the selection resulting from another canny manoeuvre 12 months earlier. The Eagles had pick No.12 in the 2021 ballot and did a deal with Port Adelaide to slide two positions down the order in exchange for a future second rounder.
They took the calculated punt that they would still lock in Campbell Chesser and receive the Power’s future second as a bonus. It was time to cash in the chip.
Again, there were phone calls from rivals looking to trade higher in the order, but the Eagles had their sights on a specific individual and he was available. This live trading aspect of the draft is fascinating as clubs jockey to get into position to call a player they are keen to land.
O’Brien and his team needed to be adroit. Give every offer every consideration.
The Eagles scouts had been unabashed admirers of Gippsland Power utility player Cody Burgiel and when his name remained on the live selection board, the decision was made swiftly.
He has attributes that appeal; pace, clean ball skills and smart decision-making. He can play in the midfield, back or forward. All alluring qualities.
Unless something unusual happened, the Eagles would sit dormant for about an hour, with their next selection at No.64. They did consider a couple of offers and opportunities but elected to assume a holding pattern.
Their attention was fixed on a large screen on the side wall of their bunker, casually critiquing each ensuing selection as the draft continued to roll. At that point they had little skin in the game, other than carrying the hope that one of their favoured selections somehow squeezed through to their final pick.
At around pick 50, with their preferred target still on the board, their interest levels were aroused. Then a few rivals elected to pass and the chances of Bendigo Pioneers small forward Noah Long slipping through was real.
Long had been sitting at home in Echuca watching proceedings with his family and had given up hope of realising his dream through the draft proper. His mind had shifted to the rookie draft to be held the following day.
Just when Long was preparing to hit the sack, the Eagles changed everything with what was ultimately the second last selection of the night.
The Long selection rounded out a remarkable 26 hours for the club. They went in with a shopping list and they filled it.
Extraordinary really. Now the hard work starts to help those youngsters fulfil their undoubted potential.
Eagles fans, one senses, will enjoy seeing their evolution.