THE NEED for draft picks, heightened by the looming possibility of future expansion, was partially behind Melbourne's dramatic Trade Period exodus.
While not a total "dee-saster" – the Demons only lost one player who finished in the top 10 of this year's best and fairest, where the club made a preliminary final – six left the club in all, while the injury-cursed Ainslie Kemp was delisted and will be rehabbing her third torn ACL.
Key defender Harriet Cordner moved to Richmond, speedy forward Aliesha Newman made the short trip to Collingwood, Katherine Smith shifted interstate to GWS and Bianca Jakobsson reunited with partner Darcy Guttridge at St Kilda.
The Elise O'Dea deal
The big one, of course, saw former co-captain Elise O'Dea and Maddy Guerin join flag fancies Carlton in return for pick 15.
"Elise has been in and around AFLW and high-level football for a while and it can take its toll on people, especially the part-time nature. I think she's been open in saying she was definitely at a crossroads with her football," Melbourne list manager Todd Patterson told womens.afl.
"She was obviously contracted to us, so we were supportive of her playing with us, but she felt a fresh approach to her footy could work for her.
"Some of the commentary around that deal is that we didn't get enough for Elise. But when you put things in context – Elise will be 29 (in 2021), where she was at with the game, and it's very difficult to compare it to past deals for players of her calibre. It's a completely different draft this year."
A new approach to the Trade Period
Melbourne saw the 2020 Sign and Trade Period as the first ever "normal" edition for the competition. The 2017 period was a new experience for all involved, and 2018 and 2019 were dominated and unsettled by expansion signings.
The subsequent deals made were a combination of players wishing to move elsewhere – in part for greater contract security – and Melbourne instigating those trades themselves.
"In the most part, it was us encouraging players to keep an open mind coming into the period. It was just about getting the players to understand they have a right to look around for options, and the club also has a right and a responsibility to put itself in the best position possible to compete," Patterson said.
"I think our approach has certainly raised a few eyebrows, and that's fine. I'm lucky also working in the [Melbourne's AFL recruiting team] to be mentored by the people I am and it's something I'm used to seeing in that space.
"I think people need to remember that everyone needs to put themselves in the best position. That's players making sure they're happy and have the length of contract they want, and clubs making sure they can stay competitive and up the top of the ladder."
The 2020 draft pool and future expansion
Hawthorn, Essendon, Port Adelaide and Sydney are the four AFL clubs without an AFLW side, and all are eager to join the competition as quickly as possible.
"Whilst we think expansion might not be for another year or two, there's always noise from other clubs wanting to get in," Patterson said.
"Being able to access young talent now – before we fall off a cliff – is really important, so we can stay competitive in the long-term.
"We didn't want to get into a position where when it's actually time to regenerate the list, our players are walking to expansion teams and we also don't get good access to the draft. We've had to be proactive about it."
Patterson sees the 2020 draft pool as one of the deepest in the competition's short history. The Demons currently hold picks three, nine, 11, 24, 25, 28 and 32 in the Victorian pool of the state-based draft.
"This is the first group that came through an under-16 (national) rep series. A lot played under-18s last year, and then we've seen the three NAB games at the start of the year. It's evident there are a greater proportion of players who have come through the pathway," he said.
"The player you're now getting at pick nine in Victoria would have been going significantly higher in the past.
"We've only had two first-round draft picks since the first year (Tyla Hanks and Eden Zanker), and as a comparative, the Bulldogs have had seven. If we can get a couple more, there's no reason we should be taking any backwards steps.
"If anything, we should be pushing harder and getting closer."