Melbourne AFL draft gamble pays dividends

Picking up small forward Kysaiah Pickett in the 2019 AFL draft has been a huge result for Melbourne.
Picking up small forward Kysaiah Pickett in the 2019 AFL draft has been a huge result for Melbourne.

In 2019, stinging after a shock 17th-placed finish, Melbourne's list management team made a call that would help set them up for a tilt at a premiership two years later.

Melbourne's unexpected drop-off had landed them pick No.3 in that year's draft, which they were determined to use on athletic ruck-forward Luke Jackson, rather than splitting for two later selections.

But they had identified a need for a small forward and Kysaiah Pickett took their fancy.

The Demons took a hit on draft points in a trade for North Melbourne's first-round pick, sending their first choice of 2020, which later became Tom Powell, and other selections to the Kangaroos for their shot at Pickett (pick No.12).

They rounded out their haul with classy defender Trent Rivers at pick No.32.

"As a footy club, an organisation, we didn't have the year we wanted in 2019 - no excuses, for various reasons," Melbourne national recruiting manager Jason Taylor told the AFL Road to the Draft podcast in August.

"In all areas of the football club whether it be in our department in recruiting and list management and player acquisition with (list manager Tim Lamb).

"When you have a year like that, when you think you're tracking to where we sit potentially at the moment, you've got to maximise it.

"So the pressure was on and we thought it was a good opportunity to get into the draft again - its been well-documented.

"That mix of youth if they're talented enough - and that group of three I like to described as non-fussed competitors, they just go about their training, they go about their business - I think that can complement a group coming through."

All three West Australians did just that, showing their wares in 2020 and kicking on this season.

Pickett has booted 40 goals and played every game, alongside poised half-back Rivers, while Jackson missed just one on his way to claiming the Rising Star award, with the Demons landing the minor premiership and a grand final spot.

It's not the first time Melbourne have been creative behind the scenes.

Perhaps the most contentious was trading 2013's pick No.2 (Josh Kelly) for Dom Tyson and pick No.9 (Christian Salem), with other draft picks involved, though Salem has been superb this year.

But the most successful was arguably in 2015 when collateral from trading out Jeremy Howe (Collingwood) and Jimmy Toumpas (Port Adelaide) helped seal a deal with Gold Coast which included upgrading from pick No.6 to No.3.

After bidding on Sydney's Callum Mills, the Demons gambled pick No.4 on draft bolter Clayton Oliver who finished third in Sunday's Brownlow Medal.

But while both Oliver and Salem were involved in 2018's run to a preliminary final, it could be the trio from the 2019 draft that give the edge this time around.

Australian Associated Press