NORTH Melbourne has moved to defend its list management strategy and trade period inactivity after a swell of criticism and a poor 2017 season.
The Kangaroos chased Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly but missed out on both as the duo opted to re-sign with Richmond and GWS respectively, while the club’s 15th-place finish has respected list managers concerned about the club’s on-field future.
In an exclusive column for the Herald Sun, former Hawthorn recruiter Gary Buckenara was scathing in his assessment of North Melbourne, declaring the club could be 10 years away from challenging for a premiership again.
Buckenara, who helped build Hawthorn’s three-peat premiership list, said the Kangaroos had no A-grade players and the list consisted mostly of C-grade or developing players.
North Melbourne football boss Cameron Joyce on Tuesday night moved to defend the club’s position.
“The role of the media is to have an opinion and we certainly respect that, but in terms of the list management strategy, we pedalled pretty hard through this period to look at upgrading our picks and looking at all mechanisms to improve our own players, around our own draft picks and future draft picks,” Joyce said.
“We certainly did that but we weren’t able to obtain that through trading our own players or moving up the order with draft picks.
“In terms of where we’re at, we’ve got 20 players that are under 50 games, with another six or eight that will come in this year through the national draft and also rookie draft, and we’re pretty keen to back those guys in to really improve.
“We’ve got a helluva lot of improvement left in our list.
“No one is putting a year on it (when the club can challenge again) but we certainly don’t agree on the 10 years (assessment by Buckenara) and we don’t agree that we don’t have any A-graders as well.
“I think our ability to develop, our ability to improve our player availability, which has been down a little bit in the last year-and-a-half, I think are going to be two things that are going to be crucial for us.”
Buckenara believes the Kangaroos should have made more “bold and brave decisions” in the past two years and traded the likes of Todd Goldstein while the ruckman still held trade value.
Part of list management, Buckenara said, was to be “brutally honest about what’s in front of them — is this list or are these players going to win us a premiership?”
While Joyce didn’t confirm Goldstein was on the trade table this year, he said the Kangaroos tried to improve its list in a number of ways during the trade period.
“Without going into detail, we were definitely aggressive in our pursuits of trying to improve our list and looking at all different mechanisms to do that,” he told SEN.
“We certainly exhausted all avenues to move or look at players on our list.”
While Buckenara believes North Melbourne is set for a decade of misery without any hope of premiership success, Joyce was more bullish.
The Kangaroos have a war chest to chase stars from rival clubs after missing out on Martin and Kelly this year, with Crow Rory Sloane and Sun Tom Lynch at the top of the free agency pool in 2018.
But he said he was also excited by the potential natural improvement of the club’s younger brigade such as Jy Simpkin, Ryan Clarke, Trent Dumont, Taylor Garner, Kayne Turner and Mason Wood, who have all played less than 50 games.
“We actually go into the pre-season with a lot of optimism off the back of last year (2017 season) and how competitive we were and about the improvement that’s left within the group,” Joyce said.
“But also too, our salary cap position in future years.
“What we’ve been able to do backing over the last four or five years about adding talent at the right time.
“Obviously over the last couple of years we would have loved to get a couple of players in, but we haven’t been able to.
“We’ll be looking to do that again, unfortunately it wasn’t our time this year, but we’ve certainly got the firepower to look at improving our list over the next couple of years through trade and free agency.
“For us, we could have done the snatch and grab and spent some money, but potentially withered it away a little bit through this period just to say we’ve got a bag full of stuff.
“But we’ve decided to say let’s hold our draft picks, let’s hold our nerve a bit and let’s put the money in the savings account and look at it again next year.”
Former captain Andrew Swallow and veteran Lindsay Thomas’ futures remain uncertain, with the possibility North Melbourne could delist the pair despite being contracted for 2018.
Joyce confirmed discussions about their futures were ongoing.
Swallow is keen to join his brother David at Gold Coast, while the Herald Sun reported on Sunday Thomas could move to Port Adelaide.
North Melbourne holds pick 4, 23, 64, 78, 91, 96 in next month’s national draft.