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Crows' draft bounty sours as Suns snare AFL handout

Football

UPDATED | The Adelaide Crows’ highest ever draft pick will slide outside the top three after the AFL today granted the struggling Gold Coast Suns an astonishing assistance package that will see the wooden spooners take the top two selections among a range of concessions.

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The Suns already held the No.1 pick in November’s national draft due to finishing at the bottom of the ladder but will now hold the first two selections, along with the first pick of the second round – currently pick 20.

Gold Coast will further receive a mid-first round pick in next year’s draft (currently pick 11) and the first pick of the second round (currently pick 19) in the 2021 draft.

The Suns will also receive expanded academy player access for the next three years, including the provision of the Darwin region as an academy zone, the ability to pre-sign the club’s academy players without going through the bidding zone and an increased rookie list of up to 10 players.

The club could trade priority picks for ready-made players, however it’s expected to take the top two selections to the draft, targeting standout Victorian midfield prospects Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson.

While the decision will see every other club move down the draft order, Melbourne and Adelaide would feel particularly aggrieved, with the former spiralling to 17th after a top-four finish last year but now missing out on one of the two clear standouts from this year’s draft crop, while the latter had hoped for a top-three pick after last year’s draft gamble which saw the Crows trade two first-round picks for Carlton’s highest selection.

Shortly after the AFL’s announcement, Adelaide’s senior football analyst Jarrod Harkness tweeted that the league had “clearly considered which teams are being ‘penalised’ the most”, noting that no priority picks were granted in 2018 – despite overtures by then-wooden spooner Carlton and Gold Coast – when fellow strugglers St Kilda and Brisbane rounded out the top four.

This year, however, the three sides below Gold Coast in the draft have all played finals in recent seasons.

The club was being diplomatic today, with CEO Andrew Fagan saying in a statement it “acknowledges that it is in the best interests of the AFL and our sport more broadly to ensure all clubs are healthy and sustainable, and we support the need for an appropriate assistance package being provided to the Gold Coast Suns”.

“We also understand the significant interest in our view on this issue given we were involved in a trade for a future first round selection which falls in the upcoming national draft,” Fagan said.

“We have spoken with the League on several occasions in recent times and clearly and firmly expressed our view. Whether the allocation of a priority pick to the Suns has any impact on our Club is unlikely to be known until the national draft itself.”

AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said in a statement that “there is no doubt the Gold Coast Suns have had enormous challenges throughout their short history and it is to the benefit of the entire competition that the Suns are competitive”.

“The AFL and football fans want a strong and even competition, and while the endeavour and intent can’t be faulted by the Gold Coast Football Club, there have been executional challenges along the journey that have impacted the on-field competitiveness of the team,” he said.

The Suns welcomed the assistance package, which will also include support from the AFL in the form of operational and strategic services.

“As a result of the assistance outlined today, from a list point of view our absolute focus is the long-term list build which prioritises recruiting top-end elite talent,” chief executive Mark Evans said.

“Our list management team will now turn their heads to how we best use the assistance provided to capitalise on this in 2019 and beyond.

“Off the field we can add further resources to our football program in line with our strategy, ensuring our players and coaches are surrounded by the best possible people and programs which will have a positive impact on retaining and attracting players.”

Today’s development, while not unexpected, further complicates a pivotal off-season for the Crows, as the club last night confirmed midfielder Cam Ellis-Yolmen would join the exodus from West Lakes, which is also expected to include a raft of veterans and a pair of fan favourite former Category-B rookies.

Former basketballer Hugh Greenwood is reportedly Gold Coast bound, while cricketer-turned-breakout AFL defender Alex Keath has requested a trade to the Bulldogs.

Sam Jacobs and Josh Jenkins have both confirmed their looming exits, while Eddie Betts is expected to seek a return to the Blues.

Ellis-Yolmen will “pursue his rights as an unrestricted free agent and will leave Adelaide after eight years”, the club said, after he was retained on a rookie contract having been delisted by the Crows at the end of 2017, following a knee reconstruction earlier that year.

List manager Justin Reid said the 26-year-old had been “a valued member of our playing group and has shown great resilience to overcome his share of injuries”.

“We wish him every success in the next stage of his football journey and he will always be part of the Crows family,” he said.

Ellis-Yolmen is expected to join Brisbane, with the Lions today confirming they would offer him a three-year deal.

-with AAP

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