How Brady Rawlings’ return helps North Melbourne

The official confirmation of Brady Rawlings heading home as the new General Manager of Football means I can finally stop being paranoid, and start to talk about how the appointment helps North Melbourne.

While Rawlings won’t be officially starting until December 1, per the Eagles’ release, it seems naïve to think he won’t have an extremely informal role in some capacity to get the best of both worlds – protecting West Coast’s IP while still helping North in what looms as a crucial off-season.

While most of the fanfare from North fans about the appointment will surround ‘bringing a North person back’, I’m most enthused about the move for a simple reason: Rawlings’ track record.

Actually, and one more: He’s an incredibly nice person. So I’ll try to put that bias to one side for the rest of this.

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A quick summary of Rawlings’ post-playing career after retiring at the end of 2011:

  • 2012-2013: Senior recruiter and induction coach at North Melbourne
  • 2014-2016: Assistant/midfield coach at West Coast
  • End of 2016-2019: List manager at West Coast

By hopping between those roles, he’s had first-hand experience in most areas of a football department; except for becoming a medical guru, anyway.

This should help immeasurably in building relationships with key people and staff. It’s an area which he’ll already be great in, given how well liked and well respected he is, but every little bit helps.

If a recruiter comes to Rawlings with an issue, there’ll be an understanding of how to handle it. A line coach can trust that Rawlings understands the challenges of his role, while the players will naturally respect a person who spent 13 years on an AFL list.

We’ll touch on the North-specific part a little later down the page, but in my opinion the most instructive part of Rawlings’ CV is his time as the list manager at West Coast.

After spending three years as an assistant coach in charge of the midfield, Rawlings shifted to the list manager role in time for the 2016 off-season.

It was a crucial period for the Eagles as well. Although they’d been knocked out in the Elimination Final by the Bulldogs, they’d finished the home and away season at 16-6 and only missed out on the top four by percentage.

They were clearly a good side who wouldn’t be losing a huge amount of key personnel permanently, but there were two caveats – the list was ageing, and Nic Naitanui would be missing for most of 2017 at the absolute minimum.

The plan was hatched to try and run it back with a similar core while also keeping one eye on the future.

AFL EAGLES CROWS

Drew Petrie and Nathan Vardy came in an attempt to find a mix to replace Naitanui’s ruck output, while Sam Mitchell crossed over from Hawthorn – and all three were obtained for next to nothing. It wasn’t as if they were signed on long-term playing deals, so if needed it would have been easy to change strategy.

In the draft there was the first sign of rejuvenating the list with the forward pressure, selecting Willie Rioli. But by and large there was a clear plan and in how they implemented it, the Eagles didn’t set themselves back in the medium to long term.

While 2017 didn’t play out as they would have liked on field – a 12-10 record before falling to the Giants in a semi-final – making sure the run it back plan was done with short term deals meant the Eagles could then focus on rejuvenating the list further in the trade and draft period.

To fast-track this, Rawlings executed what can only be described as a heist of Gold Coast.

West Coast received picks 21, 26, 37 and a 2018 second rounder. In return they only handed back pick 50, and their 2018 first rounder.

That looks like a steal on the surface, even before the Eagles went on to win the premiership and the Suns slumped to 17th.

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It meant West Coast had five picks inside the top 40 at the 2017 National Draft, and three of them have already become key contributors – Liam Ryan, Jack Petruccelle and Oscar Allen.

The retirements of Mitchell and Matt Priddis at the end of 2017 allowed Elliot Yeo and Jack Redden to take larger roles in the midfield, and made the mix more dynamic.

Given there was already a successful, experienced core in place, the plan of tweaking around the margins with extra youth and speed was understandable.

Even though the results were obviously unbelievable, what’s more important as it relates to North Melbourne was the process, and a clear understanding of how to go about it.

The moves at the draft table, including further pick swap deals, then allowed the Eagles to carry on despite the retirement of Mark LeCras in 2018; Petrucelle playing all but one game so far this year.

In replacing Scott Lycett with Tom Hickey, again the Eagles didn’t give up an overly huge amount given the draft capital they already had – and most importantly the former Saint is only contracted until the end of 2019, giving the opportunity to cut bait quickly if needed.

What was an ageing list now isn’t too far away from most other sides in the competition – of West Coast’s top five midfielders this year, the oldest is Luke Shuey at 29, while there are key position stocks developing for each end, all while remaining competitive.

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I’ve deliberately left Rawlings’ two years as recruiter and induction coach at North until the end.

It’s the induction part I want to focus on, given he naturally won’t be as hands on with the recruiting side of proceedings while he’s GM.

It was one of Rawlings’ responsibilities to essentially indoctrinate the new draftees into Arden Street, and teach them what being a Shinboner is all about.

Think of it like every boring first day you’ve had at a new job, except this time you’ve got a person telling you about actual things that matter, how you can make a difference and what to do to become an established AFL player. Much more fun.

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So North Melbourne have appointed a person with a good track record, who’s well respected and knows the club inside-out.

What’s not to like?

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