Welcome to the 2022 Free Agency & Trade Period analysis series. Over the next fortnight, the plan is to look at every player heading to a new club. It’s not going to be a ‘who won the trade’ series, but rather a look at how players fit into existing setups, or what changes they may force.
After a will he, won’t he, debate stretching for weeks, Ollie Henry finally got to Geelong in the dying stages of trade period.
Side stepping the debate over how the deal unfolded, it feels like the fallout from it will be in the public eye for large parts of next season.
Given my expectation is that Henry will start at VFL level unless there are injuries, we’re set for some ~discourse~.
In Collingwood’s post-season analysis, I wrote this about Henry:
Henry’s an intriguing one, because his rate of improvement has been solid right from the start. After looking far from ready in his AFL debut (and I may have written as much), he went back to VFL level and progressed to the point where he played the last seven games of 2021 and looked solid.
Then this year Henry got to the point where he was unequivocally best 22 for a stretch, before the natural fade out of a second year player and the rise of Ash Johnson combined to send him out of the side.
To go from clearly not ready, to best 22 (for a period) in 18 months suggests there’s still plenty more growth in Henry.
The next step in that growth is going to be Henry’s work without the ball. How quickly he rises to that challenge will determine his position in Geelong’s forward depth chart.
Assuming Geelong see Henry in the same role Collingwood did, it’s tricky to see a role where Henry slots straight into the AFL 22.
There’s no world where he’ll start ahead of any of Hawkins, Cameron, Stengle, Rohan or Close (injuries permitting), not to mention if the Cats opt to play Dangerfield forward more, along with the introductions of Bruhn and Bowes creating a logjam for spots.
Henry’s development offensively has been clear, but the first phase for him as a Cat will likely be a VFL education.
How long that education takes is up for debate, but the goal of it will be to bring his defensive work close to the level of his offensive talents.
It’s because with Hawkins, Cameron and Stengle as focal points, there’s simply no room in Geelong’s forward line for a fourth pure offensive forward. That’s why everyone around those three are strong role players, just as important without the ball than with it.
The Cats won’t carry a mid-sized offensive player unless their talent level is an upgrade over their current system. Henry, despite his level of progress so far, isn’t yet that.
So once the defensive part of Henry’s game catches up to his offensive talents, then he’ll be in line for regular AFL games.
Regular VFL watchers will be ahead of the curve in recognising Henry’s progression during 2023, while there’s every chance this deal itself will be prone to lazy hot takes until he establishes a position in Geelong’s front half.
If you’ve missed any of the Free Agency & Trade Analysis posts, here’s where to catch up:
Karl Amon, Hawthorn
Josh Corbett, Fremantle
Tanner Bruhn, Geelong
Aaron Francis, Sydney | Sam Weideman, Essendon | Lachie Hunter & Josh Schache, Melbourne | Tom Mitchell, Collingwood | Cooper Stephens and Lloyd Meek, Hawthorn | Josh Dunkley, Brisbane | Rory Lobb, Western Bulldogs | Jaeger O’Meara, Fremantle