It seemed clear, at the conclusion of the trading period last year, that Joe Daniher wanted to play for the Swans more than the Swans wanted Joe Daniher.
Sydney, quite reasonably, was not prepared to part with the kind of draft picks and/or player that Essendon demanded, with pick 5 never placed on the trade table. Daniher’s ongoing issues with his troublesome groin – which will see him miss an early chunk of 2020 – suggests that Sydney’s measured ambivalence about the trade was well-founded.
Joe Daniher has been plagued by injuries in recent years.Credit:Getty Images
Essendon paid "overs" for Dylan Shiel in draft cost, as Collingwood did for Adam Treloar and, to their detriment, for Dayne Beams. Fremantle, despite misgivings, handed over prime picks for Jesse Hogan.
Once a club is committed to a landing a player, they are obligated to pay a premium. But the Swans bucked that trend, in what was a telling stance that Daniher surely noted.
Daniher was disappointed he didn’t get his trade wish, though he accepted the outcome graciously. Essendon insiders nurse the hope that he'll overcome the injuries, regain form and choose to stay at the club that meant so much to his famous Riverina clan. And this Essendon optimism might be vindicated when he returns.
But in the event that his exit was merely postponed and he chooses to leave (using his rights as a free agent), Daniher and his management should be considering another northern club, which, on most counts, shapes as a better fit for Joe than the Swans and vice-versa.
The Brisbane Lions are closer to premiership contention than the Swans. They have a clear weakness in attack – the absence of one bona fide, quality power forward – that Daniher would redress.
Sydney's midfield will not give Daniher the kind of supply, in the short term at least, that he would receive at the Gabba, where he would be flanked by Charlie Cameron, Cameron Rayner and a still-developing 204-centimetre Eric Hipwood, who is really the game’s tallest half-forward flanker rather than a key forward.
Would Joe relish the "Brisbane lifestyle"? I've no idea whether the music, brew pubs or inner-city macchiato would be to his taste. But he would enjoy the same great advantage that Sydney confers on AFL footballers – anonymity, relative to playing in Melbourne. And he wouldn't be a Messianic figure for a vast, desperate supporter base as a father-son, either.
There's no point in Joe leaving Essendon and going to a Victorian club, since the fishbowl effect would remain. Adelaide and Perth the same. If he leaves, logical options are footy's northern outposts.
The Giants won't have the cap space. The Suns are too far from contention.
Daniher, if fit, could be the difference between a flag and making finals for the Lions, whose coach Chris Fagan strikes me as the type of avuncular, understated mentor that Daniher would relish.
Why not Sydney, where Joe's father Anthony also played? The Swans have Lance Franklin contracted for another three seasons at a tick under $4 million; assume that Buddy intends to go the distance. To have Daniher alongside Franklin would mean the Swans would be spending well in excess of $2m per season on left-footed key forwards, both of whom have not played much lately. Nick Blakey, a tremendous 195cm talent, doesn't shape as a key forward, but an excellent forward prospect nonetheless.
Sydney's midfield is transitioning from the unit that played grand finals in 2012, 2014 and 2016. There's serious young talent, but the midfield will need massive improvement given it is ranked 16th in the 2020 season prospectus by Champion Data, which rated Sydney's forward line as the seventh-best.
The Lions, conversely, enter the season with the top-ranked midfield, and the 17th-placed attack, underscoring the logic of a key forward purchase.
The Lions have taken giant strides under coach Chris Fagan.Credit:Darren England/AAP
But perhaps the key selling point for Brisbane is their record of a) getting players fit and on the park, and b) recruits from other clubs improving in the Fagan environment (long a trademark of the Swans under Paul Roos and John Longmire). Cameron, Mitch Robinson, Jarryd Lyons and, released from the Nathan Fyfe shadow, Lachie Neale have all improved under Fagan. Even Luke Hodge enjoyed an Indian summer.
The Lions' injury record is enviable, touch wood. Daniher knows their head of medical, Peter Blanch, too. Blanch, a former Australian Institute of Sport senior physiotherapist, occupied a similar role at Essendon in 2017, when Daniher won the club best and fairest in his last uninterrupted season.
Ideally, Daniher would right his groins and vote to remain. But in the event that he goes, he'd be better opting for a Brisbane exit – dare we say it, a Brexit.
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