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The joy of six

AFL top 3 draft picks, number 1 for St Kilda Paddy McCartin, number 2 for Melbourne Christian Petracca (L) and number 3 for Melbourne Angus Brayshaw are seen during the 2014 NAB AFL Draft at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, Gold Coast on November 27, 2014. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
Paddy McCartin, flanked by the second and third players taken in the draft, Christian Petracca and Angus Brayshaw
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THIS was a NAB AFL Draft unlike many before, given that there was genuine suspense ahead of St Kilda announcing the No. 1 pick.

Christian Petracca had been the consensus No. 1 selection for so long, yet from the moment the football industry deplaned at Coolangatta and drove up the highway to draft central in Broadbeach earlier this week, something changed.

It was as if the tropical sun altered everyone's thinking and Patrick McCartin was installed as the raging favourite to be taken first by the Saints.

But the beauty of this draft was that nobody was absolutely certain that McCartin was St Kilda's man until Saints recruiting manager Tony Elshaug called out his name.

There were just six people within the inner sanctum at the Saints who knew beforehand that the Geelong Grammar key forward would be the first selection.

There were some at the Saints busting to tip McCartin and his family off in the hours before the draft, which has been the convention in recent years.

Then again in other years, the No. 1 selection has been fairly clear-cut and the announcement not all that suspenseful. This year, the Saints kept things quiet, with the absolute encouragement of the AFL, which wanted the first pick shrouded in secrecy until the last possible moment in order to maximise TV ratings, column centimetres, page impressions and the other key metrics that matter in these times.

Not even a chance meeting between McCartin's family and management and the St Kilda recruiting team in the bar of a Broadbeach hotel the night before led to any spilling of the beans, although some in the McCartin camp believe now that maybe, just maybe, the some of the Saints' draft entourage were sending subtle and reassuring messages among the general chitchat.

The Saints have said all along that they would select the best player in the draft.

"It just happened to be a key forward and we do need one," Elshaug said on Thursday night. "Fundamentally, taking everything into account, he's been our man for some time."

Paddy McCartin hugs his father Matt after being taken with pick No. 1. Picture: AFL Media









Indeed, the Saints penciled him in as early as 15 months ago when he dominated the under 18 championships as a bottom-age player, particularly when he kicked five goals for Vic Country, which Elshaug said "could have been seven or eight".

They put plenty of work into Petracca, to be sure, but much of their exhaustive processes over the last 12 months, in particular since the end of the season, were to find a reason why not to take McCartin with their first selection.

The Saints will sleep easier with McCartin now signed and sealed. This is a club with a debt now approaching $9 million and which was fearful of the inflationary market for key forwards as witnessed by the Lance Franklin and Tom Boyd deals of the last two years.

Saints coach Alan Richardson had spoken of the hope that if they drafted a key forward, they could make him "fall in love with the club" and not have to fork out huge dollars down the track to bring one to the club through a trade or free agency.

Elshaug sounded confident that this would happen with McCartin. "He's made of the right stuff and we are happy to have him on board. He's a very good person, (from a) good family and fundamentally a very good player. He'll be a great fit for a long time."

The Saints won support for their move from several other clubs. Collingwood list manager Derek Hine pointed out that with the exception of father-son selections over the years such as Travis Cloke and Tom Hawkins, that the leading key position players usually do get selected with the first few picks of the draft.

"You've got to take them when they're there," he said. "And what clubs do is look forward 12 months, and the early indications are that next year's draft will lack depth when it comes to key talls."

The uncertainty over the No. 1 pick was supposed to be the first of several twists for the first round. But it proved to be anything but. Save for Greater Western Sydney taking Caleb Marchbank with pick six and Geelong Nakia Cockatoo, both of whom played little this year, the first 10 picks pretty much went as expected.

There had been talk that Melbourne was keen on Jake Lever, the Calder Cannons key defender who didn't play at all this year because of a knee injury, and that he might be a sneaky chance to be taken by the Demons at no.3.

This miffed the Demons, not because they didn't rate Lever when in fact they did, but they felt the scuttlebutt to be unfair to the player.

"Players involved might have a preferred destination in their head. They might end up believing the reports and it becomes a let down when it doesn't happen," said one Melbourne official.

The Demons were long set on either Petracca or McCartin, whichever player the Saints did not select, with pick two and Angus Brayshaw immediately after. Lever ended up going to Adelaide, much to the delight of the Crows and we suspect, the Demons.

Collingwood was also thought by some to be considering a left-field first-round selection but midfield tyro Jordan De Goey fits the template of how they like their early draftees at Collingwood; while he didn't have the same exposure to the talent pathway programs as some of the top tenners, he filled one other important criteria for the Magpies instead - he starred in the TAC Cup Grand Final as did Dale Thomas and Steele Sidebottom before him.