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Time for Bombers to hit the trade table

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It's a reality that Essendon has garnered a reputation as a hard club to deal with

FOR MOST clubs, there are four ways to build a list capable of winning a premiership: trade, free agency, the draft and retaining existing talent.

At Essendon, three of those facets have been well executed over a period of time. But for too long one has been too far down the priority list.

The Bombers are, according to long-time list manager Adrian Dodoro, a 'draft and develop' club.

Having lost their past four finals, they are now also a club that hasn't won a final since 2004, the longest drought in the League. That says something isn't working.

Beveridge confirms Stringer is on the trade table

This year's trade period is the right time to make a change, to hit the market, make some deals happen and to shed the tag as one of the most challenging clubs to work with.

Western Bulldogs premiership forward Jake Stringer and young Greater Western Sydney midfielder Matt Kennedy should sit atop the list.

But before looking ahead to how they can do that, it's worth looking back.

Ex-Saint Brendon Goddard was a major coup for the Bombers at the end of 2012 as a free agent, but he was the club's first 'big fish' in a long time and it hasn't had one since.

More often than not, Essendon's trade activity has been focused on getting the most out of a player leaving the club – such as Stewart Crameri in 2013, Paddy Ryder in 2014, Jake Carlisle and Jake Melksham in 2015 and Michael Hibberd last year – rather than targeting a player during a season, luring them across and finalising a trade.

The Bombers will point to the supplements scandal as being a major impediment to securing players from other clubs, and it has no doubt been a significant challenge. 

But the Bombers weren't active or willing traders before 2013. A look at the AFL Record Season Guide shows the Bombers traded in just three players from 2004-12 – Richard Cole, Brent Prismall and Mark Williams.

And recent additions have been easier options. James Stewart has proven to be a nice get but was traded by Greater Western Sydney for a draft pick they didn't end up using, and Josh Green was a delisted free agent after being cut by the Brisbane Lions.

Former Lion Matthew Leuenberger was a free agent, while Craig Bird was the 'extra' the Bombers received as part of the three-way Carlisle deal with Sydney and St Kilda.

It's a reality that Essendon has garnered a reputation as a hard club to deal with. That could be due to surprising offers – David Myers and Travis Colyer were linked as a swap for Melbourne's pick No.2 in 2013. 

It's also believed player agents have, on occasions, steered prospective players to other clubs because they weren’t confident Essendon would get a deal done if their clients nominated the Bombers as their preferred home. 

An ability to draft well has masked the Bombers' resistance to trading and giving up something to get something.

And on the whole they have also done well to retain players through this recent turbulent period, including keeping stars Michael Hurley and Dyson Heppell as Bombers.

However, retention and drafting are only parts of the premiership model. From 2009-2014, Hawthorn picked up a big name every off-season, including Josh Gibson, Jack Gunston, Ben McEvoy, Brian Lake and Shaun Burgoyne. They were prepared to give up early picks to make things happen.

But if there is a blueprint to copy, it's the Cats they should turn to.

Geelong has become ruthless traders in an attempt to stay at the top end of the ladder, bringing in Patrick Dangerfield, Zach Tuohy, Lachie Henderson and free agent Scott Selwood to remain in the hunt. Dangerfield is a prime example: they secured the restricted free agent via trade due to taking a pragmatic and fair approach to land their man.

The Cats identify their players, track them and then try as quickly as possible to get them in the door, even if it can appear at times like they may have paid a little over market value. They just do it.

This off-season presents an opportunity for Essendon. If Saturday's loss to Sydney proved anything, it's that the Bombers are lacking big, strong midfielders.

The Giants' Kennedy would be a perfect fit. He's out of contract at the Giants, hasn't been offered a new deal yet and has a number of clubs chasing his services.

Matt Kennedy should be at the top of the Bombers' wish list, says Callum Twomey. Picture: AFL Photos

He was taken at pick No.13 two years ago and has played 19 games. He's a big-bodied player who marks and kicks well, likes the grunt work and can go forward to kick goals. He would complement what Essendon has in its lighter-framed engine room with Zach Merrett, Dyson Heppell and Darcy Parish.

Kennedy, 20, has currency, and an early second-round pick could be enough to get something over the line as he hasn't gone up in draft value since he was selected.

Essendon has already made its interest in Stringer known. He's a match-winner and, if fit, could spend some time at the clearances. He offers something new to their forward mix as well.

If they want him, their first pick – No.11 overall – seems a fair swap and would probably get it done.

The Bombers have navigated a dark era but are stuck in an unsuccessful one. However, the club is settled, the list is talented, the coach is measured.

A productive trade period could bring big things if they're willing to shake their old ways.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs