Craig McRae, Luke Jackson, Harley Reid and Ben King. Pictures: AFL Photos

THE FALLOUT from one of footy's biggest trades, the unprecedented hype surrounding Harley Reid, emotional goodbyes and the philosophy that spurred Collingwood to its 16th flag. 

These are just some of the topics that took centre stage as's writers explored footy from every angle. 

Our team also looked back at the 'sliding doors' moment that defined John Longmire's career, the emotional build-up to the start of Melbourne's AFLW premiership defence and a Tigerland farewell that left the footy world stunned. 

As footy takes a well-earned break after another thrilling year, relive some of the best stories from our award-winning reporters at

Return of the King

"I was laying on the physio table while the doctor was checking my knee and he knew straight away. I remember asking 'Is it, it?' I don't even think I could say it. He said 'Yeah, you've done it'," King recalled. 

"It all sort of hit me at that moment. I remember lying back and looking up through the trees at the sky and I just started crying.

"It's one of those things you think is never going to happen to you. It all hit me at once and I got pretty emotional."

>> Read Michael Whiting's feature on Ben King HERE

The night 'Horse' said no

In the winter months of 2009, before Sydney had conjured any thought of a coaching succession plan with its premiership mastermind Paul Roos, the club's senior assistant John Longmire was being heavily courted by North Melbourne to be its next senior coach. The Swans, naturally, sprang into action to concoct the perfect plan to keep the man known as 'Horse'.

Only it failed.

Longmire, a Kangaroos premiership player in 1999 and an ambitious assistant with designs on stepping into a coaching hot seat in the near future, was understandably intrigued by the prospect of a return to Arden Street. So much so that the Swans' president at the time, Richard Colless, tasked fellow board member Andrew Pridham with a covert mission. Offer him a different job, one that – unlike its coaching position – was vacant at the time.

"We didn't want to lose John, but Paul was the senior coach," Pridham tells

"I was given the job to take John out to dinner and have a chat to him. We thought he could have gone more into the administrative side. I said, 'We don't want to lose you. Do you really want to be a senior coach?'"

>> Read Riley Beveridge's feature on Sydney coach John Longmire HERE 

Behind the scenes of the draft's biggest first round ever

IT WAS the St Kilda trade decision that likely cost West Coast drafting Dan Curtin last week.

In the lead-up to the first round of the AFL Draft last Monday night, all attention centred on Curtin's landing spot and Greater Western Sydney's pick No.7. With Curtin projected to slide, the Giants had multiple offers from five clubs for the pick. 

The Giants looked at all options but had decided they wanted to prioritise drafting small forward Phoenix Gothard. They proposed a trade with the Saints, which would have seen the Giants give up pick 16 and a future second-round pick to take the Saints' pick 13. 

But the Saints said no to the Giants, conscious that a slide of three spots would risk their access to Darcy Wilson given Adelaide and North's interest after their selection. The Giants moved in a different direction, leaving Adelaide to swoop on Curtin. 

It was just one of countless sets of sliding doors moments in last week's first round, as the draft continues to evolve as a tactical and strategic battle.

>> Read Cal Twomey's behind-the-scenes look at the 2023 draft HERE

Freo's plan to build a superstar

IT'S June, 2022, and the success of a blockbuster trade between Melbourne and Fremantle rests on a mid-season meeting between Luke Jackson and Justin Longmuir, two similarly humble and introverted personalities who are equal parts driven and competitive.

Jackson has flown home to Perth during Melbourne's bye period to meet with the Dockers, with Longmuir and the club's leaders given a few weeks to prepare their pitch to the young premiership star.

There are eight people in the room when they meet at Crown Hotel, overlooking Optus Stadium and the Matagarup Bridge – which happens to be lit purple for the evening – but it might as well just be Longmuir and Jackson once the pair start talking football.

Fremantle list manager David Walls identified it as the clear moment when the trade became a possibility, while Jackson's parents would later remark about the pair's similar personalities and how the young footballer had warmed quickly to the coach then and there.

"I think he gets me, and I think I get him," Jackson said to Dover after the meeting, while Longmuir walked away impressed with the young star's character and family, and excited by his untapped potential.

>> Read Nathan Schmook's award-winning feature on Luke Jackson HERE

'I looked at her, and couldn't do it'

COURTNEY Jones didn't want to leave Gold Coast after one season.

But the Richmond forward – and the Jones family – want to share why she requested a trade.

In January, Jones' 13-year-old sister Mikaela was diagnosed with stage 3-4 medullary thyroid cancer, a rare type that makes up less than two per cent of thyroid cancer diagnoses.

>> Read Sarah Black's feature on a W star's emotional decision to come home HERE

Finding the next 'Fly': How to pick a senior coach

Collingwood had drawn up the template for what it wanted in a senior coach, it had funnelled a list of candidates into a shortlist, and it had started the process of asking a series of applicants to provide presentations on what they would bring to the role.

But the club's coaching selection committee remained no closer to picking its next senior coach. "They were all really impressive. The dice could have fallen either way," Collingwood premiership player Luke Ball, a member of the selection panel, tells

That was until Craig McRae gave a vision of his coaching philosophy...

>> Read Riley Beveridge's feature on modern-day coaches HERE

Mind games: The role of sports psychology in modern footy

THE GROWING impact of psychology as a performance tool in the AFL was captured perfectly in last year's finals series when the player under the brightest spotlight became the biggest star of September. 

Geelong champion Patrick Dangerfield's pursuit of a premiership after playing 300 games was among the major storylines of last year's finals, with the Cats' recent September record adding another layer of potential pressure for the eight-time All-Australian.

In the lead-up to the Grand Final, Dangerfield did what more and more AFL players are comfortable doing and spoke about the work he had done with a psychologist to help manage the pressure that finals present. 

The 33-year-old, who had played in five losing preliminary finals as well as the unsuccessful 2020 Grand Final, went on to win the Gary Ayres Award as the player of the finals, leading the Cats to the premiership and finishing runner-up in Norm Smith Medal voting. 

It was a month that highlighted the Brownlow medallist's greatness as a player, but also his ability to seek the right type of help at the right time. 

>> Read Nathan Schmook's dive into the role of sports psychology HERE

Being Harley Reid

The expected No.1 pick at the upcoming AFL Draft has been so omnipresent that he's become singularly known by his first name – Harley, the two-time under-18 All-Australian, swashbuckling midfielder, dangerous one-on-one forward, headband-wearing fend-off machine, country kid who already has a boots sponsorship with Puma, whose highlights make him a TikTok sensation and who has nearly 40,000 followers on Instagram despite not being picked up yet.

Reid has become the face of the next generation of draftees; his talents interlocked with a rising interest in the AFL draft, a growing knowledge of the trade period and a higher expectation of the teenagers once they hit the big time. Read all about it, alright. 

>> Read Cal Twomey's feature on 2024's No.1 draft pick HERE

Tears, family and Demon Spirit: Inside Melbourne's emotion-charged AFLW prep

IT WAS supposed to be a normal Tuesday ahead of the AFLW's season opener.

There was meant to be game planning, a bit of opposition analysis, some high-performance work in the gym, the club's main training session at Gosch's Paddock, and then team selection over dinner later that night.

But on an emotion-charged afternoon at AAMI Park, the day took a turn. Tears were shed, dreams came to fruition, a family grew bigger, and the spirit that sparked Melbourne's meteoric rise to last season's premiership came to the fore.

>> Read Riley Beveridge's look at Melbourne's inner sanctum HERE

Hard, tough, intoxicating: How Dimma built his dynasty

EVEN when you know the end is coming, the sudden finality still comes as a shock.

Damien Hardwick, the three-time Richmond premiership coach – let that sink in one more time – brought an end to a glittering career at Punt Road on his own terms.

Fittingly, the announcement was bookended by games against the two clubs with which he won flags as a player: Essendon last week and Port Adelaide on Sunday.

But to use a Dimma-ism, the fact of the matter is he leaves the club a legendary figure, the man who led the mighty Tigers out of the almost four decades of misery and back to where they feel they belong.

>> Read Sarah Black's heartfelt recap of the Damien Hardwick era HERE

From zero to heroes: Why Swans' rise is no surprise

When organisations discuss a 'one club' approach, the assumption is that it means both women's and men's teams are well integrated. But when Sydney says it is one club, that includes all players, all coaches, and all staff. Those responsible for social media content are as important as the strength and conditioning team, and the coaches are just as important as the players.

"The way I try to describe it to my family is that if you imagine that you are living in the same house, and it's a brother and a sister (relationship)," head coach Scott Gowans told

"It's exactly like that, and the boys have started to trickle in and do pre-season and not one of them wouldn't stop and say, 'great game' or 'what happened against Hawthorn?'. They watch it and they're interested.

"I reflect back to our first win, the boys couldn't be happier ... they rushed on the ground and like, that's not manufactured. That's emotion and that's because they're invested in what we do."

>> Read Gemma Bastiani's account of Sydney's AFLW inner sanctum HERE