IF NOT for an unusual act of football generosity, young Bulldog Josh Dunkley could be lining up for the Sydney Swans in Saturday’s decider.
Dunkley spent most of his draft year undecided on whether he wanted to play for the Swans, the club his father Andrew represented in 217 games.
But while Dunkley eventually nominated the Swans as a potential destination via the father-son rule in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft, many were surprised when the club failed to match the Bulldogs' second-round bid for the midfielder.
AFL.com.au can now reveal that rather than going cold on the 189cm midfielder, the Swans had agreed to do what they could to keep him close to his family in Yarram, country Victoria.
Less than 12 months later, the 19-year-old will run out onto the MCG for the Bulldogs against the Sydney Swans in a Grand Final.
While the football world expected the Swans to match any bid that came for the AFL academy graduate, a deal had been struck to try to keep Dunkley in Melbourne to be closer to his family home in Yarram, four hours east of Melbourne.
A recruiter, who wished to remain anonymous and is not affiliated with the Swans or Bulldogs, revealed why the Swans became the first club not to match a bid on a father-son prospect.
"The family was pretty keen to see Josh stay in Melbourne and the Swans understood that," the recruiter said.
"The Swans agreed not to match a bid from a (Victorian) club for him, only if (the bid) came from a side outside Victoria.
"It's fair to say (the Dunkleys) were very happy when Josh ended up at the Dogs."
The Swans denied at the time that they gifted Dunkley to the Bulldogs with pick 25, saying they already had similar players of his type.
Andrew Dunkley told AFL.com.au earlier this year he found the whole father-son bidding system "awkward."
"The process is a bit over the top because we have to remember they're only kids," he said.
"To go through the whole process was a bit awkward, but it's worked out beautifully because the Bulldogs are an excellent club to be involved in.
"And the beauty of him remaining in Victoria is we can watch him most weeks."
The family has taken advantage of Josh's proximity to home, and has watched him play most games in Melbourne but also travelled interstate witness the Dogs' memorable finals wins over West Coast and Greater Western Sydney.
The young Bulldog feels his father is slowly but surely relinquishing his allegiance to the Swans.
"I think he's 90 per cent a Bulldogs man now, but he'll always have the soft spot in his heart for the Swans for the rest of his life," Dunkley told AFL.com.au.
"The family have been to every final so far, they love it.
"Having them in the crowd on Saturday on what will be a massive day for the club is very special to me."
And as he prepares for the biggest challenge of his 16-game career, Dunkley will be forever thankful to the Bulldogs for giving him the chance to become an AFL footballer.
Even if it is against the team he barracked for as a child.
"When I first got to the club I just needed to be a sponge and take as much as I could in and make myself a better player and person," Dunkley said.
"I've improved my contested and uncontested games, skill execution and every game I'm getting better and better.
"I love it when (Luke Beveridge) shows faith in me to play in the midfield with the likes of Tom Liberatore, Marcus Bontempelli, and the others.
"I'm really confident now (in my ability) and hopefully I can play well on Saturday."