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COMMENT: Why the 'Gibbons rule' ticks every box

Prime Prospects: Five players to watch in 2019 Cal Twomey and Nat Edwards take an early look at some of the players to watch from the upcoming draft crop

LOST amid the fanfare surrounding Michael Gibbons' signing at Carlton was that his AFL dream could have been extinguished barely two months earlier. 

Gibbons' long journey to elite ranks was suitably celebrated, but it may never have happened without the introduction late last year of the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP). 

The drafts again came and went without the dual Liston Trophy winner – awarded to the VFL's best and fairest player – finding an AFL home. 

Already 23 years old by that stage, Gibbons would typically have had to wait a full 12 months for his next opportunity.

INSIDE CARLTON The moment a No.1 gun went down

However, the terms of the new SSP rule were announced leading into the draft, with Greater Western Sydney and Essendon committing to Shane Mumford and Zac Clarke, respectively. 

It is undoubtedly one of the AFL's best concepts in a long time, offering practicality and protection for clubs, embracing and encouraging player movement, and providing more fan fodder. 

Neither Mumford nor Clarke had to nominate for the draft, as previously listed AFL footballers who had spent at least one season out of the competition. 

Zac Clarke and Shane Mumford will both revive their AFL careers in 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

It was the first step towards lifetime free agency, which will go into overdrive at this season's end.

By then, any player who qualifies for free agency – eight years or more at any club – is expected to retain that status each time they are out of contract. 

The rule also applies to players who have never been AFL-listed but missed out in the drafts immediately prior to the subsequent SSP, which runs from December 1 last year to March 15, 2019.

The exceptions are players who had already committed to a further season as a 19-year-old in a northern or Next Generation academy.

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Following Mumford and Clarke in joining an AFL club via the SSP were Maverick Weller and Sydney Stack (Richmond), Corey Wagner (Melbourne), Keegan Brooksby (West Coast), Tom Campbell (North Melbourne), Gibbons and Matthew Cottrell (Carlton).

That's nine players already, with the promise of more inside the next month, while the rebirth of the mid-season draft affords wannabe AFL players another chance.

MID-SEASON DRAFT When it's on and how it will work

Hawthorn is having a long look at project ruckman Ned Reeves, who would take the retired Will Langford's spot on the list when the Hawks switch the 2014 premiership hero to 'inactive'.

The Swans have the option of doing the same with Kurt Tippett, but they are understood to not be pursuing another player. 

Melbourne, the Giants and Gold Coast also have one list vacancy each, but may wait until the mid-season draft.

There's been a perfect storm-of-sorts that enabled the SSP to become an instant success – and, almost as importantly, a talking point among fans. 

The Blues lost Sam Docherty to another major knee injury that could cost him a second straight season, while Tom Bugg quit AFL football just 71 days after Carlton picked him in the rookie draft. 

In between, reigning Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell suffered a broken leg in mid-January that Hawthorn football boss Graham Wright said this week would see him miss "the remainder of 2019". 

An opportunity might also arise out of injured Sun Harrison Wigg's despair.

The Hawks seem to be considering replacing Mitchell, with news emerging this week that former West Perth midfielder Luke Meadows might be in the running if they choose to do so.

AFL.com.au's analytics on the Meadows story illustrated just how much interest there is any time a potential recruit is linked to a club.

The 24-year-old subsequently had a blinder in Hawthorn's intraclub contest on Wednesday, even catching star Hawk and fellow West Australian Jaeger O'Meara's attention.

The AFL is in similarly good form with this new rule.