MELBOURNE has mastered the art of 'Afterpay'.
For the third straight year, Demons list boss Tim Lamb, recruiting manager Jason Taylor and Academy talent manager Todd Patterson have worked their magic to find a way to circumvent the system and claw back into the first round of the NAB AFL Draft.
Their 'buy now, pay later' method was pivotal to a gradual but linear list build that resulted in a first flag in 57 years last month, while the club is yet to show any signs that will alter a winning formula going forward.
TRADE HUB All the latest player movement news
The Demons have continually pushed future picks into current drafts, finding a way to land early selections without any instant cost. It's a flawlessly executed plan that the club has followed through with for three straight years now, and acted upon again last Wednesday.
The first-round selection Melbourne received from the Western Bulldogs (currently pick No.17 overall) cost the reigning premiers a future first-round pick to Adelaide as part of a mega four-club trade that was hashed out last week. It stemmed from a successful and distinctly red and blue system of operating.
In 2019, Melbourne traded a future first-round pick (alongside picks No.26 and 50) to North Melbourne to land pick No.8. The reward for such a bold move was Kysaiah Pickett, who added to the selection of Luke Jackson earlier in the same draft.
In 2020, the Demons traded a future first-round pick (alongside picks No.25, 68 and 69) to Brisbane to receive picks No.18, 19 and a future second-round selection. This time, the club landed Jake Bowey and Bailey Laurie as the centrepieces of its draft haul.
And in 2021, the trio of Lamb, Taylor and Patterson traded a future first-round pick (alongside picks No.33 and 45) to Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs so they could secure picks No.17, 37 and 49.
Which player Melbourne selects in the first round of next month's draft remains to be seen. But, given the club's record over the last two years, you can assume it will be another ready-made piece to add to the supremely talented Demons core.
Melbourne ultimately landed two premiership players – Pickett and Bowey – with picks it had traded future selections to receive. Meanwhile, the tab for these draft picks is still waiting to be picked up.
At the moment, its 2022 first-round selection (currently in the hands of Adelaide) will be the cost for such success. But, given Lamb, Taylor and Patterson's track record, assuming the Demons won't trade back into next year's draft would be foolish.
"As you've probably seen over the last few years, we've had a habit of trying to get back into the first round of the draft or improve our position in the draft," Lamb told AFL Exchange on Continental Tyres AFL Trade Radio this week.
"That was something we wanted to do again this year. By being back in the first round again, it would give us five first-rounders over the last three years and seven picks inside 30. It's that same philosophy of getting a group of young guys together and keep that pathway of talent coming to the club.
"When we look at trading a future (pick), we don't do it lightly. We've got a really strong process and system that's quite data-driven that we go through before we can make a decision like that. But because we're quite established in our decision making in that space, we're able to move relatively quickly if an opportunity presents.
LISTEN TO CONTINENTAL TYRES AFL TRADE RADIO FROM 7am-8pm AEDT WEEKDAYS
"Todd Patterson is in charge of looking at our futures market, so we were well prepared heading into this period and if something like that does arise – whether we initiate it or someone else – we feel we're in a strong position to make really reasonable and sound decisions that fit into our strategy."
The plan, according to Lamb, can be dated back to 2015.
In that season, Melbourne traded a future first-round pick (alongside picks No.6 and 29) to Gold Coast for picks No.3, 10 and 43. They used those lucrative early draft choices on Clayton Oliver and Sam Weideman.
It would spark a run of three straight years without a first-round selection as the Demons traded out of drafts for Jake Lever and Steven May, two players who have provided the bedrock for their premiership backline.
By next year, when Adelaide chooses in the first round at the expense of Melbourne, eight drafts would have passed between 2015 and 2022. In that same span, the Demons would have used only one pick rightfully theirs courtesy of their ladder position.
"If you go back to 2013, 2014 and 2015, obviously we needed to improve the talent level on the list and we'd seen it happen at other clubs … Jason had been at Collingwood and we saw the impact at Hawthorn as well," Lamb said.
"A group of young players that come in together, over a two- or three-year period, they can really grow together and their relationships become really strong. They go on a journey together.
"That was our focus, to bring a group of guys through together that we thought would take us to where we wanted to go. Obviously, you have to look at every opportunity that you can to do that, it might not just be your first rounder … it can involve other people or a trade and the likes.
"The 2019 season happened (Melbourne finished second-last on the ladder with a disappointing 5-17 record), which we didn't want to happen, but we saw that as another opportunity to have the same philosophy."
And so sparked a three-year run of trading out, and then back into, future drafts.
Given that multiple players involved in such a run would go on to help Max Gawn and Simon Goodwin lift the premiership cup aloft last month, Melbourne has certainly found itself a winning system.