WESTERN Bulldogs star Josh Dunkley has requested a trade before, but the out-of-contract midfielder says he was shocked to be linked to a move to South Australia this week.
Dunkley had his wish to move from Whitten Oval to The Hangar at the end of 2020 ultimately denied after the Dogs and Essendon reached an impasse, amid one of the most chaotic trade periods in AFL history.
The 25-year-old returned to the Bulldogs and played 15 games in 2021, including all four finals to help the club reach a second Grand Final in five years under Luke Beveridge, but the trade whispers haven't evaporated.
Dunkley, like teammates Adam Treloar and Tim English, dates a professional netballer who plies her trade in another state, adding fuel to the fire.
English has been linked to a return to Western Australia to be closer to his partner Rudi Ellis, who signed a two-year extension last year with the West Coast Fever, while Dunkley dates Adelaide Thunderbirds shooter Tippah Dwan, who moved clubs late last year after playing for the Queensland Firebirds with Treloar's partner, Kim Ravaillion, Dunkley's sister Lara and Ellis.
In a wide-ranging interview alongside Treloar for AFL Daily, Dunkley dismissed any validity of the rumours linking him to another trade away from the club who drafted him at pick No.25 in 2015, after Sydney chose not to match the bid for the son of former Swans full-back Andrew Dunkley.
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"Obviously it was out recently and I was shocked myself. I actually had a couple of teammates come up to me and be like, 'Have you seen what's going on with you this afternoon?'" Dunkley told AFL.com.au this week.
"I don't really think about it too much. Obviously contract negotiation time is normal for everyone – players go through it. We are in talks at the moment, there is nothing to note at the moment, but I'm just looking forward to getting the season started.
"It has been good to travel of late; I've been able to go over to Adelaide and see Tippah and spend some time with her. It does have its challenges at times, but I think when you are together you do appreciate those moments and have fun together."
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While Dunkley is yet to sign on the dotted line and stopped short of pledging his long-term future to the Bulldogs, a sliding doors moment of the 2020 trade period could prove to be the defining factor in keeping him at the kennel.
Many inside the club believe the acquisition of Treloar from Collingwood will be the reason why Dunkley knocks back better offers and greater midfield time elsewhere.
The pair have quickly become best friends, building a bromance that reminds diehard Bulldogs supporters of Brad Johnson and Rohan Smith in the late 1990s and early 2000s, following a trade period that brought them together when it quite easily couldn't have.
Dunkley admits his relationship with Treloar will be a big factor in him walking into the office of Bulldogs list manager Sam Power one day and inking his signature on the dotted line.
"It [the Treloar relationship] does [have an impact on staying]; I've been on record saying that. We've built a really strong connection and I'm happy. I'm not, not happy at the moment, it's really good," Dunkley said.
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"The future of the footy club is really bright. We've got some great players and I suppose the club as a whole is really close knit and being on the journey that we went on the last two years with COVID, has been really good in terms of building those connections. Not saying we weren't close prior to that, but we're as close as we've ever been to each other going through all those situations where we are flying here, flying there."
While Treloar is almost the modern prototype of the American athlete, starting his career at an expansion franchise, moving to a powerhouse and then a third club, Dunkley has the opportunity to start and finish his career in the red, white and blue.
The Gippsland product says the romance of being a one-club player is still there but isn't what it once was, with the industry and public far more accepting of player movement than they once were.
"I definitely think there is an appeal, for sure. To be a one-club player is something you see a lot of the powerhouses that have played before. We just saw Brad Johnson downstairs and he's a classic example of someone who has played 360-odd games for the footy club, he holds the record," he said.
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"I do think, though, that the Americanised sports side of it has changed a bit with the AFL world and Australia in general. A lot of players are moving around. It's actually exciting to see some good players move to some less likely sides because it brings them up and more hype to the game. It's not frowned upon in my opinion."
And with that, we wait to see when Dunkley puts pen to paper.
The Bulldogs have other contract priorities this year with new vice-captain Jack Macrae, box office star Bailey Smith and All-Australian defender Caleb Daniel all out of contract.