Time for AFL to consider top-up players: Bartel

Geelong great Jimmy Bartel has suggested clubs be allowed to sign a replacement player by the end of January should they lose a man to injury or retirement through the pre-season.

The decision this week by Sydney ruckman Kurt Tippett to retire because of a chronic ankle problem means the Swans will be a player short this season.

Hawthorn have to retain Ty Vickery on their senior list despite his retirement in November, while Richmond also find themselves in a similar position after Ben Griffiths opted to pursue a US college scholarship in the hope of becoming a punter in the National Football League.

Swans coach John Longmire said on Tuesday he had no issue with the timing of Tippett's decision despite it leaving his team with only three recognised ruckmen - Sam Naismith, Callum Sinclair and Darcy Cameron - just weeks before the new season.

Bartel, the three-time premiership Cat and a former AFL Players' Association board member, said having access to a replacement player, whether that be one who had retired the previous season but wanted to return, an overlooked draftee or a state-league player, had merit but clubs should not be rewarded for poor list management.

"Part of the art of list management is building a list that foresees a player going down. You don't want to reward sides for almost being deliberately short in one area with the potential to make up for it," he told Fairfax Media.

"But, on the counter, because pre-season is so long and taxing and we see almost every year someone go down with an ACL or a serious injury in the pre-season because it is so quick and the grounds are so hard, it wouldn't be bad at the end of January you have the opportunity to replace someone on your list.

"I don't know whether you should have to delist someone or clubs are allowed to add one more if they have that space open ... whether every club has 42 and they are allowed to go to 43 or you just keep it at 42.

"For us [at Geelong], I can remember one year (2016) for example. Jackson Thurlow, we had been building him for the half-back flank, we go and play in Shepparton. He does his knee up there and is gone for the year. It leaves us a half-back flanker short for the whole year.

"Geelong, at that stage, may have thought a different way but they may have said: 'Corey Enright, for instance, has retired, we can actually pull him out of retirement or there is a young half-back who missed out in the draft - that could be our insurance policy'."

Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale said this week he had been surprised by the timing of Griffiths' retirement and had the Tigers known through last year's trade period what was to happen "we might have been in a position to do something different".

AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said there were no plans to change the rules.

"Under the CBA, category A rookies now have the right to play but the likes of Vickery, Griffiths and now Tippett will all be on club lists this year and not playing, and we have had several other instances in recent years with the likes of Joel Patfull and others," he said.

Another suggestion has been to reintroduce the mid-season draft but Keane said that had gained little traction under league chief Gillon McLachlan's watch.

"Gill has previously raised it once or twice over the last few years in a couple of media interviews, usually under questioning, but it's never got any traction with clubs and hasn't progressed to the point where it has been discussed in any great length," he said.

Tippett opted to end his 178-game career because he felt he could not regain full fitness, having had an off-season ankle reconstruction.

While the ruckman-forward had three years left on his contract, Longmire said the Swans had an inkling late last year he might not play again.

"We understood it was on the radar at the end of last year. It's a big decision for anyone to make and we knew once he had the ankle reconstruction that it was going to be a big challenge to go through the whole rehab process again to get back and play," he said.

"You underestimate the mental challenges you have when you do that year on year and he's had a few of those over the journey.

"People don't understand how tough it was for him last year, he hurt his ankle in round two and had to play the whole season under pretty severe duress."

Longmire said the competition continued to evolve, with some clubs opting to use only one specialist ruckman. He pointed out the Swans had even used midfielders Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy as back-up ruck options last year.

This story Time for AFL to consider top-up players: Bartel first appeared on The Age.