Sentiment pushes us at times into desiring that the players we love, complete one club careers. We hold that view for the so called stars in our teams, the cult heroes or just our personal favourites. The reality is though we probably don’t carry the same sense of nostalgia for those we feel aren’t necessarily ‘cutting the mustard’ in line with our often unrealistic standards. Likewise, when a player from an opposing team makes their way to our club, understandably it’s the fanfare and status of the individual that, to some degree, influences our level of excitement.
One such player, who in the blink of an eye became one of our purple people and made his way to the club without the noise, the hype and the media ticker tape parade, was young former Lion and more recent Magpie, James Aish.
Apart from his draft year and subsequent debut season with the Brisbane Lions his name has rarely been in lights. In descriptions of his worth as a defender or midfielder, seldom has it been beyond the realms of solid. Occasionally trusty, exciting in his early years but more recently reliable, has been the extent of the adjectival range. Maybe the language has proven appropriate to date or maybe the lack of coverage is entirely due to the difficulties headline editors have had finding anything that snappily rhymes with Aish. I am speaking from exhaustion on that front.
Pleasingly though I think the media has undersold Aish’s signature at Fremantle and I hope he's allowed to continue dancing underneath that same media and fan expectation radar. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony of publicly suggesting that wish.
Aish was born in 1995 the very year Fremantle debuted in the AFL. Ironically he played every game in his initial season except the round 14 match against the club he now finds himself at.
The South Australian came up through the SANFL playing for Norwood, a club with an historically rich Aish family influence. At 16 years of age he became the youngest player in 134 years to debut for Norwood and he went on to win two premierships in two years.
In the 2013 AFL national draft Aish was tipped to go top five and was set to join the Western Bulldogs. But at the last minute the Dogs opted to go with Marcus Bontempelli which obviously turned out to be a handy decision. The Brisbane Lions that year had 7 picks within the first 35 selections and with their first pick at number seven they pounced on Aish, commenting that they were in some way shocked he had gotten through that far, believing they got a bargain.
He debuted for the Lions in 2014 and earned the round six Rising Star nomination after amassing 25 possessions, 8 marks, 4 tackles and a goal in Brisbane’s first win for the season, a 3 point victory over the Saints.
With a wonderful debut season Aish went on to run fourth in the 2014 Rising Star award behind Lewis Taylor, Marcus Bontempelli and Luke McDonald and he finished 9th in the Lion’s fairest and best.
In 2015, Aish’s second year at the Lions, whispers began about the young recruit wanting to move to Melbourne and they grew louder when he put contract talks on hold. It obviously affected his output as he could not replicate his debut year. He played just 11 games in 2015 and was dropped numerous times to the NEAFL.
After the completion of the 2015 season he requested a trade to Collingwood. While initially refusing to enter talks on potentially trading the high draft pick, Brisbane backed down and began discussions with the Pies. A deal was all but struck before North Melbourne threw their hat in the Aish securing ring and the complications grew.
In a round-about trade Collingwood got their man and the talented Aish spent the following four years in the black and white. It didn’t all go to plan as an array of injuries saw him manage 50 games at an average of 16 possessions, 4 marks and 3 tackles per game, playing largely off the halfback line as an outside running rebound, efficient ball using defender. He was also able to sneak down on occasions and snare the odd goal.
That brought us to the 2019 trade period and it must be said that few, if any, thought Collingwood’s apparently popular and well thought of Aish would be on the move again. It was surprising when suddenly he was signed up and in a purple jumper as it had most of us saying…… “wait, what just happened?”
But when the dust settled you realised that cagey ole Justin Longmuir may have been pulling some inside knowledgeable strings. No doubt he was keen to have the still young versatile player come with him to the land of the great purple cloud. It was simply some James Aish instrumental guitar solo music to our ears.
Admittedly it wasn’t a case of sneaking one out from under Collingwood’s nose because the
Pies were in a hands-tied position. They weren’t keen to lose Aish but they simply couldn’t offer him the security of a longer term deal and coinciding salary that Fremantle could.
When you have the likes of Brody Grundy, Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar, Jordan DeGoey and a Jayden Stephenson, just to name a few, all trying to get a maximum slice of the Mag-pie, its inevitable there will be some talented casualties. It was seemingly an amicable split as Collingwood needed to look after the club and Aish needed to look after himself.
But on this occasion, Collingwood’s loss is definitely Fremantle’s gain and we’re already seeing signs of what a James Aish brings to Fremantle. At just 24 years of age he comes with a seemingly experienced head on his young shoulders, a player capable of holding down a variety of positions and being advantageously ultra-reliable. A quality ball user and play maker who may well thrive on the extra responsibility and opportunity he will get in the Purple.
This could be one trade that bucks the trend for us.
Often mid 20 year old range recruits that have played at more than one club previously aren’t necessarily highly credentialed, big money and long term contract demanders or even supremely talented individuals. Usually they’re home comers or players realising the securing of any contract stalls the prospect of returning to the state leagues. Or they see the possibility of having to enter the real world and getting on the end of a shovel to earn an Oxford Scholar isn't exactly enticing.
While not wanting to be or sound offensive, it is probably safe to suggest the likes of the Shane Kerstens fit the stereotypical mould. (Yep, failed attempt because that sounded offensive) However, he isn’t on his own as some of the categorical names Fremantle has picked up over the years emphasises the point.
Admittedly there are exceptions to the rule and no doubt there are more names that could be added to the above. However, these types of players don’t improve your list and while they’ll play the sporadic handy and serviceable game, they tend to ensure your club, at best, treads water while opposing organisations often watch you shrink in their rear-view mirrors.
(I’m wrestling with the Travis Colyer inclusion as he probably is a genuine list-topper-upper and doesn't necessarily deserve to be part of this collective. But there has to be some provocative, debate sparking controversy doesn't there? Reecey Conca may have been there alongside him but Fyfey saved his bacon when he thanked him in his brownlow speech last year.)
Having stated the opinion that the majority of middle aged, in a football sense, multi-club recruits are fraught with danger, I’m betting James Aish may well be the rare exception to the unwritten or maybe even purely perceived rule.
James Aish is at Fremantle purely because he was after security. He isn’t here because he desperately wanted to play for the club and in this professional era of football, there is nothing negative about that. But there’s enough evidence to suggest his signature has been undersold in what the potential value is to Freo, specifically at this particular point in our developmental time.
Quite simply it’s not too often you manage to snare an obviously capable 80 game player who went at pick seven in the draft and is still only 24 years of age. The hard work has been done on Aish, he’s done the preseasons and he has had the workload of experience gaining games pumped into him. We should now get the benefit of a quality player’s best years and it largely cost us nothing.
Another rarity is that very seldom, if ever, do us Fremantle Dockers partake in any direct, indirect, deliberate, unintentional or even slightly associated drafting or trade negotiations with the Collingwood Football Club and come out in better shape than when we went in. In fact most times, and evidenced by the numerous trades and drafting below, we leave AFL house at the end of trade week asking if anyone has seen the shirt that was on our backs at the start of the week!
Having said all that, personally I am chuffed we have managed to secure a James Aish from the Pies. This could well be the trend bucking tide turning moment that starts to even up the Freo and Collingwood deal ledger.
Regardless of what has occurred in the past and what may unfold in future dealings, I for one am looking forward to following Aish’s purple progress for hopefully the next half a dozen years or so.
Well its not so much of a curse as it is we simply need to sharpen up when dealing with Collingwood at the draft and trade table. But for all intents and purposes and for blame shifting reasons, let’s call it the Collingwood Curse.
While not Collingwood’s doing, we picked up Brad Rowe in 1995 at pick 13 after he was delisted by the Pies. Brad Rowe, a talent East Fremantle product, was 26 years of age and a WA boy coming home. He played just the 8 games in 1996 for Freo before calling it a day. It didn’t hurt Freo but it most certainly didn’t help!
Arguably our worst effort and the trade we’ll never forget or live down occurred in 2000. Fremantle traded James Clement, Brodie Holland and pick 22 to Collingwood and we ended up with pick 8 which we on traded and pick 39 who we used to draft Adam “Smokey” McPhee. Clement was always going to deliver and he went on to be a Collingwood great playing near on 150 games. Brodie Holland slotted 104 goals in his 119 games over eight seasons with the Pies.
In 2006 Fremantle traded fan favourite Paul Medhurst to Collingwood and as part of the trade Graham Polak to Richmond. We received Chris Tarrant and pick 42 which we on traded. We recruited Tarrant desperate for the much needed forward but it failed and he ended up a defender. The loss of Paul Medhurst hurt many a Freo fan and even more so when he went on to play a further 69 games, kicking 108 goals for the Pies.
After doing us over on the way in in the 2006 deal to secure Chris Tarrant, Collingwood got us on the way out as well in 2010. We traded Tarrant with pick 44 back to the Pies and we received picks 43 and 55 picks we used to recruit Viv Michie (1 game for Fremantle) and Josh Mellington (6 games for Fremantle). Oh and Collingwood used pick 44 to select Alex Fasolo who played 100+ games and kicked 135 goals.
Also in 2010 Jack Anthony walked out of Collingwood. Oddly enough Fremantle threw the preseason pick 6 and the welcome mat at him with a three year deal. He didn’t cope with the expectations and the media pressure in WA and at the end of 2012 after just 8 games in two years he walked out of Fremantle as well.
In 2016 Collingwood took Chris Mayne off us after he became a free agent. After his first year at Collingwood it seemed we had finally come out of a deal with them that hadn’t ended negatively for us. However, in his following years he turned it back on and has been a pivotal player at the Pies. He found his defensive pressure rhythm and returned to being a player every club would benefit from. Having said that I think we ended up with pick 23 in the 2016 draft which we may have used to help secure Brad Hill so maybe the tide was starting to turn.