Fremantle Football Club's drafting and trading history is often cited as a reason for their poor on-field record, in not winning a finals game in their first 11 seasons. In recent years, however, they have been successful in finding good players with late round and rookie list selections.
Phil Smart was the recruiting manager at Fremantle from when they were formed in 1994 until 2008, remaining at the club until the end of 2009 as their draft manager, with Brad Lloyd being appointed the national recruitment manager. Smart was the Claremont Football Club colts (under 19) coach in 1994, and wasn't appointed until near the end of the 1994 WAFL season on 1 September 1994, just 2 months before the team started training. He had also never seen a game outside WA, something that would factor in the infamous trading away of future Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee Andrew McLeod to Adelaide, considered one of the most lopsided AFL trades of all-time.
1994/95 off season
Fremantle's initial squad of 50 players was compiled from a mixture of uncontracted players from other AFL clubs (maximum of 12 over two years), players who had previously nominated for the AFL draft but not been selected (unlimited from the WAFL, two each from the SANFL, VFL and TFL), up to ten delisted AFL players, trades with any other AFL club, unlimited selections from their four "aligned" WAFL clubs and selections 1, 4 and then the first two selections in each round of the 1994 AFL draft.
The McLeod trade
Fremantle had flown the 18-year-old McLeod and his father to Perth for an interview, but none of the coaching or recruiting staff had actually seen him play, despite having played in a premiership for Port Adelaide Football Club in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) a few weeks earlier. McLeod was puzzled and insulted when Fremantle coach Gerard Neesham asked him to stand up to see how tall he was. The result of the short meeting was that he was traded to Adelaide in return for promising centre half-forward Chris Groom, who they also hadn't see play. McLeod went on to play over 300 games, whilst Groom played only seven for Fremantle before being delisted at the end of the 1995 season.
Fremantle made similar trades with Melbourne to obtain Phil Gilbert and North Melbourne to obtain Troy Polak, trading away Jeff Farmer and Glenn Freeborn respectively.
Attracting uncontracted players from other AFL clubs would prove to be very difficult, except for some West Australian players willing to move back to Perth. The AFL also awarded compensation selections to any club that lost a player to Fremantle, of a 16-year-old player, which had the effect of reducing the available talent in the following year's draft, with Fremantle the only club who would be unable to recruit these 16-year-old players.
Prior to the 1994 draft, Fremantle arranged a deal with Essendon where they would recruit three players, all originally from Western Australia, and agree not to recruit any uncontracted players from any team that finished below Essendon in 1994. This would ensure that Essendon would have the first choice of the 16-year-olds in the compensation draft. Officially Todd Ridley was recruited as the uncontracted player, with Tony Delaney and Dale Kickett being traded for later picks. Whilst Kickett had a long and distinguished career at Fremantle, becoming the first player to play 100 games for the club and winning the Doig Medal in 1997, Delaney and Ridley weren't as successful. Essendon, however, recruited Matthew Lloyd with the 16-year-old compensation selection and Scott Lucas with the 4th selection, who would each play 270 games and kick a combined total of 1397 goals.
Fremantle also recruited its inaugural captain, Ben Allan and three of their first four best and fairest award winners, Peter Mann, Stephen O'Reilly and Jason Norrish through the uncontracted player process. Only one of the uncontracted players recruited, Andrew Wills, was not originally from Western Australia. In contrast to the outstanding career of Lloyd, the careers of the other compensation selections was mixed. Whilst West Coast's Chad Morrison and Geelong's Steven King had long and successful careers, and North Melbourne's Stuart Cochrane and Geelong's Adam Houlihan each played around 100 AFL games, Hawthorn's selection of David McEwan didn't play an AFL game and Melbourne's David Cockatoo-Collins only played two games.
The Croad trade
After a disastrous 2001 season during which Fremantle sacked coach Damian Drum mid-year and only won 2 games, Fremantle then became the first club to trade away the first selection in the national draft, which it received in addition to selection 4 as a priority draft pick due to their poor performance. In what would end up being considered one of the strongest drafts ever, Fremantle traded its first three draft selections for Hawthorn's key forward Trent Croad, along with injury prone former East Fremantle junior Luke McPharlin. Two of those selections were used by Hawthorn to draft four time premiership players and club captains Luke Hodge (#1 selection) and Sam Mitchell (#36). Fremantle had not yet appointed a coach, so the recruitment was led by the chief executive officer (CEO) Cameron Schwab, who also had only recently been hired.
Schwab is quoted as saying that it didn't matter if they traded draft pick 1 or 4, they still would have drafted Western Australian key position player Graham Polak with their first selection, ahead of the three Victorian midfielders that were chosen in the actual draft, Hodge, Luke Ball and Chris Judd. "It didn't matter whether we could take him (Polak) at No 1 or 4 — the issue was that ranked the wrong player number one". Part of the reason for choosing three tall players in Croad, McPharlin and Polak was that they were concerned that Matthew Pavlich could leave Fremantle to return to Adelaide the following year, and they had no other key position players in their squad.
Croad would only stay at Fremantle for two years, leading Fremantle's goalkicking in 2002, before being traded back to Hawthorn at the end of the 2003 season. He then played mainly in defence for Hawthorn and was a key member of their 2008 AFL Grand Final winning team. Polak played over 100 games for Fremantle before he was traded to Richmond in 2006, whilst McPharlin has played over 200 games for Fremantle and was named in the 2012 All-Australian team. Pavlich didn't return to Adelaide and remained at Fremantle to become the club's longest serving captain, games and goal scoring record holder, 6-time All-Australian and 6-time Doig Medalist and in 2014 became the first Western Australian based player to play over 300 AFL games.