Compare this pair of Western Bulldogs players.
One player is in the prime of his career, he turned 28 in August, played 99 games in seven seasons across two football clubs and is a proven goal kicker, bagging 166 goals including three seasons he led Essendon's goal kicking and one season he led the Bulldogs in goals kicked. As talented and as solid his career has been, he has only played just two games in the past two seasons due to a couple of unfortunate circumstances.
The other player has only just played 22 games in four seasons, he can play both as a midfielder and a forward but he has only made a return of 12.20 - However, he is still a relatively young player as he is 22 years of age and will not turn 23 until next March and has scope for improvement. Unlike player one who stands at 190 centimetres, he is not very tall, only standing in at 176 centimetres.
The one similarity is this - both of these men were out of contract at the end of contract at the conclusion of the 2017 AFL Season, but with the sudden retirement of Travis Cloke, only one spot in the Western Bulldogs' list was available and a very tough choice was made.
At the end of it all, this very tough decision was made to give the last available slot on the playing list to the 22-year old, 22-game veteran Mitch Honeychurch, taking the spot from the 99-game, 166 goal forward Stewart Crameri, who was told that the club would not offer him a new contract for the new year.
To some Bulldog supporters, it may be a head scratcher given that Honeychurch struggled to get a game as a midfielder in his four seasons and as a forward this year, he wasn't very good, kicking eight consecutive behinds before finally nailing his first and only major of the season, where as in comparison, Crameri has kicked 30 goals or more in five of his seven seasons at both Essendon and the Western Bulldogs.He only played six games in 2017.
A facial infection ruined any chance of Honeychurch building on his game total in 2017, but as list manager Jason McCartney told the Western Bulldogs official website:
"Mitch has improved every year he's been at the club, and if it weren't for a late-season injury, I've got no doubt he would've played a few more games in 2017."
At 22 years of age, Mitch Honeychurch has got the essentials to be a really dangerous small forward. He averaged just under six tackles per game and averaged over six score involvements per game in only six games in 2017 and there were moments in those games in 2017 where he really got himself into dangerous positions inside forward 50. However the problem was his finishing in front of the goals as 1.8 is nowhere near good enough for a small forward to establish himself in a team aspiring to become a premiership contender once again.
As a midfielder, there is very little chance he will find himself in the Western Bulldogs' next premiership midfield, despite starring in the middle for Footscray in the VFL over the past couple of years.. With Marcus Bontempelli starring the show and a solid support cast in Jack Macrae, Luke Dahlhaus, Tom Liberatore, Mitch Wallis, Lachie Hunter and others that will be placed ahead of Honeychurch
My belief is that Honeychurch must continue to develop his craft as a pressuring small forward this pre-season and the results will come with it, because he has shown at times this year that he is more than capable of being a dangerous forward and with the departures of Jake Stringer and now the pair of Travis Cloke and Stewart Crameri, there has never been a better time for Honeychurch to strike is now.
Look at some of the best small forwards in the game today. Adelaide's Eddie Betts has kicked season totals of 55 goals, 75 goals and 63 goals in the past three seasons, yet he doesn't average six tackles a game like Mitch Honeychurch did. Toby Greene kicked 45 goals in 19 games, but he couldn't even average three tackles a game, whilst Melbourne's Jeff Garlett who kicked 42 goals in 2017, could only average 3.5 tackles per game.
Look at it like this. Turn the 1.33 behinds that Mitch Honeychurch averaged in his six games in 2017 into goals, multiply it by 22 and you could find that Mitch Honeychurch could find himself into the frame as a 30-40 goal small forward in years to come, but this needs to come with a willingness to work hard and given that he has just signed a one-year deal, Honeychurch will be out to prove that he is not a finished force.
To prove that Honeychurch is still a valuable asset to this side, the side that the Bulldogs defeated in the 2016 Preliminary Final - Greater Western Sydney were very interested in securing the services of this young man from Vermont during this year's trade period, and could potentially see him line-up for their side come round one, 2018. Given that this will be a top-four side for a while to come, this should be taken as an extraordinary compliment, despite the fact that the AFL continue to feed this Orange lovechild with a silver spoon - The Giants are still a damn good team.
Having said all of this, I still feel like Stewart Crameri was very stiff to miss out on playing on at the Bulldogs. Crameri came to the club from Essendon at the conclusion of the 2013 AFL season as money, a strong relationship with then-coach Brendan McCartney and the allure of a fresh start lured him to the Whitten Oval. Crameri initially signed on for four years, and whilst he contributed strongly in his first two seasons at the Kennel, kicking 69 goals in 40 games, this included a bag of seven against his old side in Essendon.
And then came the unfortunate circumstances I mentioned earlier. In 2016 Crameri was forced to spend a year on the sidelines for his involvement in Essendon's supplements scandal back in 2012. It was a year of heartache for Crameri in particular as he had to watch from the stands as his club broke a 62-year premiership drought - there is no doubt that would've been a gut-wrenching experience if you were in his shoes.
His 2017 campaign was then derailed by a hip injury, an injury that required season-ending surgery after just two games into the 2017 season. That means in the last two years, Crameri only managed to play just two games - in my eyes, that's just a man who has endured more bad luck than anything else and it's a little disappointing that he will be searching elsewhere to continue his AFL career and personally I hope it does continues, whether it be at Geelong, the club to which it all started for him in Essendon or somewhere else.
In the right team, Crameri is still a valuable asset, however, it will be exciting to watch and see what comes of Mitch Honeychurch next season.
Let me take you back to the 2013 AFL Draft for just a moment. Many believed that the Western Bulldogs had picked up a draft bargain with the 60th overall pick, selecting Eastern Ranges product Mitch Honeychurch. This was a kid who averaged 25 disposals, five tackles and a goal per game across four games in the under-18s National Championships.
On top of all this, he was named an under-18's All-Australian and he was also named as Vic Metro's Most Valuable Player in the 2013 National Championships, beating out the likes of Josh Kelly and Jack Billings - these two guys would go on to be selected with the second and third picks in the 2013 Draft respectively.
Coach of Vic Metro that year, Martin Allison said this of Honeychurch's performance against Western Australia in which he had 33 disposals, six marks five clearances and two goals in a best on ground effort:
"When the game was in the balance in the fourth quarter, Mitch really came into his own and was pivotal to getting us over the line."
The praise for Honeychurch doesn't stop there, with Eastern Ranges' Regional Manager Anthony Parkin stating pre-draft:
“He is a fantastic young man and one of the hardest working players I have seen come through. I have never seen anyone throw themselves into their rehab more than he did. He is a running machine. He got himself super fit and super strong and its enabled him to play at a level where AFL clubs have to consider him.”
The statistics might not be pleasing to the eyes of many Bulldogs supporters, but the Dogs must continue to invest in the youth to take this club back to the promised land and at 22 years of age, Mitch Honeychurch will need to get a hold of every opportunity possible if he wants to continue his AFL career.
Whether or not Doggies fans like the club's decision to back Honeychurch over Crameri, the Western Bulldogs Football Club made the right call in this instance.