Geelong Cats trade and draft history, Stephen Wells recruiting, Chris Pelchen

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For Cats champion Cameron Mooney, Geelong’s stunning sustained success over the past two decades has been driven by five men.

Four of them are obvious: Respected long-time president the late Frank Costa, gun chief executive Brian Cook and the two premiership coaches, Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson and Chris Scott.

The fifth is Stephen Wells – the humble, measured yet shrewd footy brain behind the ever-evolving Geelong list that’s constantly delivered on-field success and brought joy to so many Cats fans.

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“The late great Frank Costa always said there should be a statue of Stephen Wells out the front of Kardinia Park,” Mooney told

“If you look at the last 20-odd years, I think Wellsy is up there with the most important people at the club – that’s how important he’s been to Geelong.”

The AFL Grand Final on Saturday will be contested between Geelong and Sydney – arguably the two most successful clubs of the past two decades.

The Cats will be aiming for their fourth premiership since 2007, while the Swans are gunning for their third since 2005. Since 2004, Sydney has only missed the finals three times, while the Cats, remarkably, have sat out September action just once.

Stephen Wells, Chris Scott and Simon Lloyd. Picture: Michael DodgeSource: AAP

The culture at the Cats, off-field stability and brilliant coaching have been invaluable. But the elite consistency wouldn’t have come without the shrewd moves of the club’s list and recruiting department led by Wells – one of the most highly-respected figures in the AFL industry. breaks down some of Geelong’s best list and draft moves over the past two-and-a-half decades – and what makes the man behind those calls tick.


Some of Chris Pelchen’s favourite memories from his time in the AFL industry were his annual off-record conversations with Wells in the week prior to the national draft.

Their respect for each other was – and always will be – deep. Pelchen and Wells entered the AFL industry at a similar time in the early 1980s, with the former joining the AFL and the latter working for Bill McMaster at the Cats in Echuca as a development zone officer.

Less than two decades later, Pelchen often found himself sitting at Wells’ kitchen table predicting how the upcoming draft would pan out … without giving away too much of their intel, of course.

“Stephen and I would, on an annual basis, catch up a week before the draft each year,” Pelchen told

“Without breaking confidentiality of our clubs, we would talk about how we saw the draft looking and how we saw it developing. So not so much focusing on who they were going to pick with their selections and who we would take with our selections, it was more how the draft would unfold.”

Wayne Hughes and Stephen Wells talent spotting in the mid-2000s.Source: News Limited

It’s this ability and willingness to connect with rival recruiters, as well as coaches, players, players’ families and friends, that has made Wells one of the best list management operators this century.

“I think first and foremost, integrity. I think that comes back to his personal values more so than football nous,” Pelchen said of Wells’ greatest strength as a recruiter.

“Football nous is an obvious component of being successful, but it’s his demeanour and most importantly his integrity that has allowed him to develop relationships with people around Australia – not just within Victoria and Geelong – and is the reason for his longevity. It means he’s got a network of people who provide him with extremely useful information.

“He has a willingness to learn from anybody. We often spoke about that you don’t know where you’re going to get that key snippet of information from, whether it be from a teammate, an opponent, whether it be from a coach, or whether it be from someone who has an association with the player but not in an on-field capacity.

“Having those networks Australia-wide plays as important a role as seeing players play games or footage and vision of players.

“He also does the extra work. It’s not to take the obvious, it’s to work through the networks and look at the quality of the player, not just the on-field quality but most importantly the off-field quality.”

At the trade table, Wells is seen as a gentleman to deal with in what can often be an edgy, high-pressure environment.

Stephen Wells. Picture: Nigel HallettSource: News Corp Australia

So many AFL recruiters at rival clubs have also benefited from Wells’ experience and wisdom in conversations early in their recruiting journey. One told this week about some early advice they received from Wells: “Remember players at their best and don’t get drawn in too much by recency bias.”

Wells took on the role of Geelong recruiting manager after McMaster retired in 1995.

In 1999, the Cats traded in Mooney then drafted Joey Corey, Paul Chapman, Cameron Ling and Corey Enright, who’d all go on to be triple premiership players. Two years later, they picked another, ultimately, three triple premiership players in Jimmy Bartel, James Kelly and Steve Johnson, as well as a handy father-son prospect in Gary Ablett.

Those two drafts were the foundation of the Geelong premiership era from 2007 to 2011. Not only were they brilliant on the field, they helped develop an off-field culture and environment that became the envy of the competition.

“That’s why Wellsy’s such an important figure at the club, because that’s when the success started,” Mooney said of the 1999 and 2001 draft hauls.

“That’s why the club is great, because they’ve been able to continue well after all those players and people have gone. The grounding was set and the culture was set – and to everyone’s credit there now, they continued that.”

Some believe the biggest gamble Wells and the Cats took was in 2006 when they used Pick 7 to draft Joel Selwood – a highly-rated Bendigo Pioneers prospect, but one many clubs had snubbed.

Joel Selwood before getting drafted.Source: News Limited

“I was then at Hawthorn and we looked at Joel very, very closely,” Pelchen said.

“Unfortunately our medicos had put a line through him … And not just us, the vast majority of clubs had put a line through him in the top 10 because he was considered a risk. Essentially what’d come out through the draft camp was that he had a chronic knee condition.

“Looking back, clearly everybody got that wrong – apart from Geelong – because he’s played such an outstanding career that’s up there with the all-time greats. That’s partly through great management, partly through great luck as well, because at the end of the day you can always have setbacks.

“It’s a little bit ironic that we took Mitch Thorp with the selection before Joel. Mitch came to us fit then developed chronic hip issues in both hips and Joel, who had an issue going into that draft, has gone on to play 350 games of league football.”


Selwood was the youngest and least-experienced Geelong player on the ground when his team thumped Port Adelaide in the 2007 Grand Final. On Saturday, he’ll be the oldest Cat on the ground gunning for his fourth premiership medallion and his first as skipper.

He’ll be alongside best mate and five-time All-Australian Tom Hawkins (Pick 41, 2006), who’s turned out to be one of the great father-son steals, as well as fellow 2011 premiership player Mitch Duncan (Pick 28, 2009).

Every other Cats player picked to face the Swans hasn’t won a premiership – including Cam Guthrie (Pick 23, 2010), who’s now an elite AFL midfielder with a best and fairest and All-Australian on his CV.

Cameron Guthrie after his first AFL win in 2011. Picture: Quinn RooneySource: Getty Images

After Guthrie, Geelong over the next two years snared defensive duo Jed Bews (Pick 86, 2011) and Jake Kolodjashnij (Pick 41, 2013), while it also plucked Mark Blicavs (Rookie 2011) from relative obscurity.

At a lunch for the parents of new boys selected to play in the Cats’ NAB Cup side in February 2011, Guthrie’s dad Andrew told Wells that Blicavs, who Andrew coached at Taylors Lakes, was worth keeping an eye on. Wells then offered Blicavs a rookie contract in November 2011 and declared him “worth a punt”.

Eleven years later, Blicavs is an All-Australian and dual best and fairest winner renowned for his elite aerobic capacity, unique size and awesome versatility that can see him play genuinely anywhere on the field.

“To be honest, Blicavs is one in a million,” Mooney said.

“I think every club has seen a lot of athletes come through the door who couldn’t play football. There was an era there of ‘let’s turn an athlete into a football player’, whereas I was always the other way and would say ‘let’s find a footy player and turn him into an athlete’. Those athletes in the football players, seriously they are a dime a dozen because every club’s tried them and most of them failed.

“Blitz is probably the greatest one we’ve ever seen – and luckily for Geelong they got him.”

The Cats then had several years of first-round misses at the draft. Darcy Lang, Jackson Thurlow and Nakia Cockatoo just didn’t work out and were traded to other clubs.

But as one recruiter told this week: “When you pick the eyes out of two drafts, everyone forgets about the 10 other drafts you don’t nail.”

This is the time when the Cats got to work in the trade and free agency space. They acquired Rhys Stanley from St Kilda in 2014 before pulling off a massive coup, luring Crows star Patrick Dangerfield back home in his prime a year later. He’d go on to win the Brownlow in 2016 and make the next five consecutive All-Australian teams. Most are predicting him to win the Norm Smith Medal on Saturday.

Since then, the Cats have struck consistently, both at the trade table and draft.

In 2016, Zach Tuohy, who’ll play his 250th game on Saturday against Sydney, was traded from the Blues before the Cats went bargain hunting at the draft, picking up Brandan Parfitt (Pick 28), Tom Stewart (Pick 40), Jack Henry (rookie), Zach Guthrie (rookie) and Mark O’Connor (rookie). Far haul.

Over the next two years. Ablett returned to the Cats after a seven-year stint at the Suns and Gary Rohan was traded from Sydney, while they also snared Tim Kelly (Pick 24, 2017), Gryan Miers (Pick 57, 2017) and Tom Atkins (rookie 2018) at the draft.

While West Coast used its top two draft picks on tall forwards Jarrod Brander and Oscar Allen in the 2017 draft, Wells beat the Eagles to Kelly, taking him with a draft pick just before West Coast’s next selection that it intended to take Kelly with.

“Wellsy’s a genius,” Eagles football manager Craig Vozzo said in 2019.

“He’s an absolute gun recruiter and he got in just before we did.”

Sam De Koning (Pick 19, 2019), Brad Close (rookie 2019) and Max Holmes (Pick 20, 2020) followed, while triple premiership Hawk Isaac Smith was an unrestricted free agency signing in 2020 and Tyson Stengle as a delisted free agent 10 months ago.

Carlton Ruckman Tom De Koning (L) and his brother Sam De Koning parents Jackie and Terry. Picture: Dylan BurnsSource: Supplied

But the most noteworthy and expensive acquisition has been Jeremy Cameron. Most would argue he’s been worth every cent of salary and draft capital.

The Giants in 2019 matched Geelong’s free agency bid for Cameron, meaning the two teams had to trade for the Cats to ultimately land the superstar goalkicker. Concurrently, Kelly wanted to go home to Western Australia, requesting a move specifically to West Coast after a breathtaking 2019 season that saw him win All-Australian honours.

So the Cats struck a three-way trade with West Coast and Essendon. They then gave away three first-round picks – one of them acquired from the Eagles for Kelly – to the Giants but got Cameron and two future second-rounders back.

Cameron has since become, arguably, the best and most damaging player in the AFL, making the All-Australian team in 2022 after a brilliant season.

But of all Geelong’s picks, the acquisition of Stewart – a defender plucked from the Cats’ VFL side via local footy that’s turned into a four-time All-Australian – is Mooney’s favourite “hands down”.

“To get a guy who was 24, had a really good first season to establish himself – and now he’s talked about as the best small defender in the game. Geelong lost, in my opinion, the greatest small defender the game’s seen in Corey Enright – and then straight away in comes Tom Stewart to take his spot,” Mooney said.

“Geelong in the last 20 years has had the best two small to medium defenders in the game. Those guys are the ones who set it up, intercept, control – and Geelong’s had the two best in the competition, both wearing No. 44.”

Geelong’s Tom Stewart in the VFL. Picture: Nigel HallettSource: News Corp Australia

Stewart, Atkins, Close, Stengle, Miers, Henry and Zach Guthrie are just some of the bargain Cats pick-ups during the Wells era. Some of those Wells drove and identified himself, others he’s been tipped into.

Nonetheless, his determination not to jump to any early conclusions about a player and approach each match featuring a possible prospect with an objective viewpoint has paid huge dividends.


Under Wells, the Cats have found a terrific recruiting formula.

Aside from the four northern clubs with their academies, Geelong has got the next-best recruiting tool(s) in the AFL: Location, lifestyle and culture.

The Cats have prioritised and successfully lured several players back to the Geelong area they grew up in. And even if they didn’t grow up close to Geelong, it at least offers a quieter, less hectic lifestyle that would reflect their upbringings and/or preferred approach to life heading forward.

So not only are they a strong club with high standards and ample appeal to start with, the Cats can also offer a unique, close-to-the-beach lifestyle for an AFL footballer few rivals can.

Cameron and Dangerfield are the poster boys of that Cats approach, while Smith, Rohan, Shaun Higgins, Luke Dahlhaus and Lachie Henderson also opted to return to their roots.

They’ve all helped, to varying extents, the Cats remain successful and relevant in the premiership conversation for years.

“Why clubs like Geelong have been able to maintain their competitiveness without bottoming out is because they’ve made the right choices when they’ve been successful,” Pelchen said.

Geelong list manager Stephen Wells. Picture: Michael KleinSource: News Corp Australia

“Clubs tend to position themselves to rebuild by going down the ladder, getting multiple draft selections either by trading players out or taking what the draft delivers to them in the sense of the automatic draft selections that come with being at the bottom of the ladder. What Geelong and Sydney have done particularly well is when they’ve actually been up the ladder and successfully rebuilt … rather than slide back down the ladder, they’ve made the right choices while they’ve been successful. That’s having the courage and the intelligence to identify players to trade out while they’re still very much in their best team.

“Some clubs wait until the talent has been exhausted, whether it be through age or performance, and they’re reluctant to move players on because they’re still in the best 22 or best 12. So it takes good decision making, but most importantly it takes courage.”

Asked what he’s learnt most from Wells over the years, Pelchen said: “To have confidence in your decision-making and not necessarily be guided by the obvious.”

Few have been as confident and bold as Wells and the Cats with their list calls over the past two decades.

It could lead to more premiership success on Saturday.


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