It’s fair to say Majak Daw has been a major source of frustration for North Melbourne fans for many years.
Having just finished his eighth-year at North, he has only mustered a meager 32-games and has struggled to establish himself as a genuine best-22 player at the club.
The 26-year-old was taken with North’s first pick in the 2009 Rookie Draft, but it took until Round 4, 2013 before he finally made his senior debut.
Of course, Daw was always going to have a long apprenticeship, given he only picked up footy at age 15, meaning his football development was already several years behind his peers.
Regardless, North scouts saw potential in him and early in his senior career, he looked on track to repay the faith. He booted nine goals in his first five games and earned the full three Brownlow votes in just his fourth game.
It is perhaps unfair to say Daw peaked in his fourth game, but no performance since then has yet inspired the potential we witnessed in that game.
What Daw does have, however, is no shortage of athletic ability.
He’s won the Grand Final sprint and taken Mark of the Year with a huge leap over Jonothon Marsh. His “don’t argue” is second to only Dustin Martin, but he lacks the footy nous to effectively use the athleticism to his advantage.
His contributions have largely been limited to post-game highlights packages.
He is an exceptional VFL player where his massive size tends to mask those footy IQ deficiencies, but his struggles are obvious when he isn’t the biggest and fastest player on the ground.
Despite his size, he is frequently pushed out of contests, regularly runs under the ball when leading and often finds himself in no man’s land when the ball is sent forward.
Granted, his slow development has not been helped by injury.
By the end of last season, he was finally given a clear run of games by virtue of North’s injury crisis and finally looked to be finding his feet at AFL-level but has been unable to build on it in this campaign.
Arguably, his last contract was only offered given the infamous delistings of Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo, as well as the decision to let Daniel Wells pursue opportunities elsewhere, to at least provide a modicum of stability.
Time is running out for Daw at senior level, so where does he go from here?
One of Daw’s major limitations is that his best position is still unclear.
Is he a key forward or a ruckman?
Brown arrived at the club in 2013, but surpassed Daw in just his first season and this year established himself as one of the competition’s premier key forwards.
Similarly, Jarrad Waite was brought in as a free-agent just as Daw was supposed to be cementing his position in the side and emerged as one of North’s key forward cogs.
North have also made it a habit to pick up a key forward in the draft, having selected one in seven of the last eight drafts.
Alarmingly for Daw, there has also been speculation that North would target another ruckman should Goldstein leave the club, further jeopardising his position.
North coaches have even tried playing him as a pure midfielder. He certainly has the physical attributes of the modern midfielder, but if he struggles with the relatively predictable nature of the forward line, what hope does he have sharking taps in the chaos of the midfield?
No, something more revolutionary is needed.
The only position Daw has yet to be trialled in is in defence.
As mentioned earlier, Daw can take a mark and has speed to burn. He kicked a memorable goal in the VFL in 2011, gathering the ball at half-back and taking three bounces before slotting a goal from 50.
Throwing Daw to half-back, telling him to stick to his opponent like glue, to get the ball and run like hell may well make best use of his strengths and minimise his weaknesses.
It’s a move which has worked for many players in the past. Teammate Robbie Tarrant spent years up forward before he found his place as North’s defensive marshal and Carlton’s Liam Jones looked set for the proverbial scrapheap before he was swung into defence and has thrived since (final round against Buddy and Sydney notwithstanding).
This is not to say a switch to defence will definitely work, but given the lack of sustained success forward, it is certainly worth a try.
Earlier this year, Brisbane Lions great Alistair Lynch suggested Daw could reinvent himself in defence.
“Majak Daw is playing AFL football because he’s an unbelievable athlete. So can he go to centre-half back? Because he’s not a monster for a ruckman, we know he’s athletic, we know he’s quick off the mark, we know he’s powerful,” he said.
“So get led to the ball by the great players and spoil over the top, Liam Jones style.”
Hawthorn-legend Dermott Brereton agreed but was unsure whether Daw would be able to handle the pressure of playing in defence.
“The only thing I would think of that would hurt him here … [is] at some stage he’s gonna be trapped inside defensive 25, somebody’s going to give the ball to him under pressure in a lock-in, and what happens then?” Brereton said.
Obviously if a move were to eventuate, there would be a lot of work ahead to improve the defensive side of his game. While he will never likely reach the heights Tarrant has (despite his monster leap), what he can be is a useful rebounding option for a team which has desperately lacked speed around the ground.
The other, perhaps more unlikely option would be for North to cut its losses and dangle Daw as trade bait.
It could be a win-win situation for both the player and the club. Daw could reignite his stuttering career in a new environment with new coaches and new teammates while North can free up a list spot to accelerate its rebuild.
North is unlikely to fight hard to keep him and fans are unlikely to begrudge him for exploring his options elsewhere (speaking as a North and Daw fan myself).
Daw would not command anything significant in a trade but he could be a serviceable bargain bin option for a club looking for key forward depth.
Brisbane have been historically linked to Daw but would probably not make a move for him at this time.
North has invested years into Daw’s development and it would be a shame if his incredible athleticism and explosiveness is lost from the game. With two more years left on his contract, the writing is not quite on the wall yet for Daw, but he will be hoping he can be a late-bloomer.
He has the potential to be absolutely anything on the footy field. Whether his career will forever be defined by “what ifs” is entirely up to him.
It’s now or never.