The AFL desperately needs some disloyalty
Carlton's Mitch Robinson in the NAB Cup (Slattery Images)
What a boring monogamous lot Aussie Rules footballers are. While NRL players lewdly offer themselves about, their AFL counterparts proclaim their undying love for their clubs.
Just days after Michael Hurley (“I really do want to be a Bomber for life”) signed his life away, Brett Deledio (“It makes me a Tiger for life now”) and Domenic Cassisi (“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be a one-club player”) put themselves away for the term of their natural lives.
And now we hear that Joel Selwood, in a quiet ceremony, tied the knot at only 23 years of age with his childhood sweetheart Geelong, and Scott Pendlebury, making his paramour Collingwood cry her eyes out last year by committing for only a year, has decided to stay with her until at least 2016.
Despite the wholehearted hoo-ha last year about GWS parading itself enticingly in front of uncontracted stars, nothing outrageous happened at all. Alright, it lured a former number one draft pick, and four other players averaging thirty games chose to be unfaithful to their clubs, but compared to the cesspool of infidelity in the NRL the whole affair was like a Methodist’s tea party.
Given a perfect opportunity to circumvent the AFL’s usual draft and trade restrictions, see new places and earn more money, the real stars chose to stay at home.
Loyalty to a team can be a lovely and noble thing – particularly in an era where clubs don’t always reciprocate – but gee it can get boring. Where’s the off-season intrigue, the exhilarating fear of losing a champion player to a despised opposition club, or the strange thrill of having a hated player from another club sign with your team?
Presently, the only exciting thing about an AFL off-season is contemplating the end of the NAB Cup.
So, will the model of free agency, negotiated by the players themselves and to be introduced at the season’s end, make any difference to player movement?
Surely the loyal nature of AFL footballers can be manipulated. Marriages are not always based on pure love. There can be self-interested motives as well, such as delaying a decision long enough to make the club nervous and increase the original salary offer.
There are simple practical considerations too as expressed by Dane Swan: “I love the footy club… and I just live around the corner.”
Brett Deledio’s committment to Richmond was not unconditional. He first made sure Damien Hardwick was re-signed and that the club had a list capable of winning a premiership. That’s a bit like waiting for your fiance to get a promotion before going ahead with the big event.
The fact that Cassisi has stayed with a club that has no hope of winning a premiership in his playing lifetime is admirable. But perhaps no one else will have him.
In a positive sign that not all current champions are averse to entertaining alternative suitors, Travis Cloke has put off contract negotiations with Collingwood until the end of the year, just as that heartbreaker before him, Tom Scully, did.
And Magpie favourite Dale ‘Daisy’ Thomas has always made big Eddie nervous with comments like: “I think it would be remiss of me not to be open and to listen to what everyone has to say,” and after signing for only two years, “I don’t like the idea of signing long contracts because you get a bit stale.”
If marauding clubs (traditional foes and not struggling new ventures) can exploit such self-interest there may be hope for some thrilling defections.
And the Giants have warned that they are done with mere flirtation. With the arrival of free agency they’ll be using the lap dancers.