The AFL’s worst-kept secret has been confirmed – prodigal son Gary Ablett has requested a trade from the Gold Coast to allow him to return to Geelong next year.
While it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that a deal to allow this to happen will get done, Gold Coast needs to play hardball.
Ablett’s departure would be the most recent in a series of player exoduses from the struggling expansion club – over the past several years, In the past two years alone, Gold Coast has lost Harley Bennell, Jaeger O’Meara, Dion Prestia, Charlie Dixon and Zac Smith, all of whom command starting positions in their current AFL teams.
The club also looks set to lose Adam Saad to Essendon (for family reasons) in the upcoming trade period.
Losing Ablett, a former captain, would arguably be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Many column inches have been devoted to the travails plaguing Gold Coast since its inception – poor culture, lack of professionalism, sub-standard facilities, and an environment more conducive to partying and surfing than hard work.
While the loss of Prestia and O’Meara last year set the club back several years in its development, Ablett’s departure both further compounds the on-field lack of class and the off-field lack of professionalism and culture.
Just what his market value is, exactly, is hard to place. On one hand, Ablett is 33, with a bung shoulder that has restricted him to 14 games in each of the past two seasons.
On the other, he is still a best 22 player at every other club (I’d take two years of Ablett football over most other players in the competition), and won the club’s best and fairest this season – from 14 games. That probably tells the tale of Gold Coast’s current on-field situation.
At Gold Coast, he would likely split his time between the midfield and forward line, while at Geelong one imagines he will play nearly exclusively as a forward, perhaps venturing into the midfield to relieve Paddy Dangerfield at times.
His ability to kick 60 goals in a season playing as a medium forward would be priceless to a team (Geelong) trying to bridge the gap from preliminary finalist to grand finalist, while he remains Gold Coast’s classiest player by a fair way.
The club has resigned itself to Ablett’s loss, but that doesn’t mean it has to accept a sub-standard deal for him. Gold Coast chairman Tony Cochrane publicly declared last year that O’Meara would not be traded, before the club relented and traded him to the Hawks on the very last day of trade period.
The club managed to extract pick ten from the Hawks, but it was on the principle of the matter where Gold Coast lost out – despite its hardline statements, Gold Coast has a habit of relenting and eventually trading those players. Everyone in the AFL world knows that Ablett will not be at the Gold Coast next year – he’ll either retire or be playing in the white and blue hoops.
However, the club has (rightly) made it clear to clubs seeking to lure players away from the Gold Coast that it will not be letting them go without getting something in return.
So, what does a reasonable outcome look like? Ablett is still a contracted player (he has a year remaining), and so Gold Coast hold the upper hand in any negotiations with Geelong. Gold Coast’s opening ambit claim has been to demand either Mitch Duncan or Nakia Cockatoo from Geelong.
The club knows this is not going to happen, but in doing so has shown that it won’t be bullied into trading Ablett for less than his market value. In Geelong’s favour is the fact that Gold Coast’s list has more holes than Swiss cheese, and other than key position players it is not really in a position to turn down established talent.
There’s also the fact that if a deal can’t be done, Ablett would retire, meaning the Suns get nothing for his departure.
Gold Coast has stated its desire for players, rather than picks, in return for Ablett. This is where it could get tricky for Geelong. The club has few players it would be willing to lose, and those it is are not likely to be of initial interest to the Suns.
It’s the age-old trade period scenario – you have to give up something to get something. Jake Kolodjashnij’s name has been floated as an option, as has Sam Menegola. The Cats seem unlikely to part with either, but Kolodjashnij’s family link to brother Kade certainly makes it a plausible option.
Then we come to Steven Motlop, who has toured Gold Coast’s facilities and is due to meet with new coach Stuart Dew this week. If Gold Coast land Motlop as a free agent, they may be persuaded to accept picks or lesser players from Geelong, having acquired a best 22 player. However, while Motlop would certainly bring an injection of class, his inconsistency would be a worry for Gold Coast, and I can see them wanting another more reliable player to complement Motlop.
If I were Gold Coast, I would stick to the initial demand for Duncan or Cockatoo for as long as possible. Negotiation technique says that you open high – higher than your expected return – and gradually barter down to something more realistic.
I’d argue that receiving one of the players whose names have supposedly been touted as possible trade bait would be unders for losing Ablett. Forcing the Cats to give up a player they really want would help the Suns send a message to the competition that clubs seeking to raid it in future will face a tough task. It’s time for this club to make a stand, and it starts here.