“No, we don’t owe anyone anything, mate, they’re professional footballers with contracts.”
Those words were spoken by a list manager involved in the Joe Daniher non-trade. And if you didn’t know better, you might assume they were spoken by maligned Essendon negotiator Adrian Dodoro, but, in fact, it was Sydney’s Kinnear Beatson who uttered them.
It’s an interesting insight into the attitude at one of the league’s most successful clubs, and it doesn’t take too much reading between the lines to think it might have also been a not-so-subtle message to Swans forward Tom Papley.
While plenty of players found new homes, this trade period saw several clubs push back against players trying to force their way out.
It’s a delicate balance, and while occasionally clubs will act altruistically, they’ll usually do whatever serves them best.
Geelong gave up Tim Kelly for a package too good to refuse. Similarly, Fremantle sold high on winger Brad Hill.
The Saints ultimately sent Josh Bruce to the Dogs for slightly more than was originally offered, and Jack Steven for, well, slightly more than nothing – a cynic might wonder just how much money they got off their books in that move, an optimist would praise St Kilda for doing the right thing for a long-serving club great who was in need of a fresh start.
It’s tough to get a read on what was actually on the table for Daniher, but whatever it was wasn’t enough to satisfy Essendon.
Now the Bombers have to deal with the consequences of denying a player the move he was after.
It’s a gamble the Cats took 12 months ago on Kelly and it paid off handsomely, both on the field and ultimately in the trade that sent him west.
Unlike Kelly, Daniher will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2020 season. Which means Dodoro and the Dons have 12 months to help their father-son star get healthy and convince him to stay.
If they can’t, he’ll move on and the Bombers will get less in return than they could have this season.
They also need to hope that they haven’t alienated Daniher, or turned off any of his teammates or potential recruits at other clubs.
Did they owe Daniher more during the trade period? Did the Swans have an obligation to work harder to get a deal done after seemingly convincing him to request a move?
Like the Bombers, the Suns played hardball with the Blues over Jack Martin, ultimately refusing to budge, leading to an out-of-contract player being unable to choose a new club after six seasons.
If Beatson’s perspective is one widely shared across the league then it seems farcical that uncontracted Martin is forced into his current situation.
The reality is that for all the hand-wringing, loyalty is almost always a one-way street. Collingwood didn’t show much of it to James Aish when they pushed him out the door, nor did St Kilda when they negotiated Blake Acres into the Brad Hill trade.
It’s a delicate balance and the trade period circus doesn’t help. When players are so often spoken of as commodities, it’s easy to forget that they have lives beyond their footy club.
Perhaps it’s best if the illusion of loyalty is done away with and everyone just acts in their own best interests. Maybe in their selfishness to get an advantage, clubs will realise the significant on-field rewards in treating their players well.
Richmond’s most successful period of the past 30 years has coincided with what appears to be the club’s happiest period in the past 30 years. It’s incredible what can happen when people look forward to going to work.