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Opinion

Are AFL fairytales standing in the way of success?

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20th October, 2019
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What makes sport so special is emotion – the highs and lows, the euphoria and the heartbreak.

It’s about the romance and the football fairytales that a few special players get to live out in their playing careers – fairytales, like that of Hawthorn superstar Shane Crawford, who ahead of his final season had it all but a premiership. He captained his side for five seasons, was a Brownlow medalist, a four-time All Australian, four-time club best and fairest winner, an AFLPA MVP et cetera.

Then in his final game of AFL, on grand final day in 2008, he became a Hawthorn premiership player.

While he was offered to go around again in 2009, he decided to retire on a high and hung up the boots shortly after winning it all.

“Winning a premiership with Hawthorn has been the highlight of my career,” he said in a club statement at the time of his retirement.

“Having some time to reflect; standing on the podium on grand final day as premiers had always been my ultimate goal.

“The club have been fantastic through this time and I can’t thank them enough for their support in letting me come to my own decision.”

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Fairytales and football romance comes in many shapes and sizes, including players who left their original clubs for new opportunities only to return for a chance to finish their careers at a club that will always hold a special place in their hearts.

Heath Black, Chris Tarrant, Corey McKernan, Josh Carr, Peter Bell and Warwick Capper are all players in that group.

More recently we saw Gary Ablett return to Geelong and Dayne Beams going back to Collingwood, and during the 2019 trade period we saw Zac Smith return to the Gold Coast from Geelong (now that’s romantic!).

The electrifying Eddie Betts is also returning to Carlton after six seasons at the Adelaide Crows. Eddie has always been open and vocal about his love for Carlton following his departure at the end of 2013, and many Carlton fans hoped in their heart that someday he would come home and play in the navy blue once again.

Those dreams became a reality as Betts joined Carlton during trade period last week, signing a one-year contract with the Blues.

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While Eddie has spent most of his career leaving fans speechless with freakish goals from his pocket time and time again, the reality is the star small forward appears to be slowing down.

In 2019 the 32-year-old kicked 37 goals. While most of them were as exciting as ever, a third of them came against the Suns.

He was held goalless by his opponents six times across 21 matches. That’s the same number of times he was held goalless across 93 games between 2014 and 2017.

He’s an exciting player and will always be remembered as one of the game’s greatest, but has the romance got in the way of the club’s best interests?

Eddie Betts

(Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

Sure, he came across during the trade period for next to nothing, and both he and the Carlton faithful will live out a fairytale most of them had been dreaming of. But can he turn his form around and contribute to a Carlton side that appears to be on the cusp of returning to the top eight?

I want to believe he can and that the magical homecoming will spark a revival, but the answer is a while away.

One thing that’s for sure is that Eddie’s return wasn’t supposed to be the headline act of Carlton’s trade haul. It was supposed to be the exciting addition alongside Sun Jack Martin and Swan Tom Papely.

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Both players nominated the Blues as their destination of choice but neither of them got there. It’s pretty embarrassing really.

The Blues may be able to salvage the situation as Martin still looks set on joining Carlton through the preseason draft, but what if the Suns manage to convince him to stay? Or an interested Melbourne outfit picks him first and ruins the party?

What baffles me is the treatment of the Suns and their hard stance with Martin. Jack has been touted as a potential star by the media and circling clubs since announcing he wanted to play in Melbourne and for the Blues next season.

The Suns have every right to name their price on a player, especially one president Tony Cochrane says the Suns “didn’t want… to go”.

“We will use the next month to make our case again to Jack to stay,” Cochrane said on Thursday.

“Carlton, for all of their talk about what a great player he is and how much they could pay him, the best they could say he was worth was a second-round draft pick.

“Their actions didn’t live up to their words. Any transaction requires a buyer and a seller to be happy or a deal doesn’t happen, and this didn’t happen.”

For the Suns, it’s a step in the right direction towards being taken seriously rather than appearing as a feasting ground for Victorian clubs.

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As for Carlton, all that’s left to do is wait and hope they can still bring Martin across for the 2020 season. They did, however, still secure a fairytale reunion with Eddie, who will hopefully inject some magic into the Blues next season.

Eddie Betts

(Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

While Carlton got their fairytale, it doesn’t always work out so well for others. But that doesn’t spell failure – in fact it could help boost a club in the right direction.

Twins Ben and Max King were both drafted into the AFL system last draft period, Ben at the Suns and Max at St Kilda. There’s been talk of a reunion at Moorabbin ever since.

Ahead of the trade period Saints footy boss Simon Leathlan confirmed he had spoken to Ben’s manager and parents about a potential move back home and to St Kilda at the end of 2020.

“We’ve spoken to (Ben’s) management because his brother is managed by the same company and we see his parents regularly, so we often check in on how Ben is,” Leathlan told AFL Trade Radio earlier this month.

“We drafted Max for Max, but it’s obviously a romantic thought to have twins playing together. It happens occasionally – if it happens for the Saints, it’d be unbelievable.”

Well it won’t be happening anytime soon, as last Monday Ben inked a two-year extension at the Suns.

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So what did the Saints do about that? They put their heads down, got to work and brought in five new recruits, including Fremantle’s 2017 Doig Medallist Brad Hill and highly touted Port Adelaide swingman Dougal Howard.

They did a sensational job this trade period and brought in a stack of talent they can really build a future around.

They did bid farewell to favourite son Jack Steven, key forward Josh Bruce and midfielder Blake Acres, but the determination to replace them with quality talent has certainly won praise from the football world.

Romance and fairytales are special and an important part of our game, but the Saints weren’t going to let that stand in the way of acting now when they had the opportunity.

How that opportunity will pay off up against Eddie Betts and his fairy tale finish at Carlton?

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That’s something only 2020 will be able to determine.