It is becoming an annual occurrence in the AFL – the “will he or won’t he stay?” saga that surrounds at least one high profile player. Throughout 2010 it was Gary Ablett, in 2011 Tom Scully was put under the spotlight and throughout 2012 Travis Cloke and Kurt Tippett kept everyone wondering. This year one of the most electric and exciting players ever to grace our game is now in the same predicament. We’re going to break it down simply from both a player and club perspective.
It’s a pretty simple scenario, really. Take roughly double what Hawthorn can possibly offer, set yourself up for life and move to GWS. OR take less money to remain with Hawthorn in their premiership window. Oh, and throw in the added aura and prestige that comes with being a one club player with one of the great Melbourne-based clubs.
Well, not so simple. Firstly, let’s look at the last point – being a one club player. It’s overrated. Massively. Tony Lockett, Gary Ablett (both Snr and Jnr), Dermott Brereton, Chris Judd, Wayne Carey, Ron Barassi, to name just a very small sample – are all multi-club players. Their standing in the game and legendary status does not diminish one iota. It’s a non-argument for me and should be for Buddy. Yes, it’s nice and all to say you’ve only played at the one club but it’s not worth the additional value Buddy will gain by moving north of the border.
Secondly, playing at GWS compared to Hawthorn. A considerable factor and very similar to the predicament Gary Ablett Jnr faced in 2010. The good thing for Buddy is he has avoided the worst bit – the first two years at GWS. As Gold Coast have showed this season, from Year 3 onwards the trend is looking upwards in terms of on-field performance. By the time 2015 rolls around, pretty much all of the GWS list will be (at the least) in the very scary 50-100 game bracket and will start to not only compete, but actually dominate games. In any case, add Lance Franklin to any team’s forward line and their results will improve immediately. He might not dominate a la Gary Ablett at Gold Coast but he will release the pressure on a young forward line.
It is true that he may be sacrificing a premiership(s) by leaving the Hawks but he has already won a flag there and could very well win another in 2013. For mine, the idea of playing with the future stars at GWS is quite tempting. Gold Coast have already shown this year that they will be a force in the next 3-5 years as their young players get more and more experience. Do not forget 20-25 of GWS’s list starting from 2014 will be made up of top 20 draft picks. That is enormous. On the flipside, however, Hawthorn have shown great list management and good recruiting in recent times which will keep them in the finals mix for the next 3-5 years should he stay. How much he loves Hawthorn will absolutely come into it but the on-field performance factor is no where near as great as it was for Gary Ablett in 2010. For me, it’s a bit of a win-win for Buddy as he has the chance of playing in a flag(s) one way or the other.
The only other possible consideration will be the lifestyle of Melbourne versus Western Sydney. I think GWS will make sure he is as comfortable as possible and will get him back to Melbourne or Perth as much as possible to keep him happy, as Gold Coast have done with Gary Ablett. Also, coming from Perth Buddy might appreciate the more relaxed lifestyle and relish escaping the constant pressure of being a big-name player at a big Melbourne-based club.
I do feel Hawthorn will come to need a decent midfielder or two to help out the aging Brad Sewell, Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge more than they need Buddy. Yes – more than they need Buddy. True, Hawthorn have great midfield depth as it stands but as time goes on, they will need quality players as replacements and not part-time options. All clubs talk about depth but in cut-throat matches, you’re hardly going to rely on your B or C team to get the job done. So the additional salary cap space with Buddy gone will help to free up room for a quality young midfielder or two and they can more easily manage the rest of their list to stay intact.
Hawthorn will be compensated by the AFL for the loss of Franklin as well which will go a little way to easing the pain. For those who aren’t aware, under AFL rules clubs may be eligible to a draft pick in the same year they lose a player to free agency. The value of the pick depends upon the quality of the player (best and fairest finishes, AFL awards etc) and the value of their new contract. The compensation has been talked about recently as being quite meagre as Hawthorn would only receive a 1st round pick, which would equal the 20th overall pick in 2013 should they win the premiership this year. However, it is important to note that most other sporting codes receive nothing for losing players to free agency. So although not in the same league as the compensation Geelong received for losing Gary Ablett, or Melbourne did for Tom Scully (2 first round picks) it is, at the very least, something.
Let’s not forget that in a 6 game stretch last year that Hawthorn showed in Buddy’s absence they not only coped, but actually looked more dangerous going forward as they had so many options without any being a standout. None of Gunston, Breust, Roughead, Hale, Rioli, Puopolo and Lewis are particularly dangerous forwards but trying to decide which player to send your best defender to is a challenging ask.
Similarly to Geelong and Gary Ablett, however, is the fact that we are talking about a very special player. You aren’t going to unearth a Buddy Franklin at the drop of a hat. He is a very unique player that comes around rarely, if again at all – I feel the marketing department (Hawthorn, not the AFL) and young Hawks fans will be the most upset. Luckily for Hawks fans, while it would hurt to see Buddy leave (as a Geelong supporter, believe me, I know) Hawthorn have managed their list superbly in recent years and are the sort of club to not only deal with the loss well, but come out the other side even stronger.
Not too much to say here – throw the kitchen sink, plus a bit more, and hope you get Buddy. Bit of a no-brainer given the low crowds and constant beatings GWS are suffering this season. Would be a massive boost for marketing and promotion of the sport where it is most badly needed. Fantastic timing for Buddy to come out of contract so they must jump and jump big.
Buddy – take the money and go, set yourself up for life and enjoy playing with future superstars, albeit in less exciting surroundings.
Hawthorn (club) – shouldn’t be too fussed one way or the other given their current setup, although would absolutely prefer to keep him. Would gain a 1st round pick for the loss of Buddy and will free up extra cap space to purchase a quality player or two via free agency or trades. Can learn a lot from Geelong who have gone through the same thing and have come out very well.
Hawthorn (fans) – will naturally want to see him stay. Brace yourself however to see him in a GWS jumper – of the four high-profile players mentioned at the top of this article 3 moved to new clubs. Throw Brendan Goddard into that list and it makes it 4 out of 5.
GWS – offer the world, and a bit more. Like Ablett coming out of contract when he did, they cannot let this opportunity slip.
Everyone else – hope Buddy stays. I honestly believe Hawthorn will be better off by seeing him go. They will have more cap space and more options at the trade table and in free agency. So as a rival supporter I’d be happy to see his large contract force other decent players out of the team, reducing Hawthorn’s overall talent pool and their chances of luring quality players from other clubs.