Fidelity to club, once an ideal in Aussie rules, is buried even deeper by the realities of modern football management.
In a piece that Inside Sport did a couple of years back with the premiership captains of the AFL and the NRL, Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge noted the difference between his code and rugby league. “Aussie rules is a bit different to the NRL, where you guys have been able to move to other clubs more easily in the past. Growing up, when you came to one club, it was always, you had to stay at the one club.”
Even then the fault lines were showing. Brendon Goddard had left for Essendon, Buddy Franklin for Sydney. The structure of AFL free agency was a recipe for moving veteran stars and stalwart club men along. “Up until a few years ago, you would never even think of changing clubs,” Hodge said. “Ten years from now, to be a one-club will probably mean a lot more because players are moving around a lot more.”
It was hard not to think about those words this week, in light of North Melbourne’s axing of Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo, Michael Firrito and all-time games record-holder Brent Harvey. The moves were not entirely unexpected – Petrie and Firrito were going to retire at season’s end. But the complete absence of sentimentality in the Roos’ cull spoke to the new way of list management in the AFL – or in coach Brad Scott’s formulation, “I agree that they could contribute in 2017, but the future goes longer than that”. And the harsh public response was an indication of how club loyalty should be viewed as a two-way street.
The way the Kangaroos finished the home-and-away ended any prospect of allowing its veterans another year’s grace. Interestingly, in the same week, Hodge signed on for another season, along with fellow Hawks’ veterans Shaun Burgoyne and Josh Gibson. Winning three straight flags plainly gives you more leverage, but even Hodge, rather remarkably, had to agree to a pay cut – almost half his wage, reportedly – to remain at the only club he’s known.
“I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be the bloke that they’re going have to wheel out,” he said back at our meeting. For the sake of sentiment in modern footy, let’s hope he doesn’t have to find out.