TAYLOR Walker’s “money or success” puzzle will make for great anticipation of the first Adelaide-Melbourne AFL game in Alice Springs next season.
Will the Crows captain be in a match-up with the grand defector, Jake Lever? And will the broadcasters seek to have a microphone on either player for the biggest match-up since Wayne Carey faced Glenn Archer as opponents in 2003?
High ticket sales and television ratings are assured.
But what of the bigger picture of how AFL players leave clubs — and how the divorces play out?
Brett Deledio did not watch the AFL grand final — and has struggled to lock into a replay. The former Richmond pin-up boy spent grand final day at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, where he moved to become a GWS Giant in last year’s trade period after 243 games as a Tiger.
Ryan Griffen was in this painful zone a year before Delidio and carries a similar “sliding doors” story. He moved to the Giants — after 202 games with the Western Bulldogs — at the end of 2014. He watched his former team-mates end a long premiership drought in 2016, a week after they denied him a grand final berth in that epic preliminary final in western Sydney.
Lance Franklin has not celebrated a flag since moving to Sydney in 2014 as a well-paid free agent after winning two premiership medals with Hawthorn (2008 and 2013).
In SANFL history, there is the Dexter Kennedy story. He became the youngest player in SANFL league history — 15 years, 11 months and two days — when he appeared for West Adelaide in 1970. The much-admired ruckman lived through all the colourful moments with the Bloods in his 237 league games to 1982 … and then sought the success he deserved with a move to Port Adelaide. His last match was the 1984 SANFL grand final taken from the favoured Magpies by the history-making Norwood team that rose from fifth to the flag.
Luke Ball can tell a different story as he changed AFL clubs at the right time. After 142 games in seven seasons at St Kilda, he became a critical part of Collingwood’s premiership campaign in 2010 — the one that ends with two grand finals against the Saints.
By then-St Kilda coach Ross Lyon’s account of the 2009 trade period, Ball left the Saints — and found his way to Collingwood through the draft at pick No. 30 — while leaving behind a seven-figure contract. But he found success.
Bryce Gibbs might be just as lucky at Adelaide after leaving Carlton in this month’s trade period (with a pay cut apparently). So might Lever by his lucrative move to the next “fairytale” rise to greatness at Melbourne. (These “miracles” do have a habit of happening in threes).
As Australian football continues to contemplate when it will have the maturity to deal with players announcing a change of clubs in season — and, after the Lever moments, perhaps also at the end of a season — it is worth reflecting on how Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley has farewelled his players, stars and the so-called lesser lights in the past five years.
After Port Adelaide made a mess of premiership heroes Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan’s exits at the end of the 2011 AFL season (before Hinkley’s arrival in October 2012), Hinkley has not lost a player the Power has steadfastly wanted to keep.
Kane Cornes’ farewell on his 300th game in 2015 emphasised there can still be sentiment in professional football. Not often, however. Jay Schulz’s exit last year — with Hinkley praising the key forward’s maturity as he sat next to Schulz at his retirement press conference — reiterated how list management also has to be brutal.
“Unfortunately,” said Hinkley, “the nature of football means we need to make hard decisions … and we need to always have our eyes on what our list needs for the future.”
And so it was with free-agent utility Jackson Trengove this year. While Port Adelaide loads up for success, Trengove — with his reputation as a spiritual leader at Alberton — moves to the Western Bulldogs with a four-year contract re-emphasising Walker’s “success or money” equation has different answers at different times with different players.
Port Adelaide moved six players to new AFL clubs in its super-busy trade period — Trengove, Brendon Ah Chee (West Coast), Matthew Lobbe (Carlton), Jarman Impey (Hawthorn), Logan Austin (St Kilda) and Aaron Young (Gold Coast).
Each left without a crack at Hinkley or the Power, ensuring they can return with ease to Alberton. None was more emotive in his exit than Impey, who appreciated the Power’s compassionate release from his contract. Shattered by the death of his father and tested by the off-field drama of a car crash at Norwood in December, Impey was the only member of Port Adelaide’s 22-man elimination final team to clear his locker at Alberton this month.
“I am sorry if anyone is disappointed by this decision,” Impey wrote on social media, “but I can assure you this decision has nothing to do with PAFC as a club.
“I can’t fault this club. They’ve done more for me then I could ever ask! It’s a great place to be; (changing clubs) is simply what I believe is in the best interest of both of us.
“Thank you PAFC for getting me through some really hard, dark times and for bringing me back home (to Victoria). I will always be cheering for you. I have without a doubt made lifelong friends during my time here in Adelaide, especially my team-mates who I will miss tremendously.”
At 22, Impey is young enough — if his passion to play football is rekindled to overcome the grief of his father’s death — to imagine time will bring new success at Hawthorn. But there is no guarantee in a highly competitive 18-team national competition.
What is certain, however, is Impey — and others from the Hinkley era — can return to Port Adelaide to feel welcome at a place they once called home. And should always call home. After all, that is what “authentic football clubs” should be regardless of the demands in the professional era.