The Gold Coast’s win on the weekend meant that the discussion around Gary Ablett’s future at the Suns has taken a back seat…for now. However, it is likely to be a major talking point throughout the season.
There is one major question that it raises that is yet to be truly addressed in the AFL. If you know a player is going to leave before the season is finished, why play him?
There are many different factors to this conversation. To clarify, we are not talking about retirement, just changing/moving clubs.
If a star player, such as Gary Ablett, has told his club, or made the club aware that he is going to leave, the team’s position and situation plays a major role. If the side is likely to be a finals/premiership contender, any side would want their best players on the park, no matter their likelihood of playing on next year.
However, if the club is likely to not make the finals, then for what reason would you play the outgoing player?
This could be a position the Suns find themselves in further into the season. There would be no reason to play Ablett if he were set to leave, and they were no chance to play finals.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you were a fringe player and made the club aware you were going to leave, then there would be even less reason for the club to play you.
Terry Wallace coached the Western Bulldogs from 1996-2002. It was believed that he was ready to accept an offer from Sydney, and thus made the Bulldogs aware that the 2002 season would be his last. He did this before the final round, stating that he believed he was doing the right thing and giving the club time to start the process of finding a replacement.
The Bulldogs saw this as an opportunity to get an extra round with a new coach, thus Wallace resigned with one round remaining. It was a slightly shocking course of events, however, it was a clear and logical choice from the Bulldogs, and one that I struggle to argue against.
Like a player, if you knew your coach is going to leave and you are not going to play finals, why keep them around?
Wallace was recently quizzed on the issue in regards to players, on SEN’s The Run Home.
“It’s an interesting one,” he explained.
“Where it gets tricky, if you are a player who is in the side but only marginally better than a player out of the side, why would I be investing my time and effort in playing you in another 15 games when you’re only marginally better than the bloke who is running around at VFL level?”.
Examples of the issue with players has been seen with the likes of Lachie Henderson and Nathan Bock.
In 2015, Henderson requested a trade away from Carlton. He made the club aware of this three games before their season was set to finish. Despite wanting to compete in the final matches, Carlton made the decision not to play him.
For Nathan Bock, it was 2010 when he made Adelaide aware that he was going to accept an offer from Gold Coast for the following season. The Crows then made the decision not to allow Bock to train or play for the final two weeks of the season. It is important to point out that Adelaide were no chance to play finals at that point.
This is a seemingly fresh issue for the AFL, but it does date back awhile. Not allowing mid-season signings also factors into the discussion.
The NRL regularly gets brought into this conversation, as players announcing their intentions to leave happens a lot more often. However, the major difference is the mid-season signing rules.
NRL clubs handle this with a level of maturity, that I doubt would be immediately seen if the same thing was put into place in the AFL. However, the question remains for both codes. Why play someone who won’t be at your club next year?
Player talent, legacy, team position, and so on all play a part. But if a club decides to not play someone who will leave their side at season’s end, you really can’t blame them.