Simon White July 11, 2012
Whatever happens as he enters free agency, Buddy Franklin should be laughing all the way to the bank.
"Next winter, I'm going to take my talents to Leighton Beach."
And with those words Buddy Franklin stuns the football world, ensures the Fremantle Dockers have a membership waiting list for the first time in club history (let's call it "The Stowaways") and strikes a generation-changing blow for free agency.
OK, so most probably it's not going to happen. Buddy seems pretty happy at Hawthorn and, let's be honest, he's a much more realistic chance of winning a flag in the next five years with the Hawks than he would be at Freo.
But the realisation on the weekend that Buddy could be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2013 season made me think:
The arrival of free agency later this year, I've decided, is exactly what the AFL needs right now.
In a competition where at least two or three games each week are guaranteed to border on being unwatchable, it's already provided the biggest headline generator (Cloke) of the first 14 rounds of the season.
And whatever happens come October 1 of this year, you know it's going to be just the tip of the iceberg.
For starters, there's guaranteed to be at least one club that makes a complete hash of its first go at this (kind of like the Swans in round one of last year, when they used a ruckman as their sub). The more teams do it, the better they will get.
Secondly, in an AFL environment where the league itself is so shamelessly commercial (anyone out there keen on a Carlton Draught sub?), it's inevitable that an existing player movement system that basically relies on restraint of trade will increasingly fall by the wayside.
The AFL's first batch of free agents will have been at their clubs for at least eight years. In the longer run, it's hard to see the eligibility criteria being any more than six years (an initial two-year contract following a draft in which a player has no choice where he goes; then two more two-year deals).
It's now more than seven years since a teenage Buddy left WA to join Hawthorn.
Anyone who saw him on On The Couch on Monday night will envision him staying a Hawk. But both Perth clubs owe it to themselves and their supporters next year to offer every inducement they can to at least try to get Buddy thinking about a return home.
For West Coast, this should include:
For Fremantle, this should include all of the above, perhaps minus the premierships bit, but with the added bonus of being able to have the ball kicked three metres over his head by midfielders as he races out on a lead.
By the time the 2013 free agent season swings into gear, you'd expect teams to have a much better idea of what they are doing with the whole concept.
Buddy, if he hasn't signed for the Hawks by this time next year, would be the biggest potential catch - but far from the only fish worth chasing.
Daniel Cross - would love to see him in purple.
As it stands, Dale Thomas, Nick Dal Santo and Daniel Wells all come off contract at the end of next season. Ditto for Daniel Cross, who is lower in profile but part of a Bulldogs side that isn't going anywhere fast (I've always dreamed of him being a Docker - a more advanced and experienced version of Matt de Boer).
Would a club be brave enough to stump up a little extra moolah to see whether it could get Colin Sylvia to finally fulfil his potential in new surroundings?
Is there a team that would do what the Miami Heat just did with Ray Allen in the NBA and throw a blank-ish chequebook at Adam Goodes for a year or two in the hope of becoming/staying a genuine premiership contender?
All entirely speculative for now but you can guarantee the current Cloke situation is the start of something much bigger.
And, in my opinion, better.