There is a new trend sweeping over the AFL, one that links Ben Jacobs, Josh Caddy and Jamie Cripps all into the same group.
The common link between these players is that they were all drafted by teams outside their home states – Jacobs and Caddy from Victoria, Cripps from Western Australia – and have all expressed their desire to return home to be closer to family and friends.
Caddy and Cripps got their wish in the trade period – Caddy moved from Gold Coast to Geelong while Cripps moved from St Kilda to West Coast – while Jacobs is most likely to seek a new home in either the National or Pre-Season Draft.
These three players are representative of a new phenomenon sweeping the AFL: the ‘go home’ factor. More and more players, especially those who are new to the system, find themselves being drafted to interstate clubs and then leaving after a few years to go home.
This has been increasingly the case with players drafted to the two expansion teams, especially when it is taken into account that Victoria produces more young AFL stars than any other state. Younger players more so than older players are susceptible to the ‘go home’ factor as they are not able to supplant their families from their homes, whereas older players can take their wives and children with them to their new clubs, thereby alleviating some of the homesickness.
When Adelaide drafted gun Victorian Patrick Dangerfield instead of native youngster Brad Ebert, Crows fans were up in arms, afraid that Dangerfield would request a trade back to Victoria after a few years and the Crows would be left with nothing. Whilst Dangerfield has committed to the club for the long term, and given his star power it is a move that has paid off, it seems that more and more clubs are questioning the value of drafting young interstate players, regardless of their ability.
There has been speculation already that Port Adelaide, which has pick 7 in this year’s National Draft, is favouring taking local product Sam Mayes ahead of other talented candidates for this very reason. The Power are not helped by the fact that their recent on and off-field woes mean that it is difficult for them to attract, and retain, star power, especially interstate talent.
In addition, interstate clubs seem reluctant to draft talented West Australian midfielder Dayle Garlett due to his off-field issues, and the perception that a move away from his family would be detrimental to his development as a footballer.
It’s hard to see what more can be done to break this popular trend. Expansion clubs have tried to ensure that all their players are made to feel as comfortable as possible in their new environment; Greater Western Sydney’s Breakfast Point facility ensured that all first-year players lived together and were a community, which has seemed to go a long way to ensuring team unity amongst the young players.
In general, clubs try to make the players feel as welcome and as comfortable as possible by providing them with all the support and facilities necessary. Whilst it may be difficult to leave home, all players who come into the system should be able to adapt to a new living environment; it is one of the necessities of being an AFL footballer.
It cannot be denied that family is an important component of young people’s lives, but at some point, most young people in professional careers will leave their home state, or even their home country, in search of opportunities or a different lifestyle. It should be no different for footballers.
However, sometimes the ‘go home’ factor becomes so great that a player feels it will be a detriment to their football to remain at their current club, as was the case with Josh Caddy. When this happens, there is not much the club can do, apart from trying to keep the player at the club by convincing them that they can prosper in that environment, as Port has tried to do with Jacobs.
This fear of homesickness should not, however, prevent clubs from drafting players from interstate teams. If the club provides a good environment for its new draftees, and the young players are able to feel a sense of comradeship with their teammates, it is likely they will resist the lure of home.
Clubs should draft the best player available in the draft, especially interstate teams, due to the relative lack of interstate talent compared to that of Victoria. If the player is given enough opportunities to prosper, and enough support from their club, it should see them resist the lure of home and carve out a successful career at their club.