When you have won two premierships, a Brownlow Medal, two club best and fairests and been widely acclaimed as the best player in the game, do you think twice about accepting nearly $10 million over the next five years in the sunniest part of the country?
The simple answer is no. There is no doubt that Gary Ablett jnr would have weighed up more factors than that, however when you look at it that way, Ablett had nothing left to do at Geelong and seemingly wanted to challenge himself elsewhere.
When the AFL, or VFL as it was back in the day introduced the salary cap in the late 1980s, it was set at $1.25 million. 25 years later, the cap is $9.13 million, over seven times the original number. Factor in price of inflation; the fact that footballers are now full-time employees rather than working a second job and the increase is still mind-blowing.
Simply, over the years, loyalty has been forgotten.
One-club players like Robert Harvey certainly don’t come around as much as they used to. More money being produced in the game certainly has had an impact whilst we see players starting to want to move to premiership contending clubs to further their chances of September success. This is something we see a lot in American sports, particularly the NBA where veterans of the league who have yet to win a title request a trade to experience the glory.
Players who have been drafted from a state away from which they grew up in also tend to want to move back home at some stage in their career, a concern that was raised when GWS drafted 10 of their first 11 players from Victoria. This might not be a matter of loyalty, however the success of their team would also impact their decision.
With free agency recently being introduced into the AFL, loyalty of players will again be tested. It makes it easier for players to leave clubs and given players become quite unhappy rather quickly in this day and age, player movement will only continue to gain momentum. Also, with the introduction of the two expansion teams and the extra money they have been licensed with, some players will tend to take the money and run.
Tom Scully was and still is heavily scrutinized for leaving Melbourne for the riches at Breakfast Point in Sydney’s west. Many were wondering what he had done to deserve the payday he received and whilst he has improved in his second year at the club, his decision to leave Melbourne when he did won’t be forgotten that easily.
Whilst it might not be the best thing that loyalty is often intensified when it comes to a player defecting, it helps when the more positive cases shine through.
Jonathan Brown, Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Pavlich define this in recent times, but it’s two players from Port Adelaide that truly express devotion towards their football club. As Port Adelaide struggled on and off the field last year, two of the younger members of the group put their hands up and publicly backed the club. Travis Boak, who was much sought after by Geelong – and why wouldn’t you want to go there? – and Jackson Trengove put pen to paper, stating that they believe in where this club is going. That isn’t an easy thing to do, however the impact that it can have is enormous. Port Adelaide are without a doubt the story of the 2013 season and are on their way back to the top end of the AFL ladder.
Finally, one of the purest examples of loyalty is that of Chris Grant. At the end of the 1995 AFL season, Grant was offered a large sum of money to join Port Adelaide in their inaugural season. As most of us know, Grant is now one of the Bulldogs’ favourite sons as he knocked back that offer to go on and play 252 games in the red, white and blue. However, just days before he decided to reject Port Adelaide’s offer, he received a 20-cent coin in the mail from a young Bulldogs fan at the time, pleading him to stay at Whitten Oval. While Grant says he had already made up his mind when he received the gesture, he said the gesture “reaffirmed in his mind” that his decision was the right one, going on to say: “I had fallen in love with the lure of wanting to be a one-team player.”
That last line says it all.