Young and Old

During the off-season I did the only thing I could to keep me going; watched the Grand Final replay once a week, scoured the internet for any footy news, the draft, trade week, new appointments and when there was none of that to be done I went to the pub. As things unfolded I became bothered by some of what I saw. The modern trend of placing supreme value on younger players in football worries me. It fails to pay respect to the senior players who are being forced out by clubs decision makers who prioritise youth over experience. Looking back over the past few years…..

*I am relying heavily on memory and wikipedia for this, please excuse any mistakes and assumptions I have made if they are incorrect.

Teams undergoing rebuilding phases, Brisbane, Melbourne, North Melbourne and Richmond (recently) have some justifiable reason to focus on getting young players onto their list. But they seem to do so at the cost of sacrificing experience and forcing out players who are not yet done, who could play on easily another 2-3 years. Melbourne forced out (then captain) James McDonald at the end of 2010. McDonald said at the time he could have kept playing but would put the club first. He’s since signed with GWS as a playing assistant coach, providing their young squad with essential experience. Luke Power, Dean Brogan, Chad Cornes and Setanta O h’Ailpin have also found reprieve at GWS. Luke Power in particular is huge gain for GWS, who have named him as one of their co-captains after Brisbane bizarrely informed their triple-premiership player his services were no longer required.

Brisbane continue their practice of systematically snubbing their senior stars, the year before they offered Daniel Bradshaw as trade-bait for the second year running, thinking to use him to acquire Brendan Fevola. (A brilliant acquisition that turned out to be). Bradshaw then walked out on Brisbane, along with Brennan and Rischitelli, and was picked up by Sydney in the draft. Injury eventually brought Bradshaw down but not before he’d put in a solid season for the Swans, including a 6 goal showing against Brisbane and one of the best torpedo punt goals from outside 50 we’ve seen in a good while.

The retired players acquired by GWS will provide their young team with much needed leadership and matchplay experience. Brogan was one of Ports best in a dismal season last year, almost single-handedly dragging his side through a couple of matches. Chad Cornes and Setanta struggled to get a game at their respective clubs last year, and while neither will dominate games they have big bodies and old heads that should serve the Giants well. The 3 co-captain group adopted by GWS should work well for them too. Power to provide the experience of 3 flags and nearly 300 games, Ward to generate some excitement and inspire his team mates and Davis to lead the club into the future. The Giants have a great blend of experience and youth and they are not jumping the gun on anything yet.

Melbourne, on the other hand, seem to be doing a bit of gun jumping. The Jack’s, Grimes and Trengove, have been appointed co-captains of the Red and the Blue, with a grand total of 69 games between them. I understand the argument. Melbourne want to sure up their young stars, secure them from the lure of the new sides and their buying power. To make a statement; this is our future, these are our leaders. Or will be. But what about the leaders who have been passed over? Specifically Nathan Jones and Brent Moloney. Both are proven on field leaders, Moloney lost the vice-captaincy last year but pulled himself together to play well for the rest of the season. Jones has missed only 3 games for Melbourne since he debuted in 2006, he placed third in the 2007 Rising Star awards and has that most valuable trait of captains; a shaved head, an impressive tattoo sleeve and an air of intimidation and danger. Jones as captain (as he was for the NAB Cup match against Collingwood on Saturday night) is impressive, he has that sense of leadership about him, and he has the experience to back it up. Now I like the Jack’s, and I think they’ll make good captains, but I also think they need more time. Imagine that Melbourne had instead named Jones or Moloney captain and named the Jacks vice-captains. They would have secured the Jacks and at the same time given them a couple of years to keep growing and learning before they took over the captaincy. Most importantly it would have said that they value their senior players and offset fears of being forced out or doubts that might lead them to look elsewhere come trade time, as Bradshaw, Brennan, Rischitelli, Gibson and Hale have done.

Gibson and Hale walked away from North Melbourne for Hawthorn (Hale was traded but I can’t see how he would have wanted to stay at North, who clearly underrated him. Gibson requested a trade). This move by two senior players has to say something about the culture and feel among the playing group at North. And now North have demoted their superstar captain, Boomer Harvey, for Andrew Swallow. Transitioning captains at a club is important and it needs to be done right. Boomer stepping aside for Swallow would have been a great move. Boomer being shunted aside and embarrassed by his club was amateurish. Harvey had declared his desire to continue captaining the club, the club said little, then appointed Swallow. How it should have happened; Brad Scott and James Brayshaw sit down with Boomer and talk about the future of the club, they ask him to step aside and give his blessing to Swallow to lead the club, Boomer then announces his stepping aside for the good of the club (a la Sam Mitchel) and Swallow becomes captain in a seamless and dignified transition. But again a club has placed the ultimate value on youth at the cost of experience. Boomer is not gone, but he has been snubbed where he should have been honoured.

Finally, we can see the value of experience in the Cousins and Jpod experiments. Cousins came to Richmond at the tail end of his career, following scandal and drug addiction. A huge gamble for Richmond. A gamble that paid off. Cousins injected game smarts and leadership into Richmonds young side for two seasons. In the end he called it a day, leaving on his own terms, with the Tigers saying they would have been glad to have him for another year. James Podsiadly became one of the oldest rookies in AFL history, drafted at 28 for Geelong. Jpod captained Geelong’s VFL team in 2009, won their best and fairest and led the goal kicking. Since debuting in the AFL he has played 42 games, kicked 101 goals and nabbed himself a premiership medallion. There is a potential wealth of talent developing in the VFL, passed over for AFL drafting but then coming into their own. How many more Jpod’s are there to be found? And how many clubs will take the risk? Youth is the safe option, the “sure” thing. But there is no guarantee Grimes, Trengove, Scully, O’Meara and company will become the superstars we are promised. They may well and I hope that they do, but I also hope that clubs to not cast aside their senior players simply to make room for these young men. At a cost to these young men. The greatest challenge in front of the Suns and the Giants is taking a large group of exciting young talent and turning them into an experienced and strong football team without the benefit of the old heads to teach them.

Geelong are (for me) the prime example of the effect of experienced heads around young footballers. Joel Selwood has played 5 seasons of AFL, 4 Grand Finals and has 3 Premiership medallions. He is now the captain of the club. But would he have risen so fast and developed so well without the experience of the Geelong midfield around him? How great the impact of Ablet, Ling, Chapman, Bartel and Corey around him? Menzel, Duncan, T. Hunt, Vardy, West and Christensen have all but sured up regular spots in the side and are more than simply making up numbers. With Mitch Brown, Tom Gillies, Josh Cowan, Stephen Motlop and George Burbury impressing in the NAB Cup, the value of bringing up these young kids alongside experienced heads is unquestionable.
Clubs must recognise the value of their senior players and manage the transition of young players into the team better. These men who have given their all for their clubs should not be cast aside because they are “too old” to be of use. The title of Veteran should be prized by clubs, these are our heroes, these are our leaders, these are our past and, through the experience and leadership they will pass onto our youngsters, these are our future.


  1. Peter Baulderstone says

    Well argued Zac. I don’t think Natanui could have come on so quickly without Cox as a mentor and a protector. I really agree with your argument about Melbourne’s captains. The Eagles gave the Demons a thumping last year (who didn’t), but Nathan Jones stood out as the bloke I would love to have in blue and gold. Hard at it, no matter the score. And with speed and skills and strength. Would get a game at any club, and you couldn’t say that for many on the Demons’ list. He sure looked like a leader to me.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    I agree.Well said.

  3. Andrew Weiss says

    Some interesting thoughts Zac. As a Brisbane follower I would like to make a few points about what you have said. I do agree that in the end the trade for Brendan Fevola was a big mistake but what many people don’t realise is that it was not just the coach who was chasing a premiership but many others associated with the club. I don’t think getting rid of Daniel Bradshaw was a bad decision as many knew that his knee was just about gone and that he would be lucky to get through two more seasons (and in the end this was true).

    As for Brennan i believe he saw an opportunity to get a better contract at another club (which was mainly because Brisbane could not offer him the money because of what they were paying Fevola) and what the Gold Coast was offering was too good to refuse.

    Rischitelli was a lose there was no doubt about it.

    Power is a difficult one as it brings up the difficult decision of when an experienced player makes way for youth so that they can get that experience.

    I believe that one of the reasons that Brisbane had a big fall after winning three premierships was that they did not blood eneough youngsters whilst they were winning premierships unlike Gellong who have shown how you can remain a powerhouse if you get the balance right.

  4. Andrew I don’t know enough about the details so I’ll happily bow to your better knowledge. But it seems to me that the way the list was being managed at Brisbane didn’t make it difficult for Brennan and co to leave. I like Brisbane and want them to do well, they’re one of the teams I enjoy watching and barracking for (when they’re not playing Geelong) so the last couple of years have been really disappointing.

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