A bit of teen angst in career choices
THE first announcement didn't make too big a splash, in Melbourne at least. But after signing Dylan Shiel, Tom Bugg, Matthew Buntine, Adam Kennedy and Adam Tomlinson to early contract extensions last May, Greater Western Sydney was certainly noticed come the end of August when Jeremy Cameron, Toby Greene, Adam Treloar, Devon Smith and Stephen Coniglio re-signed a year before they needed to.
It meant that the Giants had placed them beyond the reach of their hungry home-town clubs for just a little bit longer.
The teenagers who get drafted next month will enter a changed AFL world. Free agency will, as it becomes more familiar, make sure of that. They'll see their older teammates take greater control of their destinies and they are already seeing those who ask to be traded to a specific team end up there more often.
They'll see money, as much as opportunity, steer these players' decision making. But perhaps it's a world they are ready for.
Young players have asked to be traded before. But it seems to be happening more often. Last year Jack Gunston left Adelaide after just two years to go to Hawthorn. Tom Scully, Melbourne's No. 1 draft pick, had already signed with the Giants. This year, at least five of the players seeking to be traded are leaving at the end of their two-year first contract.
Their circumstances are unique. Koby Stevens has played 11 games in three seasons (he signed for an extra year upon being drafted by West Coast) and wants to go. Tom Hickey's girlfriend is in Melbourne. Josh Caddy wanted to play in Victoria; Ben Jacobs and Jamie Cripps want to go home, too. Perhaps it's a coincidence; maybe it's the start of a new trend. For every second-year player he helps move, said one player manager, there are two or three he convinces that staying put would be the best thing for their footy.
Is it a Generation Y thing? Some managers think the cliches apply, that many of the kids they work with are ambitious and want things to happen quickly. Even getting them on board as clients, say some, requires a harder sell than it once did. ''A lot of them are impatient,'' said one manager. ''They want to play games straight away, they believe they're good enough to play straight away and if they're not playing they start to think, 'F--- it then, I might as well go home'.''
Another agent agreed. ''We used to talk to them and use players like Joel Selwood and Cyril Rioli as exceptions to the rule, but now I think they're better prepared for the AFL and programmed to want to play from day one. I'd say 99 per cent of them are massively impatient to go to their club and start achieving straight away,'' he said.
''It's also drummed into them before the draft that the average career span is only three or four years. Lists are shorter, so clubs do have to play a lot of them early, and supporters are pretty impatient as well, so that's what they're surrounded by. A lot of them do start to wonder pretty quickly if they're going to get an opportunity. With the big guys in particular you have to keep saying, 'It's going to take you some time'.''
Time will tell whether this year is a one-off, or the start of something. Watch clubs try to extend the contracts of their talented kids as soon as they start to show something. Watch them go after the first-round draftees being hoarded by GWS, many of whom will be stuck in the reserves for a while. Watch to see whether the Giants start offering long-term contracts to this year's draftees as soon as they choose them, watch how much money is thrown at them by the clubs trying to lure them home, and see whether they stay or go.
''Watch this space,'' said one manager. ''Check back in five years. In five years, it could be an epidemic.''