Travis Cloke at training yesterday. Photo: Wayne Taylor
TRAVIS Cloke is this year's Tom Scully. Will he? Won't he? How many hearts will be broken if he does?
Whether Cloke actually proves to be this year's Scully - Melbourne's 2009 No. 1 recruit, who crossed to Greater Western Sydney at the end of last season - and leaves for more cash will not be settled here, and might not be settled for the year.
This year there is not only start-up club cash at play, but free agency is a complicator that means more players in Cloke's position will wait and tease out the market before committing.
Unlike Scully last year, with Cloke there is apparently more than GWS in play for his services. In fact, despite bullish Giants comments to the contrary, the stronger suspicion at AFL clubs now is that the Giants have little room left in salary cap terms to go fishing this year. So while they declare interest in many, they are doubtful of landing one. Which for Cloke now raises the prospect of Fremantle, and probably by year's end one or two other clubs, that would like to talk.
Cloke is thought to want $800,000-plus in his next contract. Collingwood will probably end up finding the cash, or something close to it, in dollars or years of service for his next contract.
All players who stay at any club take less than they could get elsewhere, it is a matter of degrees of sacrifice. Typically, another club needs to offer significantly more - life-altering - cash to entice a player of the elite or near elite bracket to quit where they are happy.
Buckley said yesterday that Collingwood could not match what others had to offer, but it could offer the chance of success and to stay with his mates.
The club, he said, was not able to match the money offers of others for Dane Swan, but he had signed, likewise Scott Pendlebury.
''Clearly, with Daisy Thomas as well,'' he said. ''In the end it's up to the individual to make that decision, but as a club we're doing everything we possibly can.''
Gently reminding Cloke of what his teammates had done, Buckley fell short of using the term loyalty. It was probably wise.
Both of Cloke's brothers, who preceded him to Collingwood, were later shopped or cut by the club. It's hard to be romantic and commercial at the same time
The experience of Cloke's father, David, as a player provides an uncertain lead.
Cloke left Richmond for Collingwood for various reasons, though the money was not insignificant at the height of the Richmond-Collingwood trading war.
Later, he found his way back to Richmond, and later still his boys were being wooed by both his former clubs. The decision for the Magpies, in part, was based on his history with old Richmond men Mick Malthouse and Neil Balme, who were there. He was as ever pragmatic.
The awkwardness for Collingwood is that if Cloke were to go, it would be better served if he went to GWS, where the compensation for the loss would be greater than going as a free agent to Fremantle or another club.
But what would it do for Collingwood? It would certainly alter the picture of the premiership window.
Lachlan Keeffe, having had a promising early season this year, would need to become a reliable key defender with Nathan Brown so that they could free up Ben Reid to revisit his early short-lived life as a forward.
Or likewise to allow Chris Tarrant to reprise his earlier career goal-kicker role.
Chris Dawes would carry a heavier burden. This year he has laboured for form, and next year would be asked to be forward prime mover.
Jackson Paine is promising, but next year is but his second year.
So they could shuffle players, but by losing the best power forward in the competition, they would necessarily be weaker.
Cloke, at 25, has three prime years in him, but the history of big, hard-running forwards is that they are a bruised and rickety thing at 28. Take Brereton, Carey, Brown, Tredrea, and by the look of it Riewoldt, as evidence.
Cloke then has three years in which he deserves to earn well. But to keep him on, or alternatively, to entice him to go the contract, might need to be about tenure and being prepared to pay excessively in years four, or even five, of a new deal.
The question, however, is perhaps best not asked of what happens to Collingwood if Cloke were to leave, but at what price he stays? What is left for the others if they want to re-sign the likes of Ben Reid?
Cloke is not the only player with suitors armed with wallets.