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Players' plan to secretly sign elsewhere 'worse than NRL': Nathan Buckley

'The unanimous view was that it does benefit 'destination' clubs and that it's not a method of equalisation in any shape or form'.

'The unanimous view was that it does benefit 'destination' clubs and that it's not a method of equalisation in any shape or form'. Photo: Getty Images

Nathan Buckley has added his voice to the condemnation of free agency in the AFL, and is particularly scornful of a mooted plan for players to be able to covertly sign with rival clubs during a season.

Fairfax Media reported on Wednesday that the AFL Players' Association is lobbying the AFL to allow free agents to sign contracts at rival clubs before their current deals have expired. The aim is to give players greater security by preventing a club agreeing to terms with a player then reneging due to injury or other factors.

If adopted, players could choose whether to inform their current club of their commitment to join a rival club from the following season.

Collingwood coach Buckley said he disliked the now-accepted NRL practice of players signing for rival clubs midway through a season, but argued the mooted plan for the AFL would be even worse.

"It just sounds wrong," Buckley said on Wednesday.

"There's probably only one thing worse than that [NRL practice], and that is someone already knowing they're going elsewhere and not being honest and open about it. So I'd think the [proposed] system ... is even worse than the NRL one."

Buckley argued any in-season negotiations should go no further than clubs informally approaching the managers of rival clubs' players, with formal negotiations that involve the player's consent to be left until the conclusion of that player's season.

"You'd have to have your head in the sand to think clubs aren't talking to managers of [rival clubs'] players at different times and asking them what their plans might be 12 months, 18 months down the track. That takes place, but I think it takes place where it needs to take place and that is in the back offices," he said.

"When it comes to the football clubs, when it comes to the coaches, me as a coach dealing with the players that are Collingwood Football Club listed players, I need to know and have absolute faith that those players are 100 per cent invested in the football club and the direction that we're heading in. If anything came into the game that took away from that, I think we'd be the lesser for it."

Melbourne coach Paul Roos has previously declared he would not select a player he knew was departing at the end of the season, a scenario he could face this season if out-of-contract defender James Frawley makes an early decision on his playing future.

Buckley said he agreed with Roos' sentiment, but said he would not make the same declaration.

"It depends on what position you're in, [whether you] are in contention. I think Hawthorn were pretty aware what was happening with 'Buddy' [Lance Franklin] - they may or may not have been - but they had a flag to go and win. Maybe [Geelong did too] with Gary Ablett," he said.

"I think it's great in theory, but if it's going to cost you games in the short term and penalise the rest of the team and the football club in the short term you'd have to have the strength of your convictions to carry through with that."

Buckley disputed the AFLPA argument that free agency is necessary to give longer-serving players some degree of freedom of movement.

"Yeah, they do [have that freedom already] - at the end of every contract," he said.

"I think the whole idea was for players to be able to control their destiny a little bit more but also to try to create more fluid player movement. I can understand the concept, but if you have to pay a certain level of the [salary] cap players will be rewarded for good performance. I don't know why you have to shift clubs to do that."

Geelong's Chris Scott preceded Buckley this week in arguing free agency was detrimental to the AFL. The Collingwood coach said that view was universal among his peers when it was raised at the coaches' dinner meeting recently hosted by new AFL chief executive Gil McLachlan.

"There was really robust discussion about it. I think the unanimous view was that it does benefit 'destination' clubs and that it's not a method of equalisation in any shape or form," he said.

"Anything that's not equalising the competition is [a means to create a more even competition] being taken away, and I think free agency falls into that basket."

Beyond free agency, Buckley said there was "a little bit of support" among coaches for a mid-season draft, primarily for clubs beset by injuries.

Buckley said his personal view was that the introduction of a mid-season draft "wouldn't hurt", and that Collingwood theoretically would have been interested this season in recruiting a key defender to cover for injured pair Nathan Brown and the now-fit Ben Reid. But his support would be reliant on clubs not being able to draft players from rival clubs, and would instead have to look beyond the AFL for prospective draftees.

"You've got blokes that are killing it in the Diamond Valley [league] or in the SANFL or in the WAFL and they might've just missed out on being drafted or being a rookie-listed player but they've had a really great start to a season in a non-AFL competition," the Magpies coach said.

"I think one of the things we've always been good at, at AFL, is recognising our grassroots and finding the connection between the elite level and the grassroots level. I think that [mid-season draft] could only strengthen those."

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