Collingwood cannot win a flag without Travis Cloke on the field and in form... Photo: Pat Scala
All night you have dreamt of that long-awaited premiership, the tinsel falling on your flag-winning heroes on the dais, your mobile phone bleeping incessantly with friends arranging the night's celebrations … then the alarm clock disturbs you, the radio news starts up and your nightmare begins.
“Player X is rumoured to be the target of a massive offer from Club X…”
Player X is your team's superstar, that lynchpin your club has built all its plans around. Club X is any club but your own, some evil entity cashed up and gleefully messing with your intricately fantasised future.
Buddy Franklin is indespensable to the possibility of Hawks' flags Photo: Pat Scala
The ground opens up beneath your feet, the flag dream dissolves.
Then there's the Big Injury Scenario. Emails at work avalanche in asking: “Have you heard? Player X's knee is wrecked/ruined/smashed.”
Shudder. The horror. An Irish dancing troupe is knees-up on your grave. No premierships for your team this year, maybe the next.
Paranoid? Why wouldn't you be paranoid? Big money prised Gary Ablett - arguably the game's best player - loose from the most successful modern team, one which had won two premierships and went on to win another.
Season-ending injuries can strike at any time – witness the West Coast forward line's woes.
Now there's free agency.
There have been many players who have remained on lesser money in order to remain in contending line-ups – many Cats and Magpies stars accepting than their market rate – but free agency means that clubs have to prepare room in their salary cap to match potentially huge offers from rival clubs.
Who knows if they will succeed?
Designed to assist experienced players move more easily between clubs, and possibly to stop teams stockpiling elite talent, it's uncertain whether free agency will have a negligible or significant impact on teams who have built lists capable of winning a premiership.
Mick Malthouse fears that it will harm poorer teams, which might lose rising stars to the more powerful clubs. Even clubs such as GWS, replete with young talent, fear being raided by big clubs looking to top up or rejuvenate strong lists with comparatively cheap, but long-term prospects.
So why not inoculate yourself against looming misfortune by considering which player from your club would you least like to lose?
Which defection would break your heart, and make you feel that your team's premiership chances were gone?
Which of your players is, or will be indispensable?
Here's our choices. We are looking at the most important player to your potential premiership success, not the 'best' at your club. If this player is not fit and in form, we reckon your club cannot win the flag.
“If they both left, it would be shattering for the footy club. We'd have to start again in some areas.” So Said Crows coach Brenton Sanderson of his stars, midfielder Patrick Dangerfield and key forward Kurt Tippett. Dangerfield is the more instinctive footballer, but we argue that a tall, still-improving contested marking target Tippett - who can also ruck strongly - is more valuable. In only his fifth season, at 24 years of age, Tippett should be peaking in the next couple of years. His second season gave a clue to his potential – 55 goals, 96 marks and 243 hit-outs.
An as-yet-undrafted key position superstar
Ruckman Matthew Leuenberger is vital to the Lions long-term prospects, and champions Jonathan Brown and Simon Black are all-time greats, but Brisbane will next contend long after the latter two are retired. Brisbane's biggest needs are for a couple of convincing tall forward targets. Cornelius, Retzlaff, Karnezis and Lisle are not impressing currently and Billy Longer is more of a ruckman. It is a gaping hole on the Lions list that it seems only a highly-drafted kid can fill.
A here and now proposition. Can you really see the Blues winning without Chris Judd in the clinches? Or without Matthew Kreuzer to put the ball down his throat? But both work in deeply resourced divisions, whereas the Blues defence is still developing. In order for Carlton to take out the premiership, it may need the experience and poise of a fit and firing Michael Jamison in a key defensive post more than the midfield and ruck need their biggest stars Judd and Kreuzer.
Dane Swans said it all: “We certainly need him, he's our most important player.” A contested mark behemoth who moves like a flanker, Cloke is a blessing in tightly contested finals footy, and threatened to win a flag on his own in 2011. Nigh on unstoppable in contests, he IS the Magpie forward line at the moment.
Hurley can play both ends, revels in the contests and looks like a big occasion player who lifts when his team most requires inspiration. Nice mark, too. A common thread is emerging here with these big guys…
Yes, we're being facetious, but if Freo aren't courting this instant solution to their forward line constipation, they should. Cloke would enable the team to kick long with confidence, and the knock-on effect on fellow forwards would be enormous. There doesn't seem to be an obvious solution within the playing ranks to the Dockers' need for a power forward, so recruitment is essential. The rest of the list is in pretty good shape and one influential big man could make a massive difference to their scoring power.
Jimmy Bartel was great, but let's not kid ourselves – Hawkins was the key player in the 2011 grand final. And since then he is showing signs of delivering consistently on his power and marking ability. Key forwards this strong, talented and young keep a club that can develop midfielders in contention for years.
The best young ruckman in the league will overcome a quieter second year to become a colossus of the midfield. Agile, possessing a big leap, competitive up forward, he should be this era's Dean Cox, and has years to realise his massive potential.
Did any junior Sun kick multiple goals twice in their first season? No. Cameron has bagged four and five majors in the first five rounds. Extraordinarily strong in the air for a kid, he has a competitive attitude and converts his chances. If boom recruit Joanthan Patton is as good, GWS need not enter the T. Cloke bidding.
Buddy helps the Hawks reach September, his brilliance sometimes overshadowing his hard work. Once there, he may get fewer opportunities, but his contributions, often unstoppable, make him the most potent match-winner in the competition.
Burly Jamar, 29, is unlikely to be playing when the Dees next contend. Melbourne will need a similarly robust ruckman to replace him, as it shepherds another crop of youngster through the midfield. Competitive at the stoppages, a strong mark and occasionally a good forward target, Jamar at his best is a benchmark for the sort of physical ruckman crucial in September. (Not that he has got much of chance to do so.)
North Melbourne has a raft of young midfielders, and ruck depth, but lacks convincing key position stalwarts. Thompson is reliable, aggressive and effective, and will be a cornerstone if they graduate to the pointy end of the season.
The Power most lacks class ball users in the midfield. Boak sets the example for their recruiters. Brave, consistent, skilled and tireless, he is realising his potential to become a top-notch extractor. With reasonable tall stocks, the addition of a few in the Boak mould would soon see Port Adelaide ascend the ladder.
Yes the midfielders Cotchin, Martin and Deledio are incredibly talented and valuable, as are sporadic forwards Tyrone Vickery and Jack Riewoldt. But until the Tiger defence is a cohesive, powerful unit, Richmond will not progress. Expect this rapidly improving key position defender to be their barometer. Already exceeding previous statistical targets, the 13-gamer looks poised, a good decision-maker under pressure, and a much better user of the footy than his predecessors. When he has played 50 games alongside messrs Batchelor, Ellis and Rance, Richmond should be on the up and up.
The Saints seem to have forgotten to fill their Christmas stocking with promising talls. Suburban league big men ought to put on their best form, for the Saints are sure to come a-knocking for support for the gutsy, strong-marking McEvoy. He does not possess a big leap, but he has elite hands, good game awareness and a great workrate. A ruckman to build a team around, and St Kilda would be well-advised to do so pronto. If McEvoy goes down injured, it's Rhys Stanley and no army for the ruck slots
The Swans must be rapt that they are progressing so strongly this season without a big input from their boom young key forward, who's just 20, with only 29 games under his belt. A brilliant mark but errant kick, Reid doesn't need to shoulder the burden of Swans scoring in his third season at the top. Given the excellence of his grabs and application, it is likely that time could come as soon as late 2012.
A host of impressive, developing midfielders could take the gong here, or star forwards Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling, but though the Eagles defence is underrated and solid, its flag-winning capabilities rely on the captain to combat the opposition 'gorillas'. Glass is all class at the back, sure-headed under pressure, and deceptively strong. He organises a defence that mixes rebound with shut-down.
The Dogs are desperately in need of a midfielder with some zip and verve as well as grunt, and the stunning four-goal debut of Smith offered as much pizzazz as hard-headed, pack-defying ball-winning. Tough beyond his year, he has the touch of class necessary to take over from the long-unchallenged elder statesmen in the Bulldogs engine room.