Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley has played down suggestions Dale Thomas’s contract talks could be a distraction in 2013 given the midfielder is yet to recover from ankle surgery.
Thomas is yet to resume running and is in some doubt to start the season on March 31 given his limited pre-season. The midfielder said last weekend he was reluctant to enter contract talks with his club while he was still recovering.
Thomas becomes a restricted free agent at the end of this season and is likely to attract a big offer from Greater Western Sydney, which tried to recruit him in 2011.
Buckley on Friday said Thomas was not alone in coming out of contract this year, and watered down questions negotiations could become a repeat of the Travis Cloke saga from last year. Cloke’s talks with the Magpies became so prolonged they were put on hold until after the season, before the forward signed a five-year deal.
"We’ve got about 40 per cent of our list coming out of contract this year and we’ll deal with those guys appropriately at the right times," Buckley said of Thomas.
Buckley could not say whether Thomas would be fit enough to play North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium in round one.
"It’s still a couple of months away. He’ll need to get some solid training in and get up to speed before he’s ready to play games of footy," he said.
"Whether that’s late in the NAB (Cup) or early in the home and away will depend on the speed of his recovery.
"He’s had a modified pre-season. Has got a lot of fitness work in but is not on legs so we’ll have to judge that as we go. But clearly he’s an important player for us."
Collingwood on Friday signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Holden, believed to be close to $1 million a year, in which Buckley and his coaching panel will wear the car company’s logo on their shirts.