With all the Cloke and dagger contract talks over, a big Magpie is ready to fly
Collingwood forward Travis Cloke. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Since the 2012 season concluded, Travis Cloke has inked the contract that launched a thousand headlines, but split up with his long-term girlfriend. He also signed with Channel Nine, making the first tentative steps down a road he's seldom walked - media street.
He lost his favoured glove and, by his reckoning, a few kilograms. He gained the right to sit regularly alongside Garry Lyon and James Brayshaw on The Footy Show and, most significantly from the competition's perspective, he committed himself to Collingwood for the next five years - albeit the fifth year does contain some fine print.
Cloke acknowledges that the contractual saga of 2012 did have a detrimental effect on his performances, though he notes that, statistically, it wasn't that different to what he produced in 2011, when he was All-Australian.
''Yeah, it probably played an effect,'' Cloke said, in his first discussion of 2012's most scrutinised negotiation. ''We weren't sitting here saying, 'Oh, I'd played bad because I read all the media' … but it probably wasn't helping.
''I worked pretty hard on my own game, keeping myself right, body right, mentally sound that way. I had a few niggles last year, so I wasn't able to put the hours or effort on the track I would have liked.''
Cloke is looking forward to the season, to buying a house with a backyard and to producing a year that contains fewer fluctuations in form. He notes the connection between happiness in life and performing on the field.
''You've got to enjoy what you're doing and if you're not enjoying it, I won't play. No matter what, even if I'm two years into a contract and I'm not enjoying football, then that'd be it for me,'' he said.
''But at the moment I'm actually really enjoying my football, personal life is pretty good as well. There's hiccups along the way - that happens in life. No, if you can keep yourself happy off the field, obviously, your on-field performances are a lot better as well.''
In the opening minutes of our interview, when the questions are generally less direct or probing, Cloke volunteered that he had recently become a single footballer.
''It's been an interesting off-season personally with some personal things. But no, I'm happy at the moment. I became single over the break, long-term relationship, that's all,'' he said.
Given what he had experienced last year - coach Nathan Buckley described it as ''a tough year'' that mirrored the club's travails - one wondered how the break-up compared to the contractual impasse. ''It's more a bit emotional, you're a bit more emotionally involved, it was a hard one,'' Cloke said. ''There was more of a mutual agreement and (that is) what's happened and move on with life.''
This ''interesting'' post-season began with the contract re-signing, an event that was enlarged by the advent of free agency and the fact that, if he wished, Cloke could have walked to the club of his choice.
Cloke insists he was never interested in leaving. ''No … I sat down this time last year with 'Bucks' and said, 'Ideally, I don't want to do anything until the end of the year', and that was my whole intention the whole way through the year. Yeah, it got brought up in the media - that probably brought it more to the surface to talk about it.
''I sat down with Bucks in the middle of the year and said, 'Mate, you know where I want to be, you know where I want to play my football'. He was always confident I was going to be around and that's the way I always thought.''
Yet, Buckley was worried enough to contemplate alternatives in the event that Collingwood's premier forward - and the game's best contested mark - left.
''You've got to look at all possible outcomes,'' Buckley said, ''and there's no doubt that we were having to consider what would happened if 'Clokey' had decided to go, because there were certain levels that we were prepared to go and certain things we were prepared to move on, but we weren't going to sell the farm to keep one player.''
But, unlike Brendon Goddard, Cloke chose to stay on terms that were somewhere between Collingwood's initial offer and the offers from elsewhere.
''Within the club and myself and my party, nothing's changed. We've always been on good speaking terms and great relationships. I get along very well personally with [club president] Eddie McGuire, Bucks and 'Walshy' [director of football Geoff Walsh], and they're the three men that worked the negotiations out really, there's no hard feelings between anyone. Understand it was business and that's what happens.''
On occasion, the Pies struggled to contain their exasperation with the Cloke camp, given the unusual situation of having Travis' father David, a 300-game great of Richmond and Collingwood, handling his son's contract talks. It's an arrangement that Cloke junior defends with his family's trademark solidarity, admitting he and his father had moments of friction. When it came to dealing with his father as manager, it wasn't personal.
''People say it's a bad thing having your father so emotionally involved. We've had good conversations where it's not, it's not a father-son chat, it's business related and I've had some very heated words with him and stuff and he's done likewise to me. We've got a very good understanding. I get along very well with my mother and father and when it comes to business, he knows exactly what I wanted last year.
''He was there, obviously, as my father but also as my manager as well and he had my best interests always at hand.''
Strangely, the notion of Cloke sticking with Collingwood, rather than heading to Carlton - the rival seen as the most credible threat - was given moral support by an unlikely source - Carlton president Stephen Kernahan, who told Cloke that, as much as he would have liked him in navy blue, he was pleased ''for football's sake'' that he had remained at Collingwood.
Cloke met with Kernahan, not to discuss a contract offer, but through his former girlfriend's work. ''I know 'Sticks' personally. He's obviously heavily involved with - now my ex-girlfriend's - work/business, so I saw him at work functions.
''I used to see 'Ratts' [former Carlton coach Brett Ratten] at different ones as well. I get along quite well with a lot of the Carlton boys actually - like 'Murph' [Marc Murphy].
''I've spoken to him [Kernahan] since, in the last couple of months I saw him at a function again. He goes, 'As a football person I'm glad you're staying where you are. Obviously, I would have loved for you to come over to the Blues but, as a one-club player, it's great for football'.
''To be completely honest, it didn't cross my mind. I always knew where I was going to stay. Mick's [Malthouse] been a close family friend, obviously dad played with him as well, but it never came into it as a factor. It wasn't, 'Oh shit, what I am doing now, am I weighing up options here'? It was nup, I knew before Mick was going to Carlton where I was going to stay. It wasn't a drawcard at all.''
If Kernahan thought Cloke staying was better for the game, Cloke still sees free agency as beneficial to the AFL. ''It makes clubs probably appreciate their players a little bit more.''
For Cloke, the trauma of 2012 is behind both him and the Pies. ''You'd much prefer that things didn't get played out in a public forum,'' Buckley said. ''We managed it as best we could.''