From the grandstand: Silence is deafening

5 July 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

Ronan Keating is a singer who resonates with younger females. His charming looks, husky voice and romantic song choices force ladies to quiver uncontrollably at their knees.

However Keating currently sits at the top of many AFL players’ iPod playlists.

Weird, right? Especially when people tend to stereotype today’s players as big, tough boys who have Metallica pumping out of their Mitsubishi Tritons all day.

So why are Keating’s tender tones such a big hit with this country’s most admired athletes of late?

When it comes to their future plans, players, these days, ‘say it best’ when they ‘say nothing at all’. In other words, certain AFL players are staying very quiet about where they’ll be next season, meaning they’re weighing up options and looking at moving to other clubs come October.

The AFL’s 18th and newest club – Greater Western Sydney – is on the hunt for the best talent in the land. Not only are they looking for the best kids at under 18 level, they’re also scouting the best players already in the AFL system.

A plethora of names have been thrown around as potential GWS recruits. High profile players such as Tom Scully, Callan Ward, Brendon Goddard, Dale Thomas and Taylor Walker have all been linked to the new club, yet none have denied or confirmed whether they’ll be heading to New South Wales in 2011.

But the silence is deafening. Supporters of the clubs the aforementioned players belong to should be nervy.

The longer these players avoid questions and say they’ll wait until the end of the season to make up their mind, the more likely they’re Blacktown-bound.

Yes we, as footy lovers, can only go by past form.  But examples from the 2010 season are damning.

Throughout the entire year, many wondered which club superstar midfielder Gary Ablett would be at in 2011. Would he take a pay cut and stay at Geelong, the club he’d won two premierships and a Brownlow medal with? Or would he head up north to Gold Coast, a raw yet fresh club that was offering him a five-year contract reportedly worth close to $10 million?

Ablett played it well. He dodged questions and played down speculation about his future throughout the entire season. His focus was always ‘now’, not next season.

Basically, he said nothing. He gave nothing away.

In the end, Ablett signed with the Suns a week after Geelong’s 2010 campaign ended. To some it was a surprise, to others it wasn’t. But after all that denial, he finally went.

The same occurred with Campbell Brown, Jarrod Harbrow and Nathan Bock. Their names were tossed around during 2010 and now they’re all wearing Suns jumpers.

The footy community is on the verge of experiencing a déjà vu.

So far this season, when the media has asked coaches, club officials, teammates and the specific players in question about where they’ll play next season, the defendants have immediately put their politician hats on. They’ve deflected the question and avoided giving a straight answer, in an attempt to take the focus off the speculation.

It isn’t a good sign.

It’s clear the players in question are genuinely considering the offers from the Giants. And the longer a player delays announcing his future intentions, the more the media and fans will speculate.

One of GWS’ targets, Bulldogs midfielder Ward, confirmed to Bulldogs officials he had met with GWS in mid-June. During the meeting, he was reportedly offered a five-year contract believed to be worth nearly $5 million.

That’s a lot of dosh to turn down.

Ultimately, it comes down to a choice: loyalty or riches. But no matter how loyal you are to your club and your teammates, money is always going to talk – loudly. It’s a tough conundrum, but one so many young players, like Ward, will have to make in the coming months.

There are a number of other players in a similar situation to Ward, including Melbourne’s Scully.

If he was a cricketer, he would be opening the batting for Australia in a test match, because he’s defended every quick, searing delivery from the media with a beautifully straight bat.

Not once has Scully definitively said he’s going to the Giants or staying with the Demons. He’s never lied – just kept very quiet.

The pressure on Scully is enormous, yet he is handling it terrifically. Not only is he presenting himself strongly at press conferences, but he’s also having massive influences on games, averaging 25 touches and six tackles from five games this season.

But some think he’ll no longer be a Demon come seaosn’s end.

Demons great David Schwarz recently stated he was ’98 per cent’ sure the 20-year-old would be wearing a Giants jumper in 2012. And when Schwarz says anything about Melbourne, everyone listens. His opinion is greatly respected.

If he wanted to, Scully could come out today and confirm he’s going to play with Melbourne next year. The speculation and innuendo would end immediately.

However Scully has confirmed he’ll wait till the end of the year and make up his mind then. He has every right to play out the remainder of the season and sit down with his management at the end of the year to discuss his movements – or, hopefully for Melbourne’s sake, lack thereof. He has an obligation to maximise his earning potential from now until the end of his career.

It sounds all too familiar, though. Remember Ablett? Remember Harbrow, Brown and Bock? Cue Twilight Zone theme music.

GWS has an enormous amount of cash to offer players and it’ll be hard for them to refuse, no matter how young or loyal you are to your current club.

If the Giants’ targets are thinking similarly to Ablett and the rest of the Gold Coast’s 2010 class of uncontracted players, then Keating’s right.

Perhaps players do ‘say it best’, when they ‘say nothing at all’.

Ben Waterworth is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is upstart’s former sports editor. You can follow him on twitter: @bjwaterworth