I can personally vouch for Cheyne Webster’s passion for AFL because he happens to be my brother. He’s spent nearly 20 years watching, playing, coaching and talking shit about the game and now I’ve convinced him to write about it. He’s chosen the subject of recycled players though I have to admit I’m a little put out he hasn’t included Paddy Ryder in his top five predicted success stories (this may be the last piece he writes then). He’s also put Sydney – the team he happens to barrack for – as number one when it comes to the ability to recycle a player well. So no bias there, then.
Cheyne’s lived overseas a number of times and had to beg, borrow and steal to watch games so I understand why he picked the 2012 grand final win as his special moment. For me personally, I have two favourite footy memories with Cheyne. The first is when we headed to ANZ Stadium (or Stadium Australia as it was known back then) to watch the Swans play the Lions in the 2003 preliminary final and Cheyne was wearing a Swans mask we’d bought God knows where at some point in time. You’d think people attending a Sydney game would appreciate the mask and understand its relevance but some punter still came up and asked my brother why he was wearing a duck mask. The second memory is when we went to see Port Adelaide play North Melbourne at Manuka Oval in 2005. Port had had a solid lead (around 60 points from memory) but went to sleep and got done. Ouch. Cheyne waited with a very sombre me after the game for quite some time then patiently took around 47 photos of me with Stuart Dew, who remains my all time favourite player. Maybe he’s not such a bad brother after all. Oh, and I still have that mask.
Well, it’s that time of year again. That time of the year as a footy fan that has you in a state of emotional limbo. The premiership action on the field has ended, and supporters of 17 teams this season have periodically broken up with their sporting bed fellow. After the ensuing period of enraged emotions and looking within for answers to their teams inadequacy to win the flag, footy’s answer to the dating scene has now hit full swing. Teams looking for a fresh start and fresh blood to put on their books, head to the national draft to reinvigorate their core groups to keep their dream alive. A raft of unfulfilled players already on club lists then for reasons unbeknownst to many become hot property. Like an out-of-town leggy blonde that struts into a far flung country pub – no one has seen her before, yet at first glance they all clamour at her feet to charm her socks off. She may look like the perfect woman, but those smart cookies in the shady drinking hole can see through the facade – why hasn’t she made it yet? How has she ended up at this last chance saloon?
One of football’s harsh realities is that on club lists that near the half century mark in number, some players just don’t make it. It would be hasty to judge these players who simply can’t get the opportunity that others get ahead of them, for a range of reasons. So many cards have to fall your way to forge a successful AFL career. As a supporter, it seems so straightforward – train hard, play well when you get your chance, and the rest takes care of itself. However, the hardest working people don’t always reap the rewards. When footy clubs fly the white flag at the end of seasons they’d rather forget, you can’t help but feel that a combination of exasperation and desperation sets in. Not all players have got it in them to be great but when their club spits them out the side and they all of a sudden become ‘available’, it amazes me how desirable some these players become.
One of the things I love about footy is a successful recycled player. Something that annoys me though are players who become huge currency at this time of the year and then seem to float into another footy club without reprisal. They are either drafted highly and fail, don’t fit into the club’s culture, or have had a bad run for one reason or another. Whatever plot lines are churned out by clubs, player managers, or the players themselves, someone is having supporters on. Are all players who don’t get a shot worthy of another chance? Like all employees at workplaces, some get the job done regardless of the circumstances, whilst others grasp at excuses like clutching straws. Perhaps young players on club lists reflect the young people in Australian society today. In this world of instant gratification, where we want everything now without having to earn it – perhaps its the wrong attitudes that are at fault.
James Frawley is a great example of this. The saga that played out all year was difficult to digest for all footy fans. Here we had a player who clearly didn’t want to be a Melbourne footballer – he decided well before the season’s end he wanted out and yet strung Demons fans on with the notion that he was waiting until season’s end to make a decision. He played some downright ordinary football this year in a fledgling team that needed strong leaders to convey some strength and credibility to the group. Coach Paul Roos used him down forward in a move which surprised many, but I cant help but feel was a method of awakening Frawley from his apathetic slumber. It’s worth noting that only four years ago Frawley was the All-Australian fullback. Leigh Matthews was particularly scathing of him on radio this season, claiming that, “…if Frawley wasn’t a free agent this season, his name wouldn’t even be mentioned. He’s not even in the top 100 players in the game.”
At the end of the day, however, not all players requesting to be recycled are footy’s big names. Twenty-nine players found new homes over this limbo period with most of them only playing a handful of games at their former clubs. There will be more to come. It is an exciting time of the year for these players – they’ve broken up with their football partner, dolled themselves up and thrown themselves into the meat market. Footy’s dating scene. Pumped up by their managers, telling all and sundry they’re not cooked yet, just resting on the warming rack on top the barbecue. Managers are playing match-maker, shoving their clients in the back towards the smiling group of singles in the middle of the footy dance floor.
So who are these singles strutting their wares, parading their premiership desires to the masses? Carlton, Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and Brisbane all played the jilted lover in 2014. Success has not come to these clubs for a considerable amount of time. Draft picks have failed (or flown the coop), experienced players have wilted in the ladder’s bottom half heat and players on the cusp have not lived up to expectation exacerbated by this flirtation with the dreaded wooden spoon. Has their spiral into singlehood driven them to drink one too many at the delisted free agent table? Sure, there’ll be recycled players who’ll prove their ex-lovers wrong. They’ll ‘go steady’ with their new flame, grow their mutual admiration and respect, work their socks off to make the relationship work, and – if all goes to plan – slip their finger into a ring on grand final day.
As supporters, now we wait. We wait for the flirting to materialise, we wait for the perception to become reality, we wait for the water to turn into wine. While it doesn’t always work out, I think supporters of clubs love a good recycled player. Looking far and wide at the competition, not only do successful ones enhance club rosters in the short term, provides them with huge impetus to drive towards a premiership sooner rather than later. They’ve ended up at the last chance saloon, and there’s only one thing they can do – drink up, or shut up. I can’t wait to see how they unfold.
My predictions? My top five recycled success stories for 2015 will be Mark Whiley (from GWS to Carlton), Allen Christensen (from Geelong to Brisbane), Shaun Higgins (from Western Bulldogs to North Melbourne), Travis Varcoe (from Geelong to Collingwood) and Jason Tutt (from Western Bulldogs to Carlton), An honourable mention also to Jack Crisp (from Brisbane to Collingwood). My top five likely recycle failures for next season are Liam Jones (from Western Bulldogs to Carlton), Sam Blease (from Melbourne to Geelong), Jeff Garlett (from Carlton to Melbourne), Tom Boyd (from GWS to Western Bulldogs) and James Frawley (from Melbourne to Hawthorn). This time the not-so-honourable mention goes to Jarrad Waite (from Carlton to North Melbourne). Finally my top five clubs who do the recycling this best are Sydney, Port Adelaide, Hawthorn, Collingwood and, so far, GWS.
Name: Cheyne Webster
Recruited from: Canberra, ACT via country NSW, Taiwan, the Maldives and Thailand
Occupation: Teacher and local footy coach for Eastlake
AFL team followed: Sydney Swans
And why: The most parochial fans are those that follow their home – home is where the heart is. I am a born and bred New South Welshman, so I’ve got to support the Swans. I started to seriously follow footy in the mid 90s when the Swans brand exploded and I haven’t looked back. It’s a wonderful club to support.
All time favourite footy moment: It’s hard to go past the Swans’ grand final wins – the 2005 grand final was amazing but I’d have to say 2012. I was overseas at the time in a crowded Aussie ex-pat pub and I was literally the only one in the room wearing a Swans jersey, surrounded by hundreds of rabid Hawks fans. Needless to say I was the drunkest man in that pub and didn’t leave for quite some time afterwards, letting everyone know what I thought of the game.