The final siren at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday night at once signalled North Melbourne’s elimination from the 2016 Finals Series and the end of Brent Harvey’s 432 game North Melbourne journey. A sad farewell for a favoured son, a victim of a ‘Roo Cull’, still one of his team’s better players after 21 seasons.
As both North Melbourne and Adelaide players formed a guard of honour for Harvey, and fellow ‘Roo Cull’ victims Nick Dal Santo, Michael Firrito and Drew Petrie, the enormity of Brad Scott and the Kangaroos decision became frightfully clear. In one fell swoop, 1345 games cut from the list and a serious rethink of their recruiting position had begun.
Over the last few years North, in ‘win now’ mode, had added Dal Santo, Robin Nahas, Shaun Higgins, Jarrad Waite and Farren Ray, in the process assembling the second oldest list in the league.
Two Preliminary Finals and an Elimination Final exit after Home & Away finishes of 6th, 8th and 8th all the club had to show for their aggressive tilt at the flag.
Having won 3 of their last 14 matches in 2016 it is hard to argue with the Kangaroos assessment that it is time to rebuild
At these times clubs need to make tough decisions as they need to put the building blocks in place for their next tilt at the ultimate prize. In this spirit, teams will err on the side of youth in the quest to fast track players to the sweet spot of experience between 70-100 games. The quickest way to achieve this end is to not renew the contracts of those players who won’t be around the next time the club is contending.
Brad Scott said as much when pressed on the issue. While acknowledging that all 4 players were capable of playing good footy in 2017 but “To deny young players the opportunity is not in the best interest of our team.”
He went further “I’m not ashamed to admit I love these guys. If they’re there (next year), I’ll play them and that would not be in the interests of our club in the long term.”[i]
With Robin Nahas and Farren Ray both having their time at North Melbourne come to an end more recently, it is fair to say it is a bad time to be an owner of a birth certificate from around 1986. While the accepted wisdom is to complete your rebuild in this fashion, you don’t often have a once in a generation player like Brent Harvey to deal with.
Handling the exit of your champions is never easy at the best of times, mainly because there is no textbook that covers every situation. That said, North’s handling of Brent Harvey just doesn’t feel right or fair. The fact that you are in the best five or six players in the club should be more important than the fact you were born in the 1970’s when deciding whether your career should continue or not. If it’s any consolation to North Melbourne, the exit of the last games record holder was butchered too, Hawthorn forcing an unhappy Michael Tuck out the door in the days after captaining the club to another premiership.
Fellow 400 gamer Kevin Bartlett shared similar sentiments: “I thought he had played well enough to go on for another year. He’s a small forward who’s kicked 36 goals for the year and average over 20 possessions a game,” Bartlett said,
“I think if you’re in good form, the birth certificate shouldn’t count. Yes, he’s 38-years-old, but he hasn’t shown any signs this year that he wasn’t worthy of another contract for next year.”[ii]
As did David Schwartz: “If he was 28 and not 38 he’d be signed up for another five years,” he said of Harvey. “On July 30, coach Brad Scott said he’s broken the all-time games record, arguably at the peak of his powers, which is something to behold. What’s changed in less than a month Brad?”[iii]
Jonathan Brown expressed the opposite view: “I think North Melbourne have done the right thing in this case,” Brown told Nova 100’s Chrissie, Sam & Browny.
“You can argue about the timing of the press conference. I agree with what they have done, it is aggressive and it could potentially come back to haunt Brad Scott, but I believe he has done the right thing because North Melbourne cannot win a premiership this year.” iii
As public sentiment settled somewhere near ‘agree to disagree’ on North’s decision, people began to speculate and/or share their opinion on whether Harvey should look to continue his career elsewhere in 2017.
Kevin Bartlett, who disagreed with the Kangaroos decision to not renew his contract, felt that Boomer should hang up his boots and finish his career a one club player: “He’s at the stage of his career where he’s the league games record-holder and there’s no need for him to play at another club. He’s already been a premiership player as well,” Bartlett told foxfooty.com.au.
“While he’d be disappointed and would’ve thought North would deal some better cards at the end of the year, I don’t think he’ll go on. In the back of his mind, I think he’d be asking himself: ‘For the sake of one extra year, is it worth it?’” ii
Swans’ Premiership player Tadhg Kennelly agreed with the legendary Tiger: “I genuinely hope he does (retire). He’s the games record holder, I don’t know if he’s got a whole lot left to prove,” the Swans premiership defender said.
“A lot of people are saying he’s in great form, he’s playing the best footy of his career – I don’t think it is the best of his career but is he playing well enough to go on.
Where could he go? Probably the two clubs up north in Brisbane and Gold Coast. He could go and play a year and become an assistant coach … but it’s just a real sad end. It was really an end that’s like a player who played 197 games.” [iv]
I personally believe that both men miss the point. Why does a player need to have something to prove? Why should they lose any sleep about whether not being a one club player or playing reserves footy will tarnish their legacy?
There should be only two considerations for players like Harvey, do they have a strong enough desire to commit to another season and is there a club interested in them that they are happy to play for. Simple as that.
Or as Jon implores Mel, in the 1993 classic movie Grumpy Old Men:
I don’t know one damn thing, but I know this:
The only thing in this life that you regret are the risks you didn’t take.
If you see a chance to be happy…
…grab it with both hands and to hell with the consequences.
Legacy is twaddle. Does anybody think any less of Tony Lockett because of his disastrous comeback, spending as much time playing for Port Melbourne as he did for Sydney, in 2002? Is Nicky Winmar any less a revered figure at St Kilda because he played one last season at the Bulldogs? Does anyone even remember that Tony Locket made a comeback in 2002 and suffered the ignominy of playing VFL or that Nicky Winmar played at the Bulldogs?
If Boomer wants to retire he should retire, if there is a chance to play on he should play on. No matter what he does in the next, one or two years can’t erase a legacy built over 21 years in Blue and White.
In an interesting postscript, Kangaroo Chairman James Brayshaw has called for loyalty from star Daniel Wells who they are currently in contract negotiations with. Brayshaw on Triple M radio suggesting: “It would be disappointing to lose him. Firstly because I love him, always have. But secondly for the last three years he’s been unbelievably well remunerated and played about four per cent of the games, so you’d hope that ‘Pickers’ (Wells’ manager Liam Pickering) would keep that in mind.”[v]
With Wells having had front row seats to North Melbourne’s recreation of the graphic and harrowing Kangaroo hunting scene from Wake in Fright, it is an odd time to be demanding loyalty. Having watched his team mates callously hunted down because the dates on their birth certificate no longer suited North Melbourne, Wells would be within his rights to suggest loyalty is a two-way street.
[i] North Melbourne coach Brad Scott says Kangaroos kids are the priority now – Lauren Wood, August 24th 2016. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/north-melbourne/north-melbourne-coach-brad-scott-says-kangaroos-kids-are-the-priority-now/news-story/c6209a086b689baa0c01dcccacc1177e
[ii] North Melbourne’s Brent Harvey must avoid playing at another club in 2017, says Kevin Bartlett – Ben Waterworth, September 7th 2016. http://www.foxsports.com.au/afl/north-melbournes-brent-harvey-must-avoid-playing-at-another-club-in-2017-says-kevin-bartlett/news-story/e4b72d73151b8cbf31fe2aebecab7150
iii AFL great David Schwarz launches passionate rant against Kangaroos coach Brad Scott – Tyson Otto, August 25th 2016. http://www.news.com.au/sport/afl/afl-great-david-schwarz-launches-passionate-rant-against-kangaroos-coach-brad-scott/news-story/b3f4714958460da4b7926f368a6a3b34
[iv] Time for Boomer to retire: Tadhg– SportsFan, September 14th 2016. http://m.sportsfan.com.au/afl-news-display/time-for-boomer-to-retire-tadhg/210840
[v] Brayshaw implores Wells to repay the favour after injury-hit years– Nick Bowen, September 12th 2016. http://www.afl.com.au/news/2016-09-12/james-brayshaw-implores-daniel-wells-to-repay-the-favour