After the Western Bulldogs crushing Round 12 victory over Brisbane last year, their 19-year old developing key forward Tom Boyd received a NAB Rising Star nomination.
With all due deference to the Rising Star Award, Boyd and his potential had already, and more lucratively, been recognised. A 7 year, $7million contract the lure and ultimate acknowledgement of his potential to attract the 2013 Number One draft pick to the kennel from the GWS Giants.
Boyd’s deal was further proof, if any was needed, that the power in negotiations had subtly shifted towards the player after the introduction of Free Agency. 12 Months earlier Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin had been extracted, by the Swans, from the Premiership winning Hawks with a 9-year $10 million agreement. Both deals raised eyebrows for the risks they represented to the clubs that offered them. While Buddy’s class was undoubted, what chance was there of him fulfilling the full term of his contract? At 19, the question marks were whether Boyd could actually realise the kind of form that a million dollars a year should buy.
The line between genius and folly can be a fine one and not easily found, many in the football world have happily queued up to opinion which side of the line the two clubs fell.
The starting points for most of these thoughts seem to be the wide and varied estimate on what a club should reasonably expect for that kind of investment, and when that return should begin to be realised.
I think it is fair to say that most estimations have been incredibly high. So high, that despite Sydney’s early return of two minor premierships and over 200 goals from the man in number 23 in three seasons, some are asking whether it’s enough. If that isn’t enough, the kind of returns a 38 gamer delivers as he finds his way in the AFL would never satisfy the angry hordes.
With both Boyd and Franklin lining up on either side, it made for an interesting sub-story to the Grand Final as both clubs looked to get the ultimate reward for their risk. This was comically illustrated in a Grand Final drinking game that directed participants to drink ‘Every time Buddy’s $10 million contract is mentioned’ and ‘If Tom Boyd does anything remotely effective, throw a $50 note at the TV and finish your drink.’ What followed was an expensive afternoon for anyone taking part in the drinking game, and three hours Tom Boyd and the Bulldogs will never forget. The much maligned youngster saving the grandest stage of all for his breakout game.
In a performance that nearly saw him walk off with the Norm Smith Medal, Boyd helped the Bulldogs to only their second ever Premiership. He imposed himself on the match, snatching 8 marks and booting 3 goals, at the same time sending a shiver through the rest of the competition as they consider what he might be able to produce when he actually reaches his peak.
With many years left to run on both deals it is pretty early to be making definitive calls on either. However, it probably is safe to say that when they were announced, not many people would have thought the Bulldogs would be the first to taste Premiership success.
While Sydney signed Buddy with the express intent to add to their collection of Premiership Cups, it takes a harsh assessment to suggest his signing was less than successful. Grand Finals are difficult to make and the Swans return in the last 3 years is one less than the Bulldogs entire return, equal to Melbourne’s in the last 50 and one more than Richmond’s in the last 35 years.
As the Bulldogs have doubled their Premiership tally, and their $7million man was an integral part in its claiming, I would suggest they see their investment as money well spent already. A Boyd heckler would have to feel hollow now too, not only is the big man banking a million dollars a year, he has a Premiership medal at home too. Those barbs you throw his way are probably not going to sting.
With the salary cap increasing and free agency loosening a club’s grip on players, we will see more and more million dollar men in the coming years. The early returns for the Bulldogs and Swans wouldn’t dissuade any club from making a similar gamble for the right player in the future.