Ever since David Noble had a crack at the players after a loss, and Jason Horne-Francis copped his share of criticism, the writing has been on the wall. If you’ve neglected to read it, that’s on you.
It was not long after the “Noble spray” that Jason Horne-Francis ceased negotiations on a contract extension with the Kangaroos. Much like my car when I start it, warning lights started flashing immediately
“Don’t worry about it,” said some. “He’s just maximiing his value.”
“He’ll re-sign once the new broadcast deal goes through,” said others.
“Those warning lights don’t mean anything,” says me as I glance at the dashboard while I drive down the shops.
He didn’t sign, and on Sunday evening, the prized number one draft pick threw the AFL Trade Period into complete disarray with a request to head home to South Australia to continue an AFL career that, to be honest, has not really got going.
What it means to North Melbourne is immeasurable. Losing a number one pick before a draft that has the next number one pick already committed to a father/son contract with Brisbane… this hurts like hell. What it means to the reputation of Jason Horne-Francis, at least for the next little while, is that he becomes the poster boy for everything that is wrong with the current draft/trade system that sees players able to dictate terms in regard to where they play footy.
Horne-Francis was so highly-rated coming into the 2021 AFL Draft that North Melbourne did not consider bidding on father-son prospect, Nick Daicos. They threw all their support behind Horne-Francis, who had come off playing against men in the SANFL and was deemed “ready-made” by many in the know.
Ready-made for what… we still are not quite sure.
To be fair, taking Horne-Francis at number one was always going to be a risk. When it comes to the AFL Draft, there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity, and the Kangaroos walked that precarious line more like someone with an inner-ear infection than a skilled trapeze artist in 2022. And now, they have fallen right off.
Sadly, it seems there is no net.
Initially offered a “godfather” deal from the Adelaide Crows last year, comprising of pick four, and two future first-round picks, North Melbourne opted to stay the course and draft Horne-Francis, and it has backfired tremendously The offer on the table now from Port Adelaide (with Adelaide seemingly unable to get a good hand to deal back to North, having already committed an early pick to secure Izak Rankine from the Gold Coast Suns) sees pick eight (likely dropping at least one spot due to father/son), and a future first-round pick from Port, likely to be someone in the 8-13 vicinity given Port’s list.
It would seem like unders for a number one pick with a year to run on a rookie deal, but Port know how to play the game. This is where the deal begins, and I would be very surprised if it doesn’t get a little sweeter somewhere over the next ten days.
Do the Roos look to pry Xavier Duursma away from Port as part of the deal? He was on the outs in 2022 and could be an option. Miles Bergman is another who could make the deal feel a little more acceptable for North, whilst it is probably too early to coax Josh Sinn back to Victoria to even things up a little, unless he is also feeling a bit homesick?
Port will play hardball. If the Crows are indeed out of the running, this is a one-horse race. The other option is that Horne-Francis stays at North Melbourne, sees out his second season, and pouts the whole time. Or he sits out a year, which would make things worse.
I have heard a few comparisons to Nathan Buckley.
This kid is no Nathan Buckley.
When Bucks was drafted to Brisbane, he was upfront from the get-go. There was no ambiguity – he would be looking to move from Brisbane following his first year there, but played with passion and a great level of respect for both the club and the game whilst he was in his rookie campaign. He left nothing on the table. In many ways, Horne-Francis hasn’t even put anything on the table in his time at North.
This is a complete and utter disaster for the Kangaroos, who are desperately attempting to lift their club from the mire, yet are continually dragged back in. Even a perceived home run like the signing of Alastair Clarkson has been derailed due to allegations stemming from his time at Hawthorn. With Clarkson stepping down whilst the investigation into that period takes place, North are left without a coach.
And in that regard, can you really blame Horne-Francis for wanting out? He came into a club that was in a mess, and 12 months later, the mess just seems to be getting messier!
Despite the situation the Kangaroos are in, they have somehow managed to break their membership record in 2022, so the die-hard fans are onboard for the long haul. They have erased their debt and look solid off the field. This, however, is another kick in the guts to a supporter base already doubled over in pain from being kicked in the guts repeatedly over the last couple of years.
Jason Horne-Francis has placed a target on his chest by requesting this trade. The move has seen him labelled as the player who ran home when the going was tough, and I’ve already heard the words “entitled” and “heartless” applied to his name by supporters online – amongst other things. North fans are angry, and it is difficult to blame them, however, as they lament the loss of a potential building block for their club, we have to be mindful that this is a 19-year-old kid we’re talking about. At 19, I had ZERO idea what I was doing, and if I was placed under this type of scrutiny for decisions I made back then… well, I am not sure how I would have handled it.
How many people make consistently great decisions at 19? I don’t know many, but it seems as though JHF hasn’t made any, doesn’t it? Who is advising him? A bit of attention should be on that person.
At the end of the trade period, Horne-Francis will be back in South Australia. A deal will get done, he will no longer have to concern himself with the comings and goings at Arden Street, and mum can cook his meals just the way he likes them every week. He will be perceived by many as a selfish brat and will likely struggle to shake that tag for a while – even Buckley was viewed that way despite busting a gut in Brisbane. But this was the risk, and North Melbourne knew it. They gambled and they lost.
And now, Port Adelaide looks set to win.
The start to the AFL career of Jason Horne-Francis has been horrible. The end to his first season has now been worse. Where things go from here, surely they get better for all parties, right?