Does he stay or does he go?
Yeah, I might be paraphrasing The Clash here, but whether Andrew Gaff remains an Eagle, or flies from the nest is a question that will follow him around as he sits and watches his team strive for a premiership without him.
In the wake of his eight-week suspension for a careless and surprisingly powerful punch to the head of Andrew Brayshaw, Gaff finds himself unable to influence the fortunes of the team on the field. He faces the very real possibility of seeing his team progress through the finals and contend for a premiership with him sitting on the sidelines. This is not due to an injury… at least not an injury to him, but due to a random act of violence. Having seen his football life flash before his eyes in one instance, Gaff looked like a man lost on the field he usually feels so at home. It was as though he was a stranger in Optus Stadium – a man who all of a sudden felt he didn’t belong out there.
West Coast coach, Adam Simpson made his way to the bench after the incident. As he sat consoling his devastated star, you get the feeling that he may have been wondering if this was the last time he’d see Gaff playing for his team?
Whether the eight week suspension was too hefty, too light, or juuuuust right is something that’ll take up copious amounts of column space in the country’s various publications, but with Gaff’s season effectively over, you couldn’t really blame him if his thoughts turned to 2019. He’ll miss the first couple of rounds at least, depending on where West Coast finish the season, but the big question is now no longer when he’ll play again, but where?
As a restricted free agent, many have speculated that Gaff would be looking seriously at a move back to Victoria, and there’d be no shortage of suitors if he made that his clear intent. St Kilda and North Melbourne both seemingly have money to burn, with North in particular having several offers to major possible acquisitions made public in recent years. But under the restricted free agency rules, West Coast would have the opportunity to match any offer Gaff received. But would they?
Given the circumstances surrounding the end of Gaff’s 2018 campaign, it’s hard to see him not wanting to do the right thing by his current team, and in effect, have a chance at redemption. He may have a good head for business, as is evident by the fact he has not committed to any course of action at all, but surely he has a heart as well. His knockout punch on Brayshaw severely dented the chances of the Eagles making a tilt at the flag. His contribution to their team this season has been incredibly important. His run and carry, as well as the addition of both a willingness and capability to compete at the contest has made him one of the most valuable midfielders in the game. His loss this season is crucial.
Prior to this suspension, Andrew Gaff owned one of the two wing positions in the All-Australian team, and it will be interesting to see whether his absence for the last three games affects that at all. He is one of the premier aerobic athletes in the league, and as the AFL toys with ideas to eliminate, or at least restrict congestion, Gaff’s ability to run all day and break lines may become even more important to team structure.
So we have the possibility he may leave. If you’re an Eagles supporter, I’m sorry, but that is a harsh reality. Your club has had a contract sitting in front of him for the majority of the season, and it remains unsigned. The sport of football has also become the business of football, and with large sums thrust in front of star players, the temptation to start fresh somewhere else must be tempting. That said, some can’t just discount eight years of loyalty to a club for a few dollars more.
So, if you’ll humour me, picture Andrew Gaff as the front man for The Clash. Should he stay, or should he go?
Let’s look at the possible factors that could play a part in his decision.
THE GO HOME FACTOR
I’m getting pretty tired of this being an excuse. We’ve seen the go-home five in Brisbane, noise about Tim Kelly heading back to Western Australia despite Geelong being the only place that ever offered him a shot at the highest level, Jake Lever missed his mum… if you’re a professional sportsperson in a national competition, it’s safe to assume that you may be required to ply your trade in a different state. Yes, you may miss your mummy and that lasagne she cooks, or your high school girlfriend that has, of course, been patiently awaiting your return, but this is a national competition.
I’m a fan of the National Basketball Association. To hear a player state that he “wants to go home” would be laughable to players in that league, who can be shipped across the country at the drop of hat. Whilst I understand that they get pay several millions of US dollars to endure an uncertain lifestyle, it’s what they sign on for. They want the money, the fame and to play at the highest level – with that comes the possibility they may not, and probably will not play in their home town.
I’m actually waiting for the first player to come out and state, when asked whether he has any thoughts about going home, that he is actually enjoying being this far away from his family because they’re basically a bunch of jerks!
Come on… families can be complete jerks! For some, the further away they are, the better.
The AFL system and the press that accepts “I want to go home” as a valid reason to depart a club is one of the most embarrassing aspects of our game, and there are plenty of cringe worthy aspects to choose from.
CHANCES OF SUCCESS
The Eagles are well-positioned for a bit of sustained success. Their transition away from the Priddis-Mitchell midfield into the Gaff-Shuey-Redden era has been seamless. With a backline boasting talent the likes of Sheppard, Hurn and the recently re-signed Jeremy McGovern, and a forward line containing the pair of Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy, West Coast is laden with plenty of top-line talent. If Gaff is serious about wanting to play in a premiership, joining a Melbourne power club like Richmond, Hawthorn or Collingwood may be his only bet if he elects to move.
As much as I’ve been impressed with the plucky Kangaroos this year (and Roos fans, I am pulling for you to make the finals just so you can rub it in the face of all those who picked you to finish last), they are not in the position to contend for a flag just yet. And if North aren’t in the premiership window, St Kilda is locked away in a dark, dark room with no natural light at all. West Coast have the nucleus intact to contend right now, next year and for a few years beyond. And they have the right to match anything anyone else throws at Gaff.
THE CHANCE OF A SIGN-AND-TRADE
If he wants to go, this is how I’d like him to go. Let the offers come, and let the Eagles match them. If clubs really want him, let them give up plenty to get him in the trade period. If Gaff has affection for the Eagles, he may not want to see them shafted by his decision to walk – if he has a good head for business, and a soft spot for the team he has left in the lurch, he may want to see them looked after.
It is a bit romantic, but I’d like to think that should Gaff walk, he won’t be getting hit in the backside by the door on the way out. After eight years of service, and in career best form, a trade with the best interests of Gaff and the club that drafted him would be the best situation for all involved… except the club the Eagles bend over to get him.
OUT OF ONE FOOTY BUBBLE…
In a two-team town, Gaff is now known by half (or, let’s be honest, about a third) of the footy fans as the guy who punched out an 18 year-old. He’ll be called a sniper by some - it isn’t the most pleasant title to attach to your name. Everywhere he’ll go in a footy-mad state, he’ll be under scrutiny, and he’ll be harassed by the bloke with one too many beers under his belt, and not enough common sense to leave the him alone. He’ll be taunted from afar by the weak, and perhaps in confronted up close and personal by those marginally less weak. It’d be enough to drive a young man to look at greener pastures.
But if he heads back to Melbourne, does he expect the spotlight to shine less bright? Like it or not, Melbourne is the epicentre of the AFL. With nine teams emanating from one city, Melbourne lives and breathes footy, and the interest a high-profile signing would have WITHOUT the baggage of recent events would be huge. With the fallout of those event hanging over his head, and a delayed start to the year, the focus will be narrowed on him. If you’re an AFL superstar, you don’t avoid the spotlight in Perth. It is even less likely you’ll avoid it in Melbourne.
HE JUST WANTS TO STAY
The dream scenario for West Coast fans.
Is there a possibility that all he wants to do is stay with the Eagles but just wanted to see what he was worth to other teams in order to get the best deal possible? Manager, Paul Connors has spoken about how business-like Gaff is in relation to his free agency. Could it be that this kind of thing doesn’t really faze him? Is he really content just to focus on his footy (or the club’s success as it stands now) until the season is over?
Or are we seeing the seemingly standard practice of a player putting off contract talks because he simply does not have any intention of re-signing?
Gaff will be paid handsomely, whether it is in Western Australia or Victioria, but it is always nice to feel wanted.
So, where will Andrew Gaff end up? Eagles supporters, are you confident your man will be part of your team next season? North, St Kilda, Essendon, Geelong, Hawthorn… every other Victorian team (with the possible exception of Melbourne where he might cop a whack from Andrew's older brother) - are you thinking you may have the chance to snap up one of the best runners in the game, and if the Eagles decide to match your offer, what are you willing to give up to get your hands on him?
Now that his tribunal appearance is done, and his suspension has started, the name of Andrew Gaff will not disappear from the back pages of newspapers. There’s another story brewing.
If he goes there will be trouble, and if he stays there may be double. Well Andrew, come on and let us know - will you stay or will you go?
The Mongrel Punt would like to thank The Clash, not only for the plaguerised song lyrics, but for their ripping London Calling album which was one of the first I owned. Like what you’re getting from The Mongrel? Give us a Like on Facebook or a Follow on Twitter and maybe I’ll share some more moments that shaped me as a child. It could get scary…