Paul Chapman was and always will be great: three premierships, one Norm Smith, one Carji Greeves, two all-Australian teams, countless crunch-time goals and a booty of hard-man qualities. Not bad for the 31st draft pick. Indeed, to watch Chappy rise this year above premature forecasts of his demise is a credit to the man, his tightly cropped beard and his will to succeed. We want and need Chappy around for a couple more years.
But, after reading Mark Robinson’s interview with him in Saturday’s Herald Sun, one can’t help but feel he’s feeling the pressure and resultant cracks are appearing. Put simply, Chappy wants a two year contract, whilst the club is offering one. With quotes like “It’s the first time in my career I’ve been questioned…” and “I believe more in myself than what they believe in me …in terms of my body”, his dirty laundry is being aired.
It’s not like Geelong. This is information the club (players and officials) typically keeps to its chest. The public nature of the Ablett and Thompson affairs were the antithesis of the club’s famous integrity. And who could forget the way Buddha, Bairstow and Ablett Snr et al were shown the door? So, could Chappy’s fate be the beginning of a protracted and ugly finish to the season? The unfortunate reality is that we are victims of our own success: legends of the club who are entering into Father Time. Their future the subject of debate. How much further value they can add to the club: one or two years – or none? Chapman is the first, and no doubt others will follow. Some will go relatively quietly (think Ling, Ottens, Milburn and Mooney), and others won’t.
Combine these sensitive and difficult conversations with a potentially disastrous run into the finals, and things could get complicated. Forget not that Joel Selwood is a 24 year-old, first-year captain, and the pressure on him will be immense. Ultimately this could prove to be the club’s biggest challenge: to defend a premiership, handle an ageing champion list with dignity whilst setting up the foundations for another era as glorious as the last. We for one hope the club can uphold its reputation for managing business, people and success hand in glove. Surely Chris Scott and Brian Cook – with their exposure to similar circumstances at Brisbane and West Coast – will be invaluable. But the very players who are entering the final years of their careers will also need to act as they have played the game: with dignity, courage, skill and respect.