Callan Ward was waking up on holiday in Vietnam when his girlfriend told him the breaking news from back home.
“I didn’t really believe her until I read the article,” the GWS Giants co-captain says. “I was a bit shocked, to be honest. When I heard he was going to the Swans, I didn’t really know what to think.”
He, of course, was Lance Franklin who, after 182 games, two premierships, two Coleman medals and four All-Australian seasons with Hawthorn was expected to sign with Greater Western Sydney, a coup to exceed even the shock cross-code signing by the Giants of Israel Folau in late 2010.
Instead, Franklin, then 26, dropped a bombshell on the last day of September 2013 by announcing he was to accept an extraordinary $10 million, nine-year offer from the Swans.
“I wasn’t sure he was coming but everything I’d heard suggested he was coming to the Giants,” Ward says.
“It was a surprise at the time when it didn’t happen. But after a while, when I thought about it, I thought, ‘Yes, we’ve missed out. But we’ve also gained because he’ll be in Sydney and he’ll help grow the game’.”
Ward’s conclusion might seem very much a glass-half-full viewpoint. The Giants had promised $7 million over six years and thought they had their man.
They had planned, calculated and enticed only to have the carpet yanked from under them. Yet, as time passed, the benefits of the league’s youngest club missing the game’s biggest target became clear.
Without paying a cent, the Giants would benefit for years to come from Franklin’s presence in Sydney.
The tug-of-war over his signature also genuinely sparked the cross-town rivalry and spurred the Giants to their historic win over the Swans in Franklin’s first match in red and white.
More practically, the Giants’ front office was put to the test, acting fast and smart to fill the void left by Franklin’s non-arrival.
“He’s a super player and we were disappointed not to land him,” coach Leon Cameron says.
“But the way I look at it is, you’ve got to try to do things at your footy club and not everything is going to work. How you respond to the things that you don’t achieve is really important.
“When one door closes it’s up to you to make sure the next one that opens is the right door. We feel as though the door that opened was the right one.”
Within days, earlier negotiations with Shane Mumford culminated in the Swans’ premier ruckman heading west.
Experienced defender Josh Hunt became available and was snapped up, as was Collingwood’s Heath Shaw. Mumford won the club’s best and fairest and joined Shaw in the leadership group.
Further down the line, Cameron says, Franklin’s absence meant more opportunity for Adam Tomlinson, who the experts are tipping for big things in 2015.
Same, too, with Cam McCarthy and James Stewart, who have each impressed this pre-season. Further machinations resulted in the arrivals of Ryan Griffen from the Bulldogs and Joel Patfull from Brisbane.
“The key for us was that, as soon as Franklin’s desire to join the Swans revealed itself, we just had to move quickly,” Giants boss David Matthews says.
“The way it worked out was that it helped us get right back to our core needs, which at the time was to find an experienced ruckman, which became Mumford.
“We needed more experience in defense, which was Shaw and Hunt and now Patfull. Key forwards was something we’d always been reasonably comfortable with. So I look at it as the sum of the parts. At the end of it all, were we pleased with who we got? Absolutely.”
In the aftermath of those trying days, the Giants’ line was that Franklin was the best credentialled high-profile free agent available and it would have been a mistake to not pursue him.
The club wanted a household name to boost interest. But the way forward now is more sustainable, to use experienced recruits to help develop precocious existing talent.
“It would have changed the dynamic here, for sure,” Ward says, had Franklin arrived.
“With Izzy, we knew that when he came to the Giants it would cause plenty of media interest and hopefully grow the game in Sydney. I think the plan was for Buddy to have a similar sort of effect.
“But I think just having him in Sydney, at the Swans, has been the best result for us. The guys who’ve joined our club in the past couple of years have shown great leadership.
“They’ve won best and fairests, they’re terrific players. The way they train and set the example for the younger players – and for guys like myself as well – has been so important for us.
“Buddy is a star, probably the best player in the game and would have added a lot. But not having him has allowed other guys to have opportunities and we’re pretty happy with that.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.