Playing against your old team can feel like turning on your family

Gary Ablett of the Suns  during a match against his old club Geelong in 2011. Photo: Chris Hyde
Gary Ablett of the Suns during a match against his old club Geelong in 2011. Photo: Chris Hyde

Most footballers would probably agree that they’re never more comfortable than when they’re out on the field. It’s their office. What they’re used to. I was no different, except for one game – the day I played against North Melbourne for the first time.

As Lance Franklin is set to find out, coming up against your former team can be a daunting challenge. While my situation was clearly more extreme, Buddy will be experiencing similar emotions and it is genuinely tough.

I played the Kangas in round six in 2003 and while I wasn’t 100 per cent fit leading into the match, I was just desperate to get it out of the way. It really was the week from hell. So tough that I’d consider it more challenging – mentally – than grand final week.

It’ll be interesting to see how Buddy copes.

In my opinion, he has nothing to fear and nothing to be ashamed about. There’ll always be those who say he turned his back on the Hawks, but he’s given that club more than could be asked. I made the same point last year when Buddy was weighing his future. Just ask yourself, would the Hawks have hit record membership levels without him – let alone won two premierships?

He had simply achieved all there was to achieve at Hawthorn and was offered a deal that should safeguard him, financially, for the rest of his life. Why would anyone begrudge that?

That’s not to say that he won’t be treated like a life-time enemy when the Swans take on the Hawks on Friday night. That’s simply the way of football. Just watch the reaction should Buddy cut a swath through his former teammates and kick a bag. The Hawks’ army will be up in arms. It’ll be both fascinating and entertaining.

In many ways, Buddy’s career has mirrored Gary Ablett’s. Gazza had also achieved beyond most footballers' dreams at the Cats and decided to make the move north when a big-money offer presented. I believe that the majority of Cats supporters – and Gazza’s teammates – accepted that the cash was just too good to refuse.

His reception back to Geelong, as a Suns player, told the story. Cats fans offered some gentle ribbing, but it was probably more out of fear of seeing him tear up his old team. I’d actually expect the same from Hawthorn supporters. Indeed, I honestly believe that the only person who’ll hold Buddy back is the man himself.

Regardless of the reasons for your departure, playing against your former team can feel like turning on your family. It’s like jumping out of a trench during a war and going to fight for the enemy. You just don’t do it – or at least, you don’t do it lightly.


Dale Thomas experienced the pain against Collingwood’s merciless army of supporters last week. While only Daisy will know whether the emotion of the day impacted on his performance, he was well below par, to say the least. Really, has he ever shanked a shot on goal like the one he butchered in the first quarter for the Blues? The Daisy of old would have thrived in that situation. Instead, he set the scene for a night he’d rather forget.

I believe that Western Bulldogs recruit Stewart Crameri also struggled in his first outing against the Bombers. It just seemed like he couldn’t get out of second gear.

In contrast, Bernie Vince seemed to thrive for the Demons when he came up against his former club, Adelaide. Perhaps it was because he left the Crows as part of a trade and had a point to prove? Either way, he was brilliant and one of the main reasons the Dees scored an upset.

Vince’s performance actually reminded me of the Bombers’ big-name recruit, Brendon Goddard, last year. Who could forget his first game against St Kilda? He was his usual industrious self throughout the match, but after helping the Bombers to a win, he broke down in tears. It was just too overwhelming.

And now the stage is set again.

While Buddy will likely be getting advice from all quarters, the most simple may be to bunker down with Josh Kennedy and discover the secrets to his matches against the Hawks. Kennedy lifts every time he plays his former side and will need another big game if the Swans are to be considered a chance.

In fact, Sydney’s overall performance is arguably a bigger story than the Buddy-Hawks mania in any case. The Swans are yet to claim a big scalp this year and desperately need to make their mark. They are still oozing talent, but seem to have lost their mojo.

It’s also worth noting that, should both players be fit, there’s the distinct possibility that Franklin will be lining up alongside Kurt Tippett for the first time in the Swans’ side.

If so, it’ll be intriguing to see how they work together and how the Swans’ game plan adjusts accordingly. The match is shaping up to be a beauty.

This story Playing against your old team can feel like turning on your family first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.