Favourite sons take many forms. Some embody the club for better or for worse (like Richo), some are simply their club’s best player (like Robbie Flower), some are blue-collar (like Jude Bolton), and some are imported at great cost to fill a favourite son-shaped hole (like Juddy).
The Daisy Thomas that was beloved by the Collingwood faithful was none of the above.
He was a blur of peroxide in a well-drilled, monochrome team. He was a cheeky kid from Drouin who kicked sausage rolls and took hangers like they were the entire point of the game. Kids wore 13 on their backs, and grannies harboured secret crushes. We all know what happened next, though.
Four undistinguished games into a four-year, $700,000 a year contract with Carlton, and Daisy finds himself unloved at two clubs. Obviously his performances may yet improve, but one already gets the feeling that neither Carlton fans nor the Carlton players will ever truly embrace him as one of their own – it might help if he looked like he wanted to be there, though.
Other high-profile defections haven’t felt like this. Gary Ablett’s standing remains, but that’s because he’s one of the greatest that the game’s seen.
Likewise, Buddy feels like he’s bigger than the AFL, let alone Hawthorn. West Coast fans not only accepted that Chris Judd was keen to move home, but they grudgingly accepted his desire to leave a compromised culture behind.
Unlike Thomas, it was clear that each offered something crucial to their new club: Ablett and Judd provided a benchmark for excellence that was sorely needed, while Buddy offered glamour and box-office appeal. Of course, all had the good sense to go somewhere other than a loathed arch-rival as well.
As an admitted favourite of new coach Mick Malthouse, it makes sense that Thomas would want to play under the Zen Master himself. However, would Daisy be naïve enough to think that he would be welcomed into the fold?
Similarly, did it occur to His Mickness that recruiting a golden child on massive pay might undermine an already feeble team ethos? Had anyone at Carlton even bothered to check out Daisy’s ominous fitness and form issues in the latter stages of his Collingwood career?
To be clear, Thomas isn’t the reason that Carlton’s season is over after four rounds, but he certainly hasn’t helped.
And the fans? Well, it will take something pretty special to erase the memory of Daisy’s exploits as a Magpie – but I’m sure that many would just settle for some signs of effort to start with.
Thomas was anonymous for much of Saturday’s clash with Melbourne, just another close-cropped midfield clogger in a side replete with them.
If he’s misplaced his form, that’s one thing, but if he can’t locate a bit of ticker, then Collingwood’s half-hearted attempt to retain his services starts to hint at a deeper malaise: fitness problems, a lack of love for the game, or maybe just old-fashioned avarice.
This isn’t some purist’s lament for the Good Old DaysTM, either: loyalty in football is overrated, and I don’t really care if Daisy’s chasing the dollar signs.
Traditionally, a player gives their body and every fibre of their being for the cause, receiving in return a very tidy pay packet, and all the love and attention that the tribe can offer.
If a player is no good, though, they’ll understand that it’s for the good of the team that they’re being cut loose into the wider world, a world that the club have made only a token effort to prepare them for.
Good riddance to all that. Daisy’s suspect ankle won’t last forever, so why not take the financial security while it’s on the table?
Well, because a player as marketable as Daisy had a cushy media career patiently waiting for him at the end of his career, assuming that he continued to play the role of loveably rogueish cult figure. Defecting to his club’s arch-rival halfway through his career potentially puts that post-retirement earning power in jeopardy.
Above all else, though, it’s the simple, unadulterated wrongness of Daisy in a Carlton jumper that sticks in the craw. Rational arguments? Sure, footy fans pretend they have them, but ultimately footy is played with the gut, and this gut is telling me that Daisy is stuck in no-man’s land, neither blue nor black and white.