Former Carlton star Bryce Gibbs has defended North Melbourne’s No.1 pick Jason Horne-Francis as a “man of strong character”.
Horne-Francis dropped a bombshell on Sunday night when he requested a trade back home to Port Adelaide after just one year with the Kangaroos.
Like Horne-Francis, Gibbs was a No.1 pick back in 2006 who moved from his home state South Australia to Victoria, after being drafted by Carlton, and he was sympathetic to Horne-Francis’ desire to return home to be close to his family.
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Gibbs would eventually go back to SA to play with the Crows for the final three years of his career, before retiring in 2020.
The 268-gamer also got to know Horne-Francis well when they were teammates at South Adelaide in the SANFL, describing him as “humble”, “well-mannered” and “respectful”.
“We’ve got to just remember too he’s only 18 years of age, so he’s moved interstate and it’s quite a big deal for some guys,” Gibbs told SEN SA on Wednesday.
“Some guys can just hop up and leave and go and do it, we see some kids go to boarding school, when they travel, stay away from home, they’ve had a couple of years of building that resilience and being away from a tight-knit family, and it makes the transition a little bit easier for them.
“In other cases, kids don’t get to experience that before they get drafted and it does take some time and it affects everybody differently.”
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Horne-Francis’ body language during games was criticised throughout the year and Gibbs sensed the youngster was frustrated at being part of so many “deplorable” performances from the Kangaroos.
“He’s one of the most competitive players I’ve ever seen,” Gibbs said.
“I think that body language and some of the frustration towards his teammates was a great sign of him saying, ‘This is not acceptable, this isn’t what we should be dishing up’.
“He’s still learning, he’s still working out what it is to be a professional athlete and how you carry yourself and he’s in the public eye now and everyone’s going to hang onto absolutely everything he does, and (coping with) that comes with experience.”
Gibbs questioned the support and leadership that Horne-Francis was provided with in his first year at Arden Street.
“Who’s actually helping him through this situation as well? Who’s actually paving the way for him? Who’s showing him what’s right and what’s wrong and giving him really sound advice from a player’s point of view?,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs recalled how tough he found the transition moving interstate as a 17-year-old.
“I had to move into a host family because I wasn’t ready to live and do normal things that you have to do in everyday life because I just wasn’t ready,” Gibbs said.
“It took me two years to build those skills up and learn how to cook myself meals which were healthy, which were going to help me in my recovery and in my performance.
“I had to learn to do the washing.”
Another former No.1 pick Tom Boyd, who succeeded in leaving his original club GWS after one year to join the Western Bulldogs on multi-million-dollar deal, said all players, including Horne-Francis, had the right to make decisions they believe were beneficial for their career, their family and their life outside of football.
“Football’s a short game, the average career span is three-and-a-half years, and you do need to capitalise both financially and in a sense of trying to accomplish as much as you can in that short period,” Boyd told AFL Trade Radio.
“If you were 18 years old and someone offered you seven million bucks to move from a club that had won three games in my first season, or something like that, what would you do?”