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The Age

Young Saint quits to join Hawks

Date: 03/02/1998
Words: 520
          Publication: The Age
Section: SPORT
Page: 8
Grand finalist St Kilda last night blasted young player Joel Smith after the 20-year-old announced his defection to Hawthorn.

St Kilda chief executive Don Hanly said he was extremely angry and disappointed in the circumstances at losing a young player of Smith's calibre.

"Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke and Stewart Loewe re-signed with us when we were at our lowest ebb on the understanding that players we drafted were going to take us into the finals, and now one of them has been put to the test and he's turned his back on everybody, including the mates he lived with, was drafted with and played with," Hanly said.

It was the second major off-season setback for the Saints, who a month earlier, lost disgruntled full-back Jamie Shanahan to Melbourne.

Smith last night rejected Hanly's claims, saying he was "forced out" by the St Kilda hierarchy. "They hadn't been interested until this week and had turned their back on me, so I had to start loking elsewhere," Smith said. "It was never a money thing, it involved securing my future.

"After a serious knee injury, I was looking for security and I didn't get that. I never wanted to leave, but I felt by St Kilda's lack of negotiation that they've forced me out of there. I don't know if I'll ever be right again, but Hawthorn was willing to back me, so I'm willing to back them."

Smith signed with the Hawks at Glenferrie Oval yesterday after failing to come to terms with the Saints. Hawthorn will claim Smith officially with selection No. 2, behind the Demons, in this month's pre-season draft.

He will not play this year after rupturing the anterior cruciate and medial ligaments in his right knee against Collingwood in round 18 last year, but the Hawks gambled on Smith making a complete recovery after a favorable diagnosis from surgeon Peter Wilson.

The former Saint has agreed to a three-year deal with Hawthorn, where he will earn about $300,000 for seasons 1999 and 2000, with a great part of his contract guaranteed.

Smith was unhappy that negotiations with the Saints had stalled until last Friday when he was offered a better deal to stay at Moorabbin. Apart from an increase in remuneration and security to switch to Glenferrie Oval, it is believed that another factor was a promise by coach Ken Judge to play him as an on-baller.

His agent, Paul Connors of Flying Start, said yesterday he put an offer to St Kilda last July and received no formal reply until November. "I think St Kilda supporters have a right to know that Joel tried to secure his future with the Saints in the middle of last year," Connors said.

The Saints, who experienced salary-cap problems because of a high number of players coming out of contract after a successful year, were not prepared to guarantee Smith's three-year contract to the same extent as Hawthorn.

"We offered him a three-year deal, which was basically that if he played in 1999 and 2000, he got paid," Hanly said. "We were not prepared to guarantee him an amount of money if he didn't play. We were close to Hawthorn's offer if he achieved certain targets."

Hanly said Smith wanted his new contract totally guaranteed. "We weren't prepared to embark on a three-year guaranteed contract after major knee surgery. We were prepared to pay him if he played the games."

Smith's defection leaves St Kilda with 40 listed senior players and the provision to select two players in this month's pre-season draft.

Hawthorn yesterday announced that former North Melbourne football manager Michael Brown would take over as the club's new chief executive next month, succeeding former premiership player Morton Browne, who resigned last year after 12 months in the post.

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