Provided Cameron Ling opts to join the assistant coaching ranks next year, a move he is deliberating, in sharemarket terms he looms as one of the major ''buys'' of this year’s off-season.
While his signature is unlikely to spark as much fervour as Michael Voss’ did in 2007 – Voss felt at the time he was ready to be a senior coach without any grooming – Ling is seen as having the initial attributes to be a successful chief.
He played in three premierships at Geelong, including skippering the successful 2011 side, was renowned for his defensive on-field ethos, a general no-nonsense approach and helped reshape a club culture that lacked the intensity required to enjoy sustained success. That culture continues to resonate today, with the Cats in the premiership hunt in each of the almost three full seasons since his retirement.
His understanding of the game is clear in the insights he provides in his media roles with 3AW and Channel Seven, and this media savvy is also an important part of dealing with the pressures and responsibilities of being a modern-day senior coach.
Melbourne, Carlton and Greater Western Sydney have all sought him out in recent years to fill a role, with a part-time leadership position at North Melbourne this season enough to induce an initial step back into club land.
Mark Thompson, Ling’s coach through two premierships with the Cats, believes the ball-winning former tagger has plenty to offer. ''He’s a good commentator, I think he’d be a better coach,'' Thompson told Fox Footy. ''I can’t praise him enough for being a good on-field coach, being a total pro and knowing a lot about the game.''
He will be high on the short-list of candidates to succeed Paul Roos at Melbourne, a list that Roos says could even include Thompson – should he leave Essendon when James Hird returns later this year.
Voss, in his first full year as a media commentator since being sacked as Brisbane coach, could also be contacted by the Demons. But he would not comment on hypotheticals on Tuesday. ''I am still focused on my family at the moment,'' he said. Voss has said he enjoyed a football-free summer last year so much that he wants to have another this year.
Ling’s possible new homes ...
Melbourne: If Ling wants to be a head coach as soon as possible, the Demons loom as the obvious spot, if for no other reason than he would only have to wait two years before Roos steps aside. Ling’s defensive focus as a player would seem to marry well with Roos’ coaching philosophy. The Demons would also not appear to have a contender for the top job on their books right now.
Carlton: Ling was sounded out by the Blues in 2012 but was not ready to make the leap. While Ling could fit Melbourne’s succession plan, he could also be a good fit at Visy Park. Mick Malthouse’s initial three-year deal expires at the end of 2015, with the possibility he is given a two-year extension heading into next season. This could give Ling three years to work under one of the league’s greatest coaches before taking charge of a club expected to inject more recruiting and development resources this year.
Geelong: Chief executive Brian Cook says the Cats will, naturally, chat with Ling, should be decide he is ready to join the coaching ranks. If he was to link with the club he spent his entire playing career with, he could be in for a long apprenticeship, for Chris Scott is contracted until the end of 2015, and is expected to be given at least a three-year extension, possibly as early as this year. Scott and Ling enjoyed a strong relationship as coach and premiership skipper but would Scott feel any pressure, however subliminal, should Ling return?
North Melbourne: Ling is this year a part-time player leadership consultant with the Kangaroos and may be offered the opportunity to step up. This would allow him to work alongside two of the best assistant coaches in the business – Leigh Tudor and Gavin Brown. Coach Brad Scott is contracted until the end of 2016, giving Ling two years to develop into a senior candidate should the Kangaroos opt for change.
Essendon: This is an intriguing one, for Ling could again work with his long-time Cats mentor. While the Bombers have confirmed Hird will return from suspension and reclaim the top role next season, that could change should show-cause and then infraction notices be issued by ASADA. Bottom line, the Bombers may have to move on if that happens. This could allow Thompson to remain for, say, two years, with Ling his natural successor.
Western Bulldogs: Ling has a strong relationship with several coaches at the Dogs. Brendan McCartney, contracted until the end of 2016, was a long-time assistant and development coach at Geelong, he played with Ben Graham (Bulldogs AFL-VFL operations manager), while former premiership teammates Cameron Mooney and Matthew Scarlett are part-time specialist assistants. Another Cats premiership star Joel Corey is a development coach.
Richmond: Damien Hardwick is contracted until the end of 2016. Chasing Ling could be a sign the Tigers are hedging their bets, particularly as it would appear they do not have a possible senior candidate at the club.
Greater Western Sydney: He was sounded out by GWS in 2012. The Giants need a great deal of help but it is in the development area where they are really struggling. Ling could be loath to uproot his young family.