Kangaroo-land watcher Hugo Kelly reckons Wayne Carey is kingmaking all over the place as he decides where to play next year.

And the authority football’s fallen idol commands is shaping some of the league’s big decisions. Yesterday, the chips started falling clearly into place when he telephoned Richmond, cancelling a planned meeting with President Clinton Casey.

He informed the Tigers he’s narrowed his decision on his playing future to two clubs – and Richmond isn’t one of them. Those believed to be in the running are the clubs geographically closest to his youth; Adelaide, where he played his junior footy, and Sydney, nearest to his hometown, Wagga.

Just as he used his imposing physical presence onfield, Carey has been throwing his weight around during these very public negotiations. Last week, he said he wouldn’t join Richmond if it meant the Tigers parting with petulant forward Matthew Richardson. Then he publicly disassociated himself from longtime coach Denis Pagan, potentially limiting Pagan’s career options.

On face value, it’s not the first time Richmond has been dudded by the AFL in seeking to sign a marquee player. When Tony Locket left St Kilda, the AFL steered his management away from talking to Richmond, pointing him in the direction of its mutant problem child, Sydney.

This time, the AFL has denied trying to shepherd Carey to Sydney. Which rings a bit hollow, given AFL CEO Wayne Jackson’s admission he has a personal interest in Carey’s fate.

Carey’s decision holds big ramifications, and has put lots of AFL heavy-hitters on tenterhooks. Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy was very keen to sign Carey, but the AFL stymied his chances by refusing to modify the veterans’ rule to allow James Hird to qualify, so easing pressure on the club’s salary cap. It gave Kevin the chance to throw one of his regular wobblies at the AFL.

Sydney’s interim coach Paul Roos is also very keen on getting Carey. He sent his assistant, Carey’s former teammate “Horse” Longmire, down to Melbourne to start negotiations early in the piece. If Carey chooses Sydney, Roos keeps his job.

Carey has dictated that he wants a fresh start – and that means no Denis Pagan. Crikey told you last month that Carey would be returning to Foxtel – and wasn’t his return performance last week a cracker. Telling the On The Couch panel that basically “Pagan is no great friend of mine”, Carey said he wouldn’t go to a club coached by his two-time premiership mentor.

Which places Pagan in a difficult spot. The Kangaroos are on the brink financially. In case of cutting off your nose to save your face, Club President Allen Aylett has demanded the club’s outstanding coach take a massive pay cut to ease their financial strife. Pagan, who is out of contract at year’s end, has refused. If he leaves the Kangaroos, the only two clubs that appear options for him next year are Carlton and Sydney.

So if Carey joins the Swans, Pagan faces the prospect of eating humble pie and taking a big pay cut to stay with the Kangaroos – an untenable option for a man with the pride and the outstanding coaching record of Pagan.

Or he could join Carlton, a club bitterly divided and at its lowest historical ebb. It’s a challenge that might just appeal to Pagan, who took the Kangaroos from obscurity to Premiership glory in less than four years. But it’s a Hobson’s choice that must be annoying him intensely.

And he’ll have Allen Aylett and Wayne Carey – his own beloved people from the place he fondly calls “Kangaroo-land” – to thank for it.

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Peter Fray

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