IT WASN'T until late last season that Elijah Hollands broached the subject with his younger brother Ollie: how would we feel about playing at the same club?
Elijah was contracted at Gold Coast for another season but after a year of dropping in and out of the Suns' line-up, and with interest coming from rivals, he had a growing sense it was time for a change. Carlton, where Ollie had enjoyed a breakout debut season in 2023, had shown interest in uniting the brothers, but the siblings themselves had to chat through what a potential trade to the Blues would mean.
"I reserved those chats with Ol until I had a good idea of what I wanted to do. In speaking to Ol and family and the footy club, we wanted to separate Ollie and I," Elijah told AFL.com.au this week.
"As much as it is an exciting opportunity we get to do this together now, we wanted to make sure it would be good for the both of us. I never saw any potential issues.
"We had to find if it was the right move for us. But the way we can see our own careers going, there's not going to be an issue, I wouldn't have thought. And if there is, at the end of the day, that's where we had to separate ourselves as athletes given it's a cut-throat industry whether you're playing with your brother or not. We'll support each other in whatever happens over the next however many years."
Part of the 21-year-old's confidence in linking up with his younger brother was Carlton's sell to him about playing as a forward/midfielder, rather than on the wing, where he spent most of the past two years with the Suns and where Ollie played in his excellent debut year. Challenging each other for the same position may have added an extra degree of interest to the situation, but Hollands has been training the summer across the forward/midfield groups, where he starred as a junior before being the No.7 pick to Gold Coast in the 2020 draft.
After the initial disruption in his career entering the AFL system due to a knee reconstruction at the start of his draft year, Hollands has enjoyed another full pre-season so far as he strives to break into the Carlton line-up.
"It's almost getting me back home," he said. "I've done a bit of work with (assistants) Jordy Russell in the forward line and Tim Clarke in the midfield to get some exposure at both parts of the ground and coming back to my old position but doing it with new teammates has been the next bit."
The deadline-day deal in last year's trade period faced uncertainty throughout, however, as Hollands informed Gold Coast and the Blues that he had been charged with possession of an illicit substance at the end of the Suns' season.
Carlton coach Michael Voss and the club spoke to Hollands throughout and decided to go ahead with the trade, with Hollands since facing court and separately being struck with a two-game suspension to start the season from the AFL.
"To be honest it was pretty stressful because the main stress for me was figuring out if it was going to get done. What happened wasn't ideal and I had to acknowledge it with the footy club first, with both sides, and explain what happened. So we chatted through that and the club's been great at wrapping its arms around me since I came in," he said.
"I fronted up and explained it to them. There were a lot of nerves whether they were still going to go through with it or not. They were some of the things I had to acknowledge and take on responsibility for."
Hollands agreed to a one-year contract with the Blues for 2024, with the talented addition confident he can extend his stay further by showing his quality this season.
"At the end of the day I wanted to get here and that (a one-year contract) was part of the deal. I was obviously going to accept that and now that I am here I am hopefully able to show some of my strengths and then work towards having a long career here," he said.
"[Voss] was great. I spoke to him a few times through that period and he was upfront and honest on his opinions and thoughts, which I respected. And once I got to the footy club he acknowledged it was a fresh start for me and that's the way they were going to keep it, and that's stayed true.
"I feel like I'm training well. I've been able to make some good relationships on-field and getting back to that natural position has allowed me to put me in a spot where I can show my stuff."
He has been showing it regularly at Carlton training, working closely with skipper Patrick Cripps and keen to break into the preliminary finalists' side.
"I watched a fair few of the games last year, it's obviously a different perspective when you're able to watch it from close. I sort of feel like I'm cheating a little bit. The boys went on that dream run at the end last year and I'm coming in at the end of it. It's really exciting and the summer's been great," he said.
Moving back to Melbourne, where he went to boarding school at Caulfield Grammar, has also meant living again with Ollie, with the brothers not being under the same roof for six years as both went to different schools (Ollie boarded at Geelong Grammar until being drafted in 2022). The pair are living in Carlton, a few minutes in the car from Ikon Park – or even less on a Lime bike.
"Ollie got one home a couple of weeks ago and he said it took him a couple of minutes," Elijah said. "Initially I didn't want to live with him and now I'm living with him, but it's actually been great."