THE AFL'S two biggest player management groups are at war following the poaching of one of the industry's rising star agents.
After 12 years at Craig Kelly's TLA, agent Nick Gieschen resigned in December after accepting an offer of employment, as well as scope to buy a shareholding, at Connors Sports Management.
Kelly was enraged when made aware of the defection and has since told Gieschen he would legally seek to enforce a 14-month 'no-compete period'.
In the days after Gieschen's resignation, Kelly wrote to all 18 clubs to express his disappointment at Paul Connors and the targeting of one of his employees. Kelly also warned against dealing with Gieschen due to legal matters pertaining to "non-solicitation of clients and a period of restraint".
Gieschen, 35, managed more than 40 players while at TLA, including Luke Shuey, Clayton Oliver, Ollie Wines, Ben Cunnington, Ben Stratton, Zach Merrett and Dan Hannebery.
Should those players choose to stay with Gieschen, Connors' stable would be boosted to about 150 AFL clients, and TLA's numbers reduced to about 200.
"Given Nick has advised us that he was approached by our competitor, Paul Connors, and wishes to take up employment with him, we will be enforcing those obligations to ensure that our business and our clients are protected," Kelly wrote to the clubs in an email fired off on December 24.
"We are disappointed in the way this has transpired, particularly with the timing of the resignation occurring two days prior to our Christmas office closure.
"Ultimately, this is all noise, and we will not let it distract from the most important thing, which is the management of our players.
"… the reason I am writing to you is to inform you that there are employment restrictions in place and we ask for your support to do things the right way".
Gieschen had his phone confiscated by TLA and he was forced to serve eight weeks' notice.
A merging of Tom Petroro's Stride company with Kelly's TLA in recent years had transformed the already big TLA into a massive player agency firm, significantly more than double the size of all other competitors.
The Australian and UK arms of TLA, along with the Stride operations, were acquired late last year by QMS Media for more than $32 million.
While Kelly was seeking a non-compete period of 14 months for Gieschen, Connors will seek to significantly reduce that timeframe.