THE WHISPERS eventually find their way to Todd Goldstein.
A couple of years ago, he had just finished dropping his kids off at school when a member of his family called to ask whether the rumour was true. Was he in Western Australia having a medical with West Coast?
It didn't start there, nor did it end there, either. There's been links to Geelong, links to the Western Bulldogs and links to Carlton, among others recently. Seemingly every year, contracted or not, the veteran North Melbourne ruckman is on the move. The speculation, at least to Goldstein, is sometimes endless. And it's not always about his playing future.
Last week, news had filtered through that Goldstein had arrived in Darwin early for North Melbourne's clash with Gold Coast. He had come on Monday, apparently, by himself for a few days' worth of isolated preparation. He had been spotted by locals heading into Coles to pick up some groceries. Only he hadn't. He arrived, with his teammates, on a charter flight on Friday.
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For the former All-Australian and 2015 Kangaroos best and fairest, that one was easy to laugh off and brush aside. Just add it to the long list of unsubstantiated things you've heard about him.
"Because it's been fairly consistent throughout my career, you do find a lot of the rumours quite farcical and quite funny. My family, we all have a good laugh over the newest ones that come out," Goldstein told AFL.com.au from North Melbourne's hotel in Darwin last weekend.
"A lot of the facts don't come from anyone in my camp. Unless you're in the inner circle of my camp, I find it strange the rumours that people come out with. I think I heard once that a story had come from my sister … I don't even have a sister.
"It is quite funny, some of the things I hear. But it doesn't really bother me. I've got a really close circle of friends and family and I have a lot of trust in my manager to deal with those sorts of things. The way I work, I control what I can control.
"I worry about what I do during the week in terms of preparing myself for games and trying to perform on the weekend. My manager takes care of all of the other things outside of footy. I have a lot of trust in him and I don't really think too much about all of the other stuff."
This year, though, the whispers about Goldstein's next destination seem more concrete. Set to turn 34 next month and still without a contract beyond this season, the mobile 201cm ruckman understands his future is unclear.
North Melbourne is in full rebuild mode, has shifted its priority towards the NAB AFL Draft, and remains intent on blooding as much youth as possible. During last week's loss to Gold Coast, Goldstein was one of just two players – alongside captain Jack Ziebell – to have played more than 150 AFL games.
But the performance levels are still strong, making the prospect of playing on all the more likely. He's averaged 12.3 disposals, 23.3 hitouts and has kicked nine goals from 12 games so far this season – hardly the numbers of someone coming towards the end of their career. But whether that career extends at North Melbourne, or elsewhere, is the big unknown.
"The performances are one thing, but for me I know how hard I am working still. I know how hard I worked in the off-season and in the pre-season. You don't put the work in if you don't have that belief that you've still got more to give," Goldstein said.
"I really enjoy that. It doesn't feel like I'm going to work, it doesn't feel like I have to do this because it's my job, I do it because I really enjoy it and I love it. It doesn't hurt, the performances, and it doesn't hurt my prospects of someone wanting me to play for them. But I think, for me, I know I've got a lot more to give.
"I've got a lot of good performances left in me. But I try not to ride the highs and lows of how I'm going on the weekend, because I know there is a lot more to it than that."
North Melbourne's new direction has had a considerable impact on Goldstein, particularly this season. He has worked in tandem with the much-younger Tristan Xerri, and sometimes with new recruit Callum Coleman-Jones, forcing him to spend more time than he's used to through the forward line.
"I've really enjoyed the different role. It's obviously something to learn, to play a bit more forward and things like that, but I've enjoyed the challenge and adding something to my game. I haven't done a lot of that in the past," Goldstein said.
"I work really well with Tristan and 'CJ', even with Jacob Edwards, the ruck fraternity always have a pretty close bond. It is one of those strange environments where obviously only one or two of you can play each week. You do become pretty close and you work closely together.
"I'm always there for Tristan and 'CJ' and Jacob, whenever they need anything. I'm happy to pass on as much advice as I can."
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Passing on advice has been something Goldstein has had to ponder and deliver to a number of younger teammates throughout what has been a challenging season for the club, both on and off the field.
The Kangaroos have won just one of their first 12 games, have lost their last 10 by an average margin of more than 10 goals, and have seen football department staff walk out on the club amid the ongoing struggles.
As the only player on North Melbourne's list born in the 1980s, Goldstein is part of a different generation and has become someone the club's youngsters look to for guidance. It's presented him with the opportunity to become a leader, someone who his younger teammates can rely on. Not that he thinks they need it.
"The young kids these days are very different. I don't know if it's because of social media and how much is out there, but the stuff that's happened outside of the footy club doesn't seem to bother them too much," Goldstein said.
"They're pretty good at listening to the voices that are close to them and understanding the actual processes. There's a lot of noise, there always is, but a lot of it doesn't understand what's going on inside the footy club and what we're aiming towards.
"Obviously, it's been challenging for everyone. But I think that although it does seem like you're on a hiding to nothing, you can see the development through pre-season of some of the young players.
"Having been through this in 2010, when we had a pretty young side, one thing it does build is your resilience. When you do move up the ladder, you really start to enjoy and appreciate it for what it is.
"I really hope that for whatever iteration of this group makes it through the next few years, that they come out the other end and be really appreciative and enjoy the highs when they do come."
This weekend's clash with Greater Western Sydney will be Goldstein's 286th in North Melbourne colours. The milestone of 300 is within reach, but almost certainly won't be achieved this season. What colours he's wearing when it's eventually marked, then, are still to be decided. But, again, that's a factor of his life he'd rather laugh about than consider seriously for the time being.
"That is way, way too far to even contemplate at this point. I'll just get through this week's game and then we'll move it one game closer."