Around this time last year, people looked at the Carlton list and decided that there was no more room for excuses with that club.
It was that attitude that led to both some ugly scenes in Round 13, when the Blues capitulated to the Bombers, and subsequent jubilation after Carlton went on a tear, ending up in the final four, battling it out for a spot in the Grand Final. The monkey finally came off the Blues’ back.
Now, it appears to rest firmly between the shoulder blades of the Gold Coast Suns.
The Suns have the unenviable record of never playing a final. They celebrated the VFL flag this season, indicating that their list has plenty of depth, but it has yet to translate to success at the highest level.
And it is time for the excuses to stop.
Gold Coast has always been a team full of promise. Players like Steven May, Tom Lynch, Gary Ablett, and the duo of Jaeger O’Meara and Jack Martin have all looked as though they could be the answer to the Suns’ woes at one time or another. Ablett was the great bald hope, May and Lynch were the co-captains that were supposed to lead the club forward, and O’Meara and Martin were pre-draft pickups – the best kids in the country at the time.
All fell flat.
All decided the grass was greener elsewhere.
And you know what? It was.
Lynch became the poster boy for those seeking the limelight, joining Richmond and immediately playing in a flag. It took May a couple of years longer to experience glory. Meanwhile, the Suns moved on to a new group, with more promise.
Lukosius, King, Miller, Rowell, Anderson, Rankine… they were the makings of the next great hope, only for Rankine to backflip on his decision to stay and jump ship to the Crows. However, the great news this time, is that the rest of them stayed. The rest recommitted. Finally, the exodus appeared over and these Suns may well make good on the promises they’ve made.
And they kind of have to, don’t they?
It seems as though every season we have the conversation about the Suns that borders on being a storyline from Home and Away. Will they… or won’t they?
Up until this point, the response has been in the negative. They haven’t. That simply has to change. So much more is at stake with this group than just a finals appearance. The Suns cannot withstand another exodus. It would tear the heart out of the supporters.
If they can’t make finals with this list, after threatening to for years, why would their supporters believe the club will ever be more than one that makes up the numbers?
The appointment of Damien Hardwick to the role of senior coach was one that was flagged a fair way out. There were rumours that Stuart Dew was on the way out, and credit where it’s due, Caroline Wilson was spot on with her information that the pieces were moving, and Dew was about to be knocked off his perch. He refuted those claims right up until he was shown the door.
The last to know.
Hardwick comes to the Suns with a huge reputation, and will no doubt feel the pressure to elevate this team beyond the realms others have managed to position them. Guy McKenna, Rocket Eade, Stuart Dew… all three have come in with a vision that will make this team a finals team. All were moved on for someone else to have a crack.
But Hardwick comes with relatively fresh premiership experience. The Tigers were not world-beaters when he took the reins, Richmond were as a big a basket case as they come in the AFL, having finished second-last in 2009. And if you are no goldfish, you can also probably remember talks of Dimma being moved on from Richmond about six years after that, when the Tigers were not producing. Richmond stuck with him, and three premierships later, they’re glad they did.
As good a coach as he turned out to be, Dimma’s time at Richmond was like a Pantene commercial – things didn’t just happen overnight, but they did happen! Pity there was no resemblance to Rachel Hunter. Of course, he may not have had a list back then quite like he has at Gold Coast right now.
Look at their top ten picks.
David Swallow – number one
Sam Day – number three
Ben Ainsworth – number four
Jack Lukosius – pick two
Ben King – pick six
Matt Rowell – number one
Nah Anderson – pick two
Ned Flanders – pick 11
Mac Andrew – pick five
And last year they nabbed Bailey Humphrey at pick six
He’s got a fair bit to work with.
Hardwick will not be coming into the 2024 season with their eyes closed. There may well be some growing pains as Hardwick decides what he likes and what he doesn’t like about the Suns’ players. Hell, Mabior Chol saw the writing on the wall as soon as his former club announced the Hardwick appointment. He was out of there like spit through a trumpet! Perhaps Hardwick will find others he doesn’t believe in?
The upside here would be what occurred at St Kilda in 2023. After a disappointing 2022 season, the appointment of Ross Lyon seemed to make the players walk a bit taller. Even in the face of multiple injuries to key players, his system, and the team’s commitment to his game plan saw the Saints earn their place in the finals. I reckon even Lyon thought this was ahead of schedule.
But he took it.
And so will Dimma. He can take a bit from what he saw from the Saints.
The Suns will hit 2024 with momentum. Securing the signature of Hardwick is likely the most important signing the club has made since a little bald-headed bloke made the jump from Geelong. They’d be hoping this one plays out a little better for everyone.
With blokes like Touk Miller and Jarrod Witts hitting the season injury-free, a secure back six manned by Charlie Ballard and Sam Collins, and a forward line with Ben King (a full year under his belt after returning from an ACL injury – this should not be forgotten) should be good enough to challenge any team in the league.
And therein lies the challenge. It is summed up in one word – should.
For years, the Suns should have done this, or should have done that. They haven’t, and it is now not only time to improve once more, it is also time to start doing what they SHOULD have done for the last few seasons.
It’s time to make this team legit.
No more excuses.
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