Is Tom Lynch the Jackpot or just Fool's Gold?

As the 2018 AFL season draws closer, many clubs will start turning their attention to a young man currently playing his football on the Gold Coast.

The Suns know they need to resign Tom Lynch in order to be taken seriously. After a couple of promising years, they have fallen away dramatically, and with the departure of Gary Ablett, many are questioning whether they will be able to improve at all on last season’s 17th place finish. Most are predicting them to battle it out with North Melbourne for the wooden spoon.

Gold Coast made a bold move when they traded the number two overall pick in the 2017 draft to Fremantle for Lachie Weller. On the surface, it looks as though they paid overs for the talented on-baller, but gaining a valuable asset like Weller is one thing; gaining a player like Weller who actually wants to play on the Gold Coast is another. They’ve traded a maybe for a certainty, and that was a wise move.

However, the question of where Lynch will play in the long term will hang over their heads all season, particularly if they are on the end of some big losses. Lynch is waiting to see if the team shows any improvement – at least, that’s what he’s said. If they don’t improve, he’ll be out the door.

Melbourne clubs are lining up to have a crack at the services of Lynch. Many see him as the answer to their forward line woes, and are willing to empty the piggy bank to have him in their colours.

But what is Tom Lynch worth? Do you think he is the sort of player that warrants being the highest paid player at your club? Well, you’ve got to be sure what you’re getting, first.

In 2017, Lynch averaged 15.2 disposals, 6.3 marks, and 2.3 goals per game. He did this in a side that won only six games for the year, and at times didn’t even look capable of delivering the ball effectively to him inside 50. All a player like Lynch needs is a one-on-one contest, but defences swarmed around him, and he was not given the support in the forward line required to build on a solid 2016. Peter Wright stepped in and was handy, but he was no replacement for Charlie Dixon, who joined Port Adelaide a couple of years ago. In 2017, Tom Lynch went backwards.

Lynch was 33rd overall in contested marks in 2017. Averaging 1.4 per game, it puts him behind the following forwards in this stat. Charlie Dixon, Cale Hooker, Jonathon Patton, Joe Daniher, Ben Brown, Lance Franklin, Darcy Moore, Jack Riewoldt, Taylor Walker, Tom Hawkins, Jack Darling, and Josh Kennedy. Quite a list.

He is no baby in terms of age and experience. Lynch is entering year eight in the league and will turn 26 in 2018. This is where he should be entering his absolute peak as a key forward, and whilst the development has been there, it hasn’t been as consistent, or as rapid as you’d like if you were looking to spend big money on him.

Tom Lynch stat chart 2011-17

 

In the interest of fairness, we will compare him to other players of his ilk at the same stage of their careers. In doing so, we may get a clearer understanding what the appeal is about Tom Lynch, and why your team would sign him in a heartbeat.

Lynch versus peers at same stage

All player stats taken from their 7th year except J Kennedy and J Roughead due to injury. Stats taken from 8th year for them

Franklin is the obvious standout here. Buddy is a force of nature, and by the end of his seventh year in the league was already the best all round forward in the game. You could convincingly argue that he still is. His stats aside, Lynch fares quite well alongside most of this generation's star forwards at the same point in their careers.

Only Franklin and former partner in crime, Roughead averaged more disposals. Only Walker and Kennedy had a better marks per game average. And whilst he was bettered by four players in the goals per game area, his contested marking wasn’t all that far away from the pack. Had we taken his 2016 stats in this area, he would’ve sat comfortably on top of the list (2.8 per game).

Whilst he is not, and will never be a Lance Franklin, you begin to get a picture as to why teams are drooling at the prospect of having Lynch as the focal point of their forward structure. Similar to the way Charlie Dixon is used at Port Adelaide, Lynch offers a marking target for midfielders to look for. In effect, he has the ability to “straighten them up” as they look inside 50.

So what are your concerns if he’s joining your team?

The drop off in 2017 has to be taken into consideration. If Lynch comes out and improves on his 2016 output, there is no amount a Melbourne club won’t pay to lure him home. However, if we see a carbon copy of his 2017 numbers, the buyers may not be so ready to part with huge dollars.

A key forward averaging 1.4 contested marks and 2.3 goals per game, whilst serviceable, is not worth the largest salary in the competition, particularly when there are youngsters coming through who average close to what Lynch is, and have a year or two up their sleeve as well.

Forwards younger than Lynch

All stats from the 2017 season

Daniher looks set to surpass Lynch when talking about the most coveted emerging forward in the competition. Whilst Lynch went backwards in 2017, Daniher leapt forward, as did Ben Brown. Jeremy Cameron looked primed to make an impact on September in 2017 until injury robbed him of the chance. He is already the focal point of a winning team; something that has avoided Lynch to this stage. Would you rather any of those three over Lynch? I’d take Daniher or Cameron without hesitation. How about Moore, Patton or Brown? Are they worth more on an open market than Lynch at the moment? If you're going to pay the highest salary in the league to someone, you'd want them to at least be the best at their position, right?

Then there is the big fish/little pond factor. If some players are accused of playing bruise-free footy, Tom Lynch has had a bruise-free run with the media to this stage of his career. Playing for Gold Coast, reporters and commentators have been afforded the role of romanticizing his achievements. Some have mentioned that, given his talent, he "deserves" to be playing in front of a packed MCG, as opposed to a half full Gold Coast Stadium. They spoke of the game itself being better off having Lynch displaying his talents to larger crowds, so he can be remembered as a great, not just a player for a struggling team no one in Melbourne watched. These same experts often forget that this is a national competition.

Still, under the intense Melbourne footy spotlight, there is no escaping the scrutiny that comes with being the focal point of an attack and having a drop off in form. On the Gold Coast, no one in the media bats an eyelid. Franklin moved away from Melbourne to get away from this kind of thing. After the highs of 2008, there was an expectation that Buddy would reproduce those kinds of goal kicking feats for years to come. He didn’t, and the media speculation was rampant as to why. They called him fat. They questioned his desire, his inability to take marks over his head, his dedication, his after-hours habits. He was under intense pressure for years. Can Lynch handle the pressure that comes with being the big name signing at one of Melbourne’s biggest clubs after having it easy in the sunshine for the past seven years? How would he go under the pump at Collingwood if things didn't go his way and the blowtorch was turned on him? Would he wilt, or would he stand strong?

Gold Coast will do everything it can to re-sign Lynch before the season concludes. It's in their best interest to retain players and build with a solid nucleus and there is no better place to begin than with their star forward. Tom Lynch has the opportunity to be central to the process that may establish the Suns as a force to be reckoned with, but a repeat of his 2017 will not be enough. Not enough to keep him there, and not enough for Stewie Dew and Gold Coast to get better.

Lynch has all the tools to be a dominant force in the game. Speed, overhead marking, body use, and an ability to read the play are all skills he has under his belt, but it will be about how hard he works in 2018 that will indicate whether he's in for the long haul in Queensland, or already has one foot out the door.

The AFL has a bucket load of ambassadorial money they can throw at him to stay in Queensland, but if he wants to win, and is getting impatient, the buckets may not be anywhere near big enough.

To keep him, the Suns will need 7-9 wins. It looks beyond them. How much would you be willing to pay to have Tom Lynch at your club? The market opens in October, and you'll need seven figures.