There is close to a consensus amongst football experts at the moment that Tom Lynch – the current Gold Coast version – is the panacea to the problems afflicting several Melbourne clubs. Mobile, tall and with a great pair of hands, Lynch patrolling the forward line is the answer to many clubs' scoring woes.
The former number 11 pick in the “Gold Coast” draft of 2010 has long held the interest of Melbourne clubs. There are several list managers who make a point of tuning into every Gold Coast game to see how Lynch is doing, and imagining him running around in their colours.
As he enters restricted free agency at the end of this season, the interest of some is morphing into a fully-fledged courting of the star forward.
Figures currently being thrown around would make Lynch the highest paid player in the league. Talk of 1.2 million dollars per season is now where the conversation starts. Some have mentioned the astronomical figure of 1.4 million dollars as the amount he’ll be offered to stay on the Gold Coast.
Looking at the current form of Lynch, and what he’s produced over the last couple of years, it is interesting to think about why people think he is worth this sort of money. He has been ordinary this season, ordinary last season, and bar one game against Carlton, has not demonstrated anything like the kind of influence on a game that would command such a price tag. So what’s the appeal?
Potential is a dirty word. Potential not realised is a disaster. A 21 year old showing potential is one thing, but a 25 year old being courted on potential is another. Clubs will take a gamble here and there on potential. They do it every year when they scout young talent and pick them up via the draft. There is no question that Tom Lynch had, and still may have the potential to be one of the best forwards in the game. But he has not yet fully realised the potential that he showed four years ago, and he should entering his absolute prime. This is a real worry.
When you have former players like Dermott Brereton and Jonathon Brown anoint you as the next great forward in the game, you shoulder a heavy load. The expectation is that you’ll elevate your game every year until you become the player everyone thinks you will be. Whether that progress is rapid or slow depends on the individual. Some players burst onto the scene in year two or three and stamp their influence on games. Others show gradual improvement. Sometimes, people plateau at a level well below what is forecast. They never progress past that level.
This season, it seems as though Charlie Curnow has taken Derm’s fancy. Tom Lynch was so two years ago… Derm is now busy anointing Curnow as the next big thing as Lynch languishes on an inept Gold Coast side.
In case you missed it - The Mongrel's All-Australian team after Round 11
There is no one who thought the performance of Tom Lynch would drop off to the extent it has over the last couple of seasons, and it is interesting that questions about his consistency, his body and maybe even his desire aren’t being asked. At least they're not being asked publicly. Yes, he is playing on a poor team, but where has the improvement in Lynch’s game come from? Simply put – it hasn’t improved. His game has gone backwards.
Tom Lynch career stats
Injury robbed us of Lynch from rounds seven through ten this season, but his performances when he has been out there have been less than outstanding as a complete body of work.
If you subtract his standout game, against the equally poor Carlton, Lynch has kicked seven goals from six games. To be fair, we should probably subtract the opening round game where the Suns played in a swimming pool as well. That’d make it seven goals in five games. How much are you happy for your club to pay for a guy who is kicking a goal and a bit a game? $800K? $1M? $1.2M? He’d want to start producing a little more than what he currently is if you’re planning on making him the highest paid player in the game.
OK, subtracting his eight goal game may be a little unfair. If we look at his season as a whole, his stats look like this.
Heading into Round 12, Lynch's numbers arent all that impressive. 12.86 disposals per game – average for a player in his position. 1.29 contested marks per game – again, average. 2.14 goals per game – above average. On that trajectory, he’ll kick 40 goals for the year if he plays every game for the remainder of the season. Is that value for a million or so dollars per year?
If you’re buying Tom Lynch, you’re buying potential – not actual production.
In stark contrast, Tom McDonald signed on with Melbourne for another four years this week. Though the sum of the four-year contract has not been disclosed, I’d be willing to bet that it was for considerably less than the proposed price tag attached to Lynch.
McDonald was never anointed the next big thing by anyone, but his 2018 form makes that of Lynch look miserable by comparison. Taken number 51 in the same draft as Lynch, he is having a career-best season despite an early injury. He is averaging 17.8 disposals per game – rated as elite. He is taking 2.0 contested marks per game – rated as elite. And he is kicking 3.2 goals per game – again, rated as elite). If anyone had recent form to back up demands of an exorbitant price tag, it was McDonald.
3.2 goals per game is better than Lynch’s best ever return over the course of a season. On current form, he is worth the money Melbourne have offered him right now. They are not gambling on hope or favourable projections – they’re paying for what’s on offer right now, and what they can actually see on the field every week. Tom McDonald isn’t selling hope. He is selling results.
Lynch v TMac in 2018
The Gold Coast Suns crashed to the Cats in their first game at Metricon Stadium this season. A nightmare series of interstate, and international games saw the road-weary Suns no match for Geelong, with former star, Gary Ablett running rampant. In perhaps the biggest home game the Suns will play all season, Tom Lynch made his return from injury.
Maybe he should’ve taken another week off.
Lynch returned one goal from 11 touches. Yet clubs are still more than ready to get the chequebook out!
This season, Lynch is averaging his lowest amount of disposals since 2013 – the season he played only eight games. He is taking the lowest amount of contested marks per game since 2012, and is averaging the lowest amount of contested possessions since 2013. He is not doing the things that teams could look at and see continued improvement. He’s offering very little to justify such a high price.
If the 2016 version of Tom Lynch were up for grabs, you could understand clubs clamouring to secure his signature at all costs. Lynch was definitely on the upswing in 2016. He sat right at three goals per game and his 66 goals for the year saw only three others have better years in front of the sticks – Josh Kennedy, Buddy, and Eddie Betts. Illustrious company. 2017 saw a significant drop off. 44 goals were good enough for 16th in the league. This season, Lynch currently sits 31st in the league for goals. He has 15 goals as we hit the halfway point.
With players such as Jordan de Goey, Darcy Moore, Andrew Gaff, Jeremy McGovern and Ollie Wines still out of contract as this is written, clubs may be better off looking for a more versatile player to round out their team, and they may save quite a few dollars in the process.
Lynch may turn the trajectory of this season around. He may kick a couple of bags of goals in the next few weeks and his form worries may disappear. He may get a clean run through the rest of the season and not have an injury hiccup. Or he may continue as he currently is, biding his time until he can relocate.
Richmond, Hawthorn and Collingwood have all been linked to Lynch over the last few weeks – all wonderful news for Lynch and his management - it’s much better to sell your house at auction when there’s more than one bidder. It would surprise no one if those reports were perpetrated by those close to Lynch. Whether or not those clubs, or others waiting to see how things play out are willing to part with over a million dollars a year for a guy who has had one good season will be interesting.
How much money are these teams willing to gamble on potential? How much are they willing to pay for the 2017-18 version of Tom Lynch whilst hoping they get the 2016 version?
Put yourself in control of the AFL team you love for a moment. Look back at the last couple of years of football. Weigh up the price tag. How much would you pay for potential? And how much would you regret paying for potential unfulfilled?
Will your team take the gamble and make Tom Lynch your highest paid player? I hope my team doesn’t.
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*Stats and player ratings as per Champion Data's ratings to Round 11 2018