There are some teams with high aspirations for the 2019 season. For West Coast, Richmond, Melbourne and Adelaide amongst others, the premiership window is open and they’re looking to climb on through. Collingwood were a kick away from glory in 2018, and Greater Western Sydney will be hoping the injury bug doesn’t bit quite as hard in 2019. They’ll be in the mix as well.
However, within a season you’ll also find teams and players whose aspirations aren’t quite so grand. Players will come up against a particular opponent that got the better of them last time and want to reverse the outcome this time round. Others will have a point to prove when they play a team that overlooked them in the draft – the amount of times Joel Selwood punished Hawthorn for using the sixth pick on Mitch Thorp ahead of the Geelong Captain underpinned a period where the ‘Kennett Curse’ haunted the Hawks. It was no coincidence.
And then there’s the Tom Lynch situation. He and his co-captain flew the Gold Coast coop in the 2018 off-season, with May landing at Melbourne, and Lynch working his way to Punt Road, amidst much fanfare.
I read with interest at some point during the off-season (on Reddit, actually) where a regular poster was asking if it still mattered when a player first comes up against his old team, and whether anyone really cares. I thought it was a strange question, but I kind of get where he was coming from.
Firstly, I reckon the person asking the question was a young buck, and may have grown up on the zero-loyalty attitude of overseas sportspeople; something that is becoming more common in our own game. Secondly, I don’t think he was looking at the situation through the eyes of a pure fan – through the eyes of a kid whose hero had just up and left. He didn’t look at it through the lens of someone who had their heart broken.
Gold Coast didn’t have many heroes left for kids to look up to. After Gary Ablett claimed a host of best and fairest awards, a couple of MVPs and a second Brownlow, he left the club to head home Geelong. Tom Lynch was their golden-haired boy. He was their star, their hope and their future.
And then he left as well.
So when the question was raised as to whether it means something these days for a player to come up against his old club, my guess is we’ll see how much it means in Round 16, when Richmond travel to Metricon Stadium, and Lynch fronts up against the players he was supposed to be leading.
The Gold Coast Suns may have some aspirations that do not include making the finals this season, or winning a premiership in the near future. They’ll be looking for growth, development, and a bond strengthening amongst their young core in the hope that they form the nucleus of a future premiership squad.
But for 2019, rubbing Tom Lynch’s nose in it might just suffice.
Word is that the meeting where Lynch announced to the Gold Coast playing group that he was going to look to yellow and black pastures in 2019 got a little feisty. Some amongst the Suns felt he was leaving when the club needed him most. In short, they were pissed. That’s all well and good in a meeting, but it is on the field that the Suns have to show their disappointment and anger.
Words are one thing. Actions are another.
Gold Coast fans want to see some actions in 2019. The members have heard the words of their Chief Executive, Mark Evans. “Challenge accepted,” screamed the headline of his email to members. Whilst he speaks for the administrators, officials, and club as a whole, it is the playing group that needs to enact those words. They need to have some obtainable goals. They need some actions. They need to accept the challenge personally and make Lynch’s return game memorable for those sticking by them. Irrespective of what’s happened to that point of the season, the game against Richmond has to be their statement game of 2019. To the neutral fan, it is the Gold Coast game in 2019 that holds the most interest.
Mottos or slogans from the front office are just words. Game of Thrones isn’t far away… words are wind.
So, what are some of the statements the Suns can make against Lynch and the Tigers? What are the smaller aspirations in the context of a season that’ll place a smile on the faces of their loyal supporter-base? What are the dream scenarios for the Suns as they look to their former captain returning in 2019?
RORY THOMPSON HOLDS HIM GOALLESS
It would’ve been nice had Steven May not also left the Suns, and stayed on as captain. We could’ve seen the captain that stayed against the captain that left, one-on-one. It would’ve made for a nice story. Alas, both captains left, and what we’re left with in Gold Coast is a defence that may have a hard time containing one key forward, let alone two.
But for the sake of this point, let’s say that Rory Thompson doesn’t go to Jack Riewoldt, but instead walks straight up to Tom Lynch and stands next to him. For the next two hours, Thompson gives Lynch no space, no quarter, and no chance at getting his mitts on the ball. Every time Lynch flies for a mark, Thompson’s defensive fist kills the contest. Every time Lynch grabs a ground ball, Thompson buries him in a tackle. Every time Lynch looks around, Thompson is right there, like a shadow casting a dark cloud over Lynch’s afternoon.
As the siren sounds, irrespective of the result, Lynch walks over and shakes Thompson’s hand. Thompson locks him in a hard stare.
“You should’ve stayed.”
TOUK MILLER PUTS LYNCH ON HIS BACKSIDE
My guess is the Tigers will work diligently to get Lynch involved against his former club. They have a way of powering the ball forward and drawing players to the ball. In their system, Lynch should flourish, making the first scenario unlikely, particularly when it is an entire team working cohesively to ensure their recruit isn’t embarrassed against the side he captained.
But they can’t protect him at all times. The Tigers will want the ball in Lynch’s hands as often as possible, and Touk Miller could really make that work for him.
It’s late in the first quarter and Lynch has earned a couple of touches. The Tigers are going forward with monotonous regularity and Miller is frustrated. He throws himself down back as the loose man in defence to try to stop the bleeding when a looping, creative handball from Shane Edwards looks to put Lynch into space, running toward goal. With his eyes on the ball, Lynch is wide open, and all that anger, all that frustration and all that pent up emotion manifests in one explosive moment for Miller.
Lynch raises his hands to collect the floating footy and Miller seizes the opportunity. He closes the space, tucks up and crashes into the exposed ribs of Lynch. The crowd gasps, then cheers. The umpire calls play on, but the ensuing melee gives him no choice but to halt play. Lynch writhes on the ground, gasping for air as Richmond players remonstrate with Miller, who looks down at the prone carcass of his former captain.
Touk Miller smiles.
“You should have stayed.”
LUKOSIUS KICKS SIX
There will be a few players who sit in the dressing room at points this season and look straight across at the man destined to replace them. Lance Franklin will hear father time ticking away when he sees Nick Blakey kick his first goal. Marc Murphy may smile a knowing smile as Sam Walsh bursts from the centre for the Blues, and Dale Morris might be content to make this his last year when Aaron Naughton starts having big on-on-one wins in the red, white and blue.
But for Tom Lynch, he will only see his replacement from a distance. He was the spearhead of the Gold Coast attack. He was the man they looked to as a get out of jail option, and he was the first choice when a midfielder tucked the ball under his arm and looked forward.
Those days are gone, and Gold Coast have waved goodbye to Lynch with one hand, and waved hello to their future with another.
Jack Lukosius is, from all reports, a prodigious talent. Not quite as tall as Lynch, Lukosius is a marking machine with good foot speed and high hopes attached to him. It would be ideal to see him strut his stuff against a team with one of the best backline trios in the game. Imagine for a moment Lukosius flying for the ball at half forward with Dylan Grimes hot on his tail. He can’t mark, but he remains on his feet as the ball hits the deck, turning quickly and losing Grimes in the process, only to see a charging David Astbury confronting him. He holds the ball out to kick and brings it back at the last moment, with Astbury taking the bait and attempting the smother.
With two defenders down, Lukosius is left with Rance to contend with. The 2017 All-Australian captain leaves his man and charges at the fleet-of-foot youngster as he crosses the 50 metre arc. Lukosius sees him coming and doubles down. He takes a bounce as Rance chases, runs to 35 and launches for goal. It sails through and he punches the air – it’s his sixth of the day.
Lukosius looks back at Rance.
Settle down Suns fans.
THE SUNS DO THE UNTHINKABLE
Yeah, I know - I just said settle down, and now I’m going to do this.
No team is unbeatable. We’ve all been around long enough to know that just when you think you know all the answers, footy has a way of changing the questions.
The Tigers are red hot favourites going in, and the young Suns have taken it personally. Rory Thompson has done a number on Tom Lynch, and Touk Miller made a statement with a hip and shoulder that left his former teammate struggling for breath in the first quarter.
Rankine and Ben King are looking great, but it is the six goals from Lukosius that has the football world casting their collective gaze over the game at Metricon Stadium. The Suns are in this right up to their eyeballs, and they’re full of run.
You can see Richmond players looking at each other – this isn’t to script. This isn’t what the Suns were expected to produce. Something’s wrong.
But for the Suns, something is right. They smell blood in the Gold Coast water and they’re going in for the kill. The last quarter sees a wounded Tiger outfit stop to the walk as the Suns slam on goal after goal, eroding the Richmond lead. With a minute left, David Swallow grabs the ball and goes long to the goal square where Jarrod Witts has drifted forward. New co-captain to new co-captain, Witts marks, goes back, and goals to give the Suns the lead. The siren sounds, the Suns win and Tom Lynch looks around his former home, watching the Sun crowd rejoice in an upset win.
He shakes the hands of both Witts and Swallow. His former teammates nod.
“You should’ve stayed.”
Yes, Richmond fans, I know they’re all unlikely. I’m sure you’re sitting there scoffing at the possibility of the dream scenarios, but there’s a very good reason their called dream scenarios and not reality scenarios, right? Buckle in, because every dream can turn into a nightmare with just one thing going wrong.
LYNCH KICKS TEN
I mentioned before that the Suns’ backline is depleted – well, Richmond have this bloke who has three Coleman medals to his name. You may have heard of him… he has a cousin who used to captain St Kilda – Riewoldt. He gets the best defender, and the best defender the Suns have left is Rory Thompson.
So, Rory goes to Riewoldt, leaving Josh Caddy and this Lynch fella to roam the forward 50, capitalising on the efforts of the seasoned Richmond midfield. The dam wall breaks early, with Riewoldt taking his unselfishness to another level by leading Thompson away from the other forwards. The Tiger mids know what the deal is – Lynch and Caddy feast on the second and third tier defenders, and as we near three quarter time, Tom Lynch sits on seven goals.
The last quarter is party time, and the Tigers redouble their efforts to ensure their recruit hits double figures, which he does with minutes to spare. The crowd boos, but it is music to Lynch’s ears. They boo because they care. Silence would be worse.
Riewoldt whispers in his ear.
“You were right to leave.”
THE TIGERS MAKE A STATEMENT
Mercy is for the weak, and there will be many teams who eye off a game against the Suns as a chance to boost their percentage. With so many young players, Gold Coast will need to do a mountain of work over several years to match the overall fitness and strength bases of some of the top clubs, and they’ll be found out in the second half of quite a few games.
If the game is not close at half time, we could see the Suns drop away, and some big scores might be kicked against Gold Coast. Richmond is one of the most potent offensive machines in the game. Riewoldt, Caddy, Lynch… they’re all covered above, but throw in Butler, Castagna, Higgins, Rioli and Martin, and you have the kind of firepower that could blow the young team off the park.
Without going too much down the rabbit hole, a 20 goal margin is in play for the Tigers, and though those within the club wouldn’t publicly state it, supporters are a different kettle of fish. They want not only a win – they want a massacre.
As Lynch walks off the ground to the tune of the Richmond theme song, Damien Hardwick gives him a pat on the back.
“Glad you left.”
RANCE DESTROYS LUKOSIUS
And here’s the flip side of the Lukosius scenario. He’s a good kid, but the Richmond defence is special. It took a game from Mason Cox that NO ONE saw coming to make them look mortal.
But something like that is too much to ask for a kid to replicate, especially when you’re 15 centimetres shorter. Rance will always be looking for new challenges. Despite his detractors, he is the best, most consistent defender in the game over the last five years, and he will not want his colours lowered against the replacement - the unproven replacement of his current teammate.
Where Lukosius goes, as does Rance, and when that happens, Rance wins. He’s bigger, stronger and knows the defensive game inside out. There is nowhere to hide in the forward 50 when Alex Rance is your opponent.
The siren sounds and Rance shakes Lukosius’ hand. He moves on to embrace the former Suns captain.
“Glad you’re with us.”
So where do you sit on the dream/nightmare scenarios? What do you want to see?
Do you want to see a moment that the Suns can cling to as a small positive in what will most likely be a rocky season? Or do you want to see the Tigers run roughshod over the young team from up North as Lynch reminds them of what they once had, and what is now just a memory?
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