Out of the Darkness – The Suns will rise again

The Gold Coast Sun’s list has hit its all time low and quite possibly to a low never before seen by an AFL side.

It’s a claim supported by respected commentator and former Essendon great Matthew Lloyd. The list that was already a concern, finishing second last in 2018, plummeted further toward the bottom of the talent pool as the vultures strategically capitalised on the vulnerable expansion club.

Melbourne clubs raided the Suns of their four biggest on-field assets; co-captains and best players Tom Lynch and Steven May, the out of favour yet remarkable Brownlow vote-compiler Aaron Hall, and the injury plagued high draft pick Kade Kolodjashnij. As brutal as it sounds no other established player on the club’s list possesses any trade currency in the current marketplace at all. With a possible exception being the new captain in waiting David Swallow, Brayden Fiorni, Jack Bowes, Jack Martin and newly recruited Gold Coast boy, Lachie Weller, it’s safe to say that if they Suns had a few more players with currency, they probably would’ve explored their options as well.

Concerningly, the club’s reigning Best and Fairest player is Jarrod Harbrow, who is on the wrong side of 30, and the Suns’ highest Brownlow vote getter this season was former captain Tom Lynch, who departed the club in the off-season. Lynch topped the Suns’ count with a mere five votes and finished 82nd overall. He played less than half the games this season due to injury (and here at the Mongrel, we saw this coming a mile off). That is simply extraordinary. Also, on five votes at the equal top of the Gold Coast leaderboard was Brayden Fiorini, hardly a household AFL name, but a good player who is on the verge of becoming a very good one.

Eight years in to their AFL quest, every player of real quality who has ever worn the red and yellow Suns guernsey has walked out on the club after serving their time. It sounds a little too much like a prison sentence to me.

Think Gary Ablett (Geelong), Tom Lynch (Richmond), Steven May (Melbourne), Jaeger O’Meara (Hawthorn), Dion Prestia (Richmond), Charlie Dixon (Port Adelaide), Josh Caddy (Geelong-to-Richmond), Adam Saad (Essendon), Harley Bennell (Fremantle), Aaron Hall (North Melbourne), Kade Kolodjashnij (Melbourne), Zac Smith (Geelong) and Brandon Matera (Fremantle).

As soon as they got parole, they left the Suns behind. They did their time, and they moved on to start their football lives anew.

It seems likely that South Australians (and long-term friends) Jack Lukosius and Connor Rozee, the players Gold Coast are looking to select with their Picks 2 and 3 in next month’s draft, will be their most valuable players on the club’s list as pre-season rolls around. That is a scary thought.

Gold Coast would have to be the short priced favourite for next season’s wooden spoon, and it would be a sad and sorry club that found themselves on the losing end of a game aginst the Suns in 2019. Yet, despite the horror story that has been presented, the Suns have never been in a better position than they are right now.

No, I am not a crackpot.

The Gold Coast Suns – off-field – are now a secure football club having finally allayed survival fears that reached crisis point during the previous season. Such were these concerns that officials feared the club would fold and be replaced by a Tasmanian team. For the first time, President Tony Cochrane admitted publicly that the club would cease to exist unless their Carrara stadium deal, agreed to on the club’s behalf by the AFL prior to the Suns’ establishment, was renegotiated. It may have taken the replacement of the entire board of the government authority, Stadiums Queensland, but the Suns have finally received a reasonable stadium deal, ensuring the club’s short-term future, at least, is secure and importantly,  is secured on the Gold Coast.

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2018 also marked the first year that Gold Coast recorded a profit. The club’s approximately $2 million profit was in part due to less home games at Carrara under the previous stadium deal, which saw the Suns lost $200,000 on average every home game. Tripe around the country, and indeed the world may have been a detriment to the team on-field, but it was a welcome relief to the bank balance. The club’s foray into China as Port Adelaide’s designated opponent (which is now St Kilda) was a huge windfall for the franchise.

Next year will be the first time that the club will get a clean run at making some money, free from the shackles of a stadium deal that was crippling the club financially. Off-field the club is secured – it is no longer doomed and drowning in debt it didn’t create. On-field however, as mentioned, the club has nothing but developing youngsters and high draft picks.

And hope.

All is not lost. Having dissatisfied experienced players, especially captains who were not committed to the club or interested in leading, is worse than nothing. While, generally speaking, losing all your quality players is not ideal, in the Gold Coast’s case, they were at rock bottom prior to the recent exits of Lynch and May – does losing them make the Suns worse than rock bottom? If they were already as low as they could go, losing a few people whose presence may have been detrimental to the younger players is not a terrible thing, or at least not as terrible as it is made out to be.

At this point, does it really matter what tier of rock bottom the Suns are at? The only way from their current position is up, and the Suns have to start building with who they have, not lamenting the departures of those they lost. It is the weirdest form of addition by subtraction I’ve seen in football, but the sideshows that were the “will they/won’t they?” dramas in relation to the futures of both Tom Lynch and Steven May were a complete distraction.

The 2019 edition of the Gold Coast almost needs to be treated the same as the 2009 version when they were playing in the TAC Cup with the vision of becoming an AFL side in two years’ time. Perhaps two years from now the Suns will finally achieve this aim of being a competitive AFL team. They flirted with it in 2014, winning nine of their first 16 games before an injury to Gary Ablett saw them derailed. They won only one more game for the remainder of the season to finish 12th.

Currently, they are a team of kids forced to compete against established teams of grown men. They may be at the lowest point they can be, however they have stopped sinking. And that means only one thing can happen, it may not be this year, it may not be the year after, or the one after that.

But the Suns will rise, and those who have stuck out the tough times will deserve to be there for the good ones.

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