It’s a long way to the top for expansion teams

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

By , Michael DiFabrizio is a Roar Expert

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    The expansion teams are back on the agenda after GWS and Gold Coast received two massive thumpings on Easter Sunday, but we should all just relax.

    Sure, the Giants couldn’t register a first half goal on the way to losing to North Melbourne by 129 points and the Suns weren’t close in their 92-point loss to St Kilda.

    But it’s funny that the other club being blasted for lacking competitiveness right now is Melbourne, who’ve put in two disappointing performances – including a 108-point loss – under new coach Mark Neeld.

    It just shows that whether you’ve been around 150 years or aren’t anywhere near 150 games, building a side capable of winning the flag is not a task that happens overnight.

    That hasn’t stopped the flow of negative comments that started about 10 minutes in to the GWS game, mind you.

    “The people of Gold Coast and western Sydney aren’t going to put up with this sort of footy much longer.”

    “The AFL needs to intervene.”

    “Both teams should’ve been given more experienced players from other clubs.”

    “A country footy team could beat GWS.”

    Honestly, it needs to stop.

    If you couldn’t have foreseen that the Suns and Giants would find it hard to compete early on in their existence, you’ve got rocks in your head.

    With lists comprised mostly of freshly-drafted players, it was clear that there would be dark times to begin with.

    In recent years, our Supercoach teams and the Rising Star award have shown how much of an impact a young player can have in his first or second year of footy. It’s definitely possible for young players to come into the comp and belong straight away.

    But to expect that of an entire group of young players isn’t right.

    A great example was thrown in our faces on Monday. Just look at Tom Hawkins, who is seemingly coming alive with each game he plays for Geelong.

    Up until Round 24 last year, he was the epitome of a much-maligned player. The key forward, who we were told would’ve gone very high in his draft had he not been a father-son pick, struggled to impose himself in games, let alone live up to his potential.

    Now, in his sixth season of AFL football – yes, sixth – he’s finally “arrived”. He’s all of the sudden a contested marking machine who’s playing a major role in the Cats winning big games.

    It puts all the commotion following Sunday’s results into some form of perspective.

    It is very, very rare to see even close to a player’s best football in his first or second season. The players that will be responsible for driving these two clubs up the ladder have plenty of improvement ahead of them.

    This is illustrated by the fact there are 35 GWS listed players that are aged 20 or younger.

    Initially, we were told it would be better for these new clubs to become genuine premiership contenders within a reasonable timeframe, rather than for them to find themselves as far away from a flag as the Brisbane Bears and Sydney Swans once were for an extended period.

    Most of us bought into that premise.

    But if we truly believe that’s the way to go, then getting games into kids – no matter how bad it looks on the scoreboard, no matter how many pages from the back of the Daily Telegraph it puts the game – should be what’s most important right now.

    The sad part is, already it seems that at least one of the expansion clubs might’ve already departed from the premise.

    It was reported on The Footy Show earlier this year that the Suns board have a set criteria that coach Guy McKenna will need to meet to keep his job after this season, which (according to the show) includes winning six games.

    This came on the back of a report in the Gold Coast Bulletin that senior officials were “seething” after McKenna used the second half of the club’s NAB Cup fixture with GWS, a game they lost, to give more minutes to youngsters.

    The report was denied by the Suns, but as the saying goes, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

    And that, bizarre as it may seem, worries me a lot more than how the Suns went in the second game of their second season against a 2011 finalist on the road.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.