Gold Coast Suns hold all the aces
Suns captain Garry Ablett following the AFL Round 22 match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Carlton Blues (Photo: Patrick Hamilton/AFL Media)
As the Gold Coast Suns tuck into another round of off-season beverages, the club’s recruiting manager Scott Clayton has earned the right to rip the top off a few cold ones of his own.
After all, it is his groundwork that has laid the foundation for not only the expansion side’s expected tilt at finals football over the next five years, but beyond.
Indeed, the Coast has a list so overflowing with talent that when the trade period rolls around at the conclusion of this finals series, or any for the next little bit, they will hold all the aces.
If they want Kurt Tippett, they have the bait to get him.
If another club needs an injection of promise or youth in any position, Carrara should be their first port of call.
It means that Gold Coast can start planning for a decade from now, when Gary Ablett will be long retired, David Swallow will be wily and experienced and Harley Bennell will make the Cyril years feel like a bygone era.
This all goes back to Clayton’s work, and his reluctance to take on more experienced players when the Suns had the chance.
After copping the short-term pain, the triple-figure floggings and the criticism, the rewards from this policy are starting to emerge on the horizon.
The expansion caper has never been done like this, with a bunch of teenagers thrown together at a pop-up club in a region barely touched by the game – so it’s been incredibly hard to predict how all of this was going to unfold.
But now, we can confidently say that the Suns are on the right track following a rollercoaster two-year initiation into the AFL.
It’s been difficult trying to figure out what bits of their first two seasons were down to the inconsistency of young players, and what parts were a result of errors in planning, list management or coaching.
If year one was a pass mark, then the first half of year two was an utter disaster that prompted many scribes – this one included – to question if this was really the right way to go about promoting the game in a new market, or building a new team from scratch.
The answer soon came. From Round 12 onwards, Gold Coast ironed out most of the creases and staged a resurgence that peeled back the curtain on what we can expect from them on a consistent basis going forward.
In the face of an extraordinary injury crisis, they unearthed a list that will, in time, be one of the best in the competition.
The Suns could not be better placed for the future. The deadwood of the first two years is being cleared out, and what’s left is rolled gold talent.
Gold Coast has it all.
A selection of young, spritely forwards all with the potential to follow Tom Hawkins’ example and slowly progress into the elite ranks.
A midfield that, even compensating for the forthcoming loss of hard-working, silky-smooth Josh Caddy, is equal parts grit and glitter.
A ruck division containing one of the competition’s brightest prospects, and a selection of other beanpoles that are now well on their way to filling out and becoming bonafide AFL players.
A rearguard that has grasped a new modern defensive structure, and has coupled that with natural poise and pace on the rebound to support the other areas of the ground.
The vast majority of Gold Coast’s first premiership side is almost certainly on their books at this very moment.
But the ones that won’t make it? Indeed, if there is a problem, then it’s that they just have too much talent. Not all of it can fit into a side of 22, and other sides will profit.
For example, Steven May, Sam Day and Tom Lynch can’t all play in the same forward line, especially not if Kurt Tippett joins them.
This isn’t so much a problem, though, as a blessing.
It’s not ideal that Caddy wants to move back to Victoria, especially after the Suns stuck with him after an injury-plagued first season. But they’ll get a first round pick for him at minimum.
That’ll be used to grab another young player. Three or four years down the track, he’ll come good at a time when guys like Dion Prestia and Brandon Matera have made names for themselves after 100 hard-nosed games.
Josh Toy is another who will head home. He hasn’t lived up to the hype, but he’s still worth a fair bit on the open market – in return, Gold Coast will get another draftee brimming with promise, who will head to the back of the queue.
When one of the three tall forwards wants out, or any other player with trade value does, the same will happen again.
This is what they mean when they say that the AFL has created a monster with the expansion sides.
Not that they’re going to be so awesome now, or even in five years time – but they’re poised for a long stretch at the top. GWS can’t be far behind.
Think conveyor belt, not premiership window. The idea is to have it open all the time.
When will it start? Who knows. That’s Guy McKenna’s problem. But now that the rough part’s out of the way, it’ll be fun to watch.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.
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