The Suns by the numbers

Matt Webber Columnist

By Matt Webber, Matt Webber is a Roar Expert

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    At the Gold Coast Suns’ preseason clash against the Bombers I witnessed the first of the AFL’s expansion clubs grabbing their inherited empire with both hands and running like the wind.

    If you didn’t know better you’d swear you were attending some kind of surf lifesaver fund-raising shindig such is the overpowering shimmer of red and gold.

    The Suns specially selected, survey-group approved colour scheme infiltrates everything here at Metricon. It’s intoxicating; all-pervasive and shiny under customised floodlights and soundtracked by whatever’s hot on the playlist of the local FM station that pays to slap its logo around the joint.

    And not a beanie or a scarf anywhere. It is, after all, still 25 degrees at six o’clock.

    This place will be their fortress. No doubt about it. And so pleasant will it become for opposition fans to visit, the pangs of defeat will be soothed by the salty kiss of an afternoon ocean breeze. That, and the massage that came with a travel package booked via a phone App.

    Tonight the Suns open their season against the Peptide Bombers. It’s hard not to lump a kind of collective shame on the Essendon faithful as they saunter in. It’s also hard not to think of them as slightly unwashed given all that’s been.

    It’s surprisingly depressing. I for one thought the recommencement of actual football might wash the pain of a drugs investigation away.

    It doesn’t.

    The bloke I’m sitting next to in the glow of the world’s largest, loudest television (aka ‘the scoreboard’) has flown up from his home in Keilor East in Melbourne’s north.

    He’s the kind of traveller the Suns and their ‘destination brand’ will bank on in lieu of a hefty membership quota. His is a multi-generational attachment to all things Windy Hill, he tells me.

    And yet he won’t wear his woolen No 5 Essendon jumper anymore. It’s now boxed up in the garage. A quiet protest, he says, his eyes fixed hopefully on a batch of post-scandal red and black completing pre-game run throughs.

    The crowd is quiet and sparse and scattered like breadcrumbs around the few parts of the stadium the powers-that-be deem necessarily open.

    Here even a paltry, benign attendance is micro-managed.

    To be fair, at the Suns, pretty much everything is. To the letter.

    I first spotted most of the Suns list three years ago. I’ve watched on since as fresh faces arrived to supplement the carefully chosen core. They’re skinny when they get there. Shy.

    Self-conscious to the point of smudging a little goop in their hair prior to trotting out for an intra-club. But each of them has been selected for a specific purpose in a grander scheme. There’s no list-cloggers here.

    And they’re finally growing into their frames. Charlie Dixon, Sam Day and Tom Lynch are now enormous men – muscle on muscle, athletic, tireless and totally unafraid. Find me a defence capable of stymying that trio when the engine starts purring.

    For a long time now Gary Ablett’s wizardry has stood out. But these days the kid brigade of Jaeger O’Meara, Jack Martin, and David Swallow are raring to go. They’re all bullocks. And you can’t tag the lot of them. I’ve lost count at how many first round picks exist within Suns ranks. Their maturing depth is mind-boggling.

    The Suns have now been around long enough to cast aside talent. Much was made of St Kilda palming off Nick Dal Santo and Brendon Goddard, but both had run races and a new era needed funding.

    The Suns, on the other hand, can afford to discard good players almost before the starter’s gun is loaded. Tasmanian utility Maverick Weller, one of the most highly regarded under-agers going around when first listed as a 17-year-old now (perhaps a little ironically) finds himself at the Saints on a second chance when a long-term first crack at it seemed assured as an inaugural Sun.

    Same goes for rakish ruck Tom Hickey. He was moved on not necessarily for being substandard or unwilling but for simply being one good tall too many on a list gladly lengthened to help foreshorten the gap between startup and salad days.

    Now the window is open.

    And not just because of player development.

    The bed is well-feathered here on the Goldie. The media is friendly because the Suns are an easy get. Like everywhere else, no one here reads The Australian. That makes the Gold Coast a one (struggling) News Limited tabloid town.

    The Suns offer dot-to-dot copy and great pictures more often than not with a new pride-and-joy stadium or a sparkling beach as a backdrop.

    That leaves tough questions about the cost of Karmichael Hunt’s place, Nathan Bock’s various indiscretions or any other awkward enquiries to the rag up the road. But who here on the Gold Coast cares what the Courier Mail says?

    The city, too, has warmed quickly to its AFL club. People here love their team. Kids especially. The Suns have been actively and savvily infiltrating hearts and minds. They’ve travelled in uniform and in number and with a welcoming smile. Their community program is run with real heart and boundless energy.

    And in the space of just a few years the Suns have made mini-Sherrins a regular sight on beaches. Not long ago you’d only see all-weather Steedens twirling here and there.

    There are other signs, too, of a club sharpening its bayonet.

    There’s healthy competition brewing at the top of the administrative tree with talk of Andrew Travis, the Suns’ second-in-charge, taking on more of what was once exclusively the domain of CEO Travis Auld.

    Talk too of the churn of long-term staffers who’ve eventually figured a pittance dressed as exciting proximity to elite sport doesn’t necessarily pay the bills and of newer, refreshingly passionate ‘better fits’ moving in.

    A new left-field sponsor in Fiat – a fellow ‘challenger brand’ according to club marketing gumph – to supplement the AFL handball that was first up partner Virgin Australia and at a time when sponsorship dollars unattached to gambling are hens’ teeth.

    And so a corporate jawline is freshly chiseled.

    It’s all streamlining the model – the taper before the assault on the upper echelons. The best people in the best roles doing the best work at the best time.

    On or off the park, the same rules apply.

    Tonight it’s the Suns big men – the absence of whom was once such a flaw – who wear down their Bomber opponents from five goals back to take a win on the buzzer with a rushed point. Fitness – a decided lack of it another bugbear of seasons past – saw them home with a full spinnaker.

    And regardless of opposition or occasion, a win is a win is a win.

    Unlike most sides (lets be frank, few barely care to raise a sweat in the NAB Challenge), the Suns need to make a fist of these otherwise infinitesimally trivial trial games. Success is the only real stadium-filler around these parts. football failed. The Titans, for all their impressive if underfunded effort, struggle to keep up. The surf remains a constant distraction.

    But for the Suns a jigsaw puzzle cut by an expansionist agenda now awaits final assembly.

    They are ready to pounce, this lot.

    It has all been planned just so.

    Now we must watch on as the fabric of someone’s fervent imagination is woven into a premiership tilt.

    And whether or not we in the outer with our lifelong, sentimental allegiance to a time long lost choose to judge how and why they go about it doesn’t really matter in the slightest.

    Matt Webber
    Matt Webber

    Matt Webber is a former lawyer turned author, a presenter on 91.7 ABC Gold Coast, a once busy cricketer, and a fuzz-blues guitar aficionado who surfs when he can. Melbourne-bred but Sydney-raised he now calls South East Queensland home. Matt wrote about the Suns' first year as an AFL club in his book House of the Rising Suns (Random House).

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    The Crowd Says (49)

    • February 20th 2014 @ 11:56am
      Macca said | February 20th 2014 @ 11:56am | ! Report

      Someone at this site needs to do some serous work on article titles – here the title states “Suns by the numbers” which would seem to indicate some sort of meaningful analysis, yet we are treated to a wistful essay full of emotion and platitudes which is really nothing more than a vanity puff piece – it is eloquant yes but basicaly boils down to “I like the suns”

    • February 20th 2014 @ 11:56am
      Macca said | February 20th 2014 @ 11:56am | ! Report

      .

    • February 20th 2014 @ 12:22pm
      IanW said | February 20th 2014 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

      Macca,

      One of the constants of the site is the absolute incompetence of the subeditors.

      They really, really need to be fired.

    • February 20th 2014 @ 12:33pm
      Whiskers said | February 20th 2014 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

      It’s a rugby/ soccer site. Most of their football articles seem to be posted and subbed with mild indifference.

    • February 20th 2014 @ 12:51pm
      Matt Webber said | February 20th 2014 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

      Macca,

      Although I’m always rapt when someone reads anything I scribble, I think you’ve missed the article’s subtext entirely. Given same, I’m going to bite. Let me spell it out. I don’t know if I like the Suns or not. Frankly the Suns leave me totally befuddled. It’s entirely arguable that they are not so much a club as a series of potential deliverables jotted on a whiteboard at AFL House a few years back (hence the article’s title). I admire their business development. I admire the talent they’ve gathered and the way they play. But do I like them? I don’t know and nor do I suspect they care much – at 42 and rusted on elsewhere I don’t fit their long term strategy. My kids do, though. Should their choice be so pressured by seemingly ever-present merchandising over and above the organic connectivity I relied on as young fella? Is that our game’s future? I’m troubled by the prospect of franchises built upon marketing opportunity over history. I do know I find it difficult to warm to expansionism when too many clubs struggle. I’m also troubled by what I think is an overly generous headstart. Or is this simply how it is now? All these things and more.

      I should also point out that when someone gripes about subediting in a post including the words ‘eloquant’, ‘basicaly’ and an uncapitalised proper noun it’s a bit hard not to giggle.

      Regardless of that, though, cheers for the discussion starter.

      Matt

      • February 20th 2014 @ 1:01pm
        Whiskers said | February 20th 2014 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

        In regards to your silly slight, not capping proper nouns is a sin picked up by sub editors, something posters aren’t afforded

      • February 20th 2014 @ 1:11pm
        Macca said | February 20th 2014 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

        Matt – I was not criticising your article per se – just that I read it because the headline lead me to believe there would eb an actual analysis of the Suns and ended up with some theatrical musings – the article itself was well enough written but I it was just not what was advertised and did not provide any real insight into the prosipects of the actual football side.

        As for my typo’s I apologise profusely but the point I made still stands, especially as the only numbers referenced in the article are James Hirds number (in a foray nothing to do wioth the Suns and somewhat out of place) and Maverick Wellers age when he was drafted over 4 years ago.

        • February 20th 2014 @ 1:17pm
          Matt Webber said | February 20th 2014 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

          No need to apologise for spelling mistakes, mate! I was simply making a cheap point.

          The headline is simply a play on a hackneyed phrase. You know. Doing something ‘by the numbers’ is akin to assembling flat packed furniture or otherwise not deviating from a plan. That was the intention of it. And it was my headline by the way. The subby had nil to do with it.

          Theatrical musings, eh. 🙂

          Fair enough!

          I’ll get heavy on the stats next time the Suns cross my radar ;).

          • February 20th 2014 @ 1:22pm
            Macca said | February 20th 2014 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

            The pgrase “Too clever by half” comes to mind with the title Matt.

    • February 20th 2014 @ 1:11pm
      Matt Webber said | February 20th 2014 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

      There’s no full stop on the end of that sentence, Whiskers.

      🙂

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