Gold Coast’s historic Round 5 victory over Port Adelaide may have silenced some of the cynics taking aim at the AFL’s bold expansion project, but last weekend was a stark reminder of the reality of the situation. While the Suns were thumped in record fashion by Essendon by 139 points, the GWS Giants proved uncompetitive in a 89-point hammering from VFL club Northern Bullants in the Foxtel Cup. Ouch!
You wonder how those results would have been received had Gold Coast not beaten Port the week before.
Firstly, though, I’d say the majority of footy fans supported the AFL’s move to expand the game into new markets but one of the big questions has been the way they’ve gone about expansion this time around.
Gold Coast and GWS’s heavy reliance on youngsters is very different to the way Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide came into the AFL in the nineties.
Of course, stockpiling the two new clubs with the best young talent in the country ensures they should be looking forward to a premiership window in four or five years time. But in the meantime can an uncompetitive AFL team survive in a foreign market dominated by support for rival codes.
It’s a big question but you know the AFL will ensure the finances are covered (particularly following last week’s new broadcast deal) to keep the clubs afloat.
But the actual question is will these clubs garner support from the targeted markets? After all, that’s the point of expansion – attracting news fans to the game.
Watching your local team get thumped by 20 goals isn’t exactly an appealing Saturday afternoon, particularly if you’re not terribly fond of AFL.
And witnessing Saturday’s mauling of the Giants by the Bullants I’d suggest Western Sydneysiders should expect more of the same next year. Saturday’s game was a disaster for GWS, as the Bullants kicked 12 goals to nil by half-time to kill the contest. It was painful viewing.
Of course, Kevin Sheedy and the Giants have time to work on it but they’ve clearly got a long way to go.
And I often wonder if there will be a negative stigma attached to these clubs in their first few years among the local community if they get thumped every week, or whether there will be a sense of patience from the locals looking forward to that premiership window.
Perhaps on the Gold Coast where there is a big ex-Victorian population they will see the bigger picture.
But in Western Sydney, where rugby league and soccer are the codes of choice, I’m certain an uncompetitive AFL team won’t captivate the market and perhaps that negative stigma will pervade the club’s identity for years to come, even if the team improves.
This fear has prompted calls from many people to suggest GWS shouldn’t follow the Suns’ example of focusing on youth and rather stock up on mature-age recruits to ensure they will be competitive.
But, of course, there’s no guarantees that’s the recipe to being competitive and I’d argue it’s definitely not the recipe to a premiership window in four or five years time, despite the success of a sprinkling of mature-age players in the AFL in the past year or two.
So are people suggesting that’s the compromise which needs to taken in the Western Sydney market which may not be as forgiving as the Gold Coast. Immediate competitiveness over a premiership window in the near future?
It’s an interesting question.
But then again, you need to remind yourself that the Gold Coast example is five games old. Who knows where the Suns will be by the end of the season?
And fortunately for the Giants they don’t need to make any recruiting decisions until just then, the end of the season.
They’ve got two things going for them: the benefit of witnessing the Suns example and time. But given Saturday’s performance – for the sake of the club – let’s hope they follow the right path.