The big difference for 2013 Suns? Belief

SportsFanGC Roar Guru

By SportsFanGC, SportsFanGC is a Roar Guru

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    The Gold Coast Suns look to have turned the corner after thrashing the Melbourne Demons (Image: AFL Media)

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    On the first Sunday afternoon of September 2013, the Gold Coast Suns completed their third season in the AFL with a thumping 83-point win over fellow newcomers the GWS Giants.

    The game was played at their magnificent Metricon Stadium home before an expectant crowd of 13,080 fans, mostly decked in the red and yellow colours of their club (with a surprising number of GWS fans in the away supporters’ bay as well).

    I say an expectant crowd because the fans came to see a win, but it was more than that.

    They came to watch the Suns players stamp their authority on a team that at the beginning of the year had many, both in the media and in football fan circles alike, talking them up as closer to success than the Suns.

    Gary Ablett Jr was once again the standout player with 33 possessions and four goals, showing true class, skill and leadership to his younger teammates.

    It’s not out of order to say that Ablett Jr will go down as one of the most important signings that the Suns will ever make.

    As I watched the game unfold (and the final margin grow), I remembered that there is only one season of AFL experience in difference between the two new clubs. There is, however, a chasm in skill and belief.

    The first two seasons of AFL level football that the Suns endured were not a baptism of fire – it was much tougher than that.

    It is not unfair to say that the Suns were cannon fodder for almost all teams (except GWS) in the league.

    Most would have seen an upcoming game against the Suns as a great opportunity to bank the four competition points on offer, get a healthy percentage boost and get some sun and surf if they were making the trip to the Gold Coast.

    The two trips that the Geelong Cats made to the Gold Coast in 2011 and 2012 were organised as week-long stays prior to their games against the Suns. The Geelong players were definitely in holiday mode, putting in two very lacklustre efforts but managing to come away with the win on both occasions due to their class and experience.

    Of course, there were exceptions. Richmond sold three home games to play in Cairns between 2011 and 2013, subsequently losing the first two of those to the Suns.

    I doubt any Suns fan will forget Karmichael Hunt kicking the winning goal after the siren during that crazy final 90 seconds of football at Cazaly’s Stadium in in Round 16, 2012.

    Carlton famously traveled to Metricon Stadium in Round 22 in August last year hoping to keep their finals dream alive, only to be ambushed by the Suns in the first quarter of the game. The Suns managed to hang on under relentless Carlton pressure for the next three quarters.

    Brett Ratten’s fate as Carlton head coach was sealed by this result.

    The low point for the Suns was last year’s Round 7 loss to the GWS Giants in Canberra. It not only gave the Giants their first ever win, but had many questioning the recruiting decisions made in the previous two years of the Suns.

    Coach Guy McKenna came under heavy fire from the media early in 2012, but Suns management took the heat out of the situation by signing him to a two-year contract extension in May 2012.

    After the completion of the 2012 season the Gold Coast Suns had managed six wins from 44 games completed. With the exception of Gary Ablett Jr, the Suns players did not believe that they could compete for an entire game against the rest of the competition.

    The question leading into the 2013 season for the Suns was how many wins would be considered a successful season?

    The season started with a bang in Round 1, the team scoring a convincing win over St Kilda at Metricon Stadium to kick off the Easter long weekend.

    There was a sense at that game that the crowd expected more this season from the Suns. Simply fronting up and being competitive for two or three quarters of a game was no longer going to be considered good enough.

    The Suns were now expected to put in four quarters of solid effort, be competitive and win if the opportunity presented itself.

    The 2013 season will be remembered for milestone games being reached by Gary Ablett Jr (250) and David Swallow, Trent McKenzie, Dion Prestia and Matt Shaw (50 games) as well as arguably the best club win of their time in the AFL – a seven-point thriller over Collingwood on the Gold Coast in Round 17.

    The Suns beat the teams around them on the ladder (GWS (twice), Western Bulldogs, St Kilda, Melbourne (twice) and North Melbourne) and put in gallant efforts against powerhouse clubs Hawthorn and Geelong in back-to-back trips to Victoria in Rounds 9 and 10.

    The real change in mindset from both the club and fans comes from a few other games of the 2013 season. I firmly believe that losses suffered during the 2013 season will define how this playing group progress as they strive to play finals and ultimately win the premiership.

    Following home defeats to Brisbane, Fremantle, Carlton and Adelaide, plus tight losses away to Port Adelaide and West Coast, the football world could see that there was palpable disappointment from the Suns.

    The coaching and playing group primed themselves with the belief that they finally belonged in the AFL and that those games were winnable for a variety of different reasons.

    Season 2013 will be remembered as the year that the Suns started to fulfill the potential they’d shown glimpses of during their first three seasons. They reached a total of eight wins, which was more than double what they managed in either of their first two outings.

    The Suns have a pack of exciting young players, led by 2013 NAB Rising Star Jaeger O’Meara, who are learning their craft from the best player in the game currently in potential Brownlow Medallist Gary Ablett Jr.

    How do you put a price on the information he’ll give these up-and-coming superstars regarding training, recovery, preparation, competitiveness, skill, class and off-field role model behaviour?

    The Suns now believe that they can match it with any team in the competition, at any ground in the competition, and it is going to be an exciting next phase of the club’s development to see how seasons 2014-2016 play out.

    John Witheriff, Gold Coast Suns Chairman, stated that the Suns are aiming for 20,000 members and a Premiership within three years. My bet is he closer to achieving that goal with the club than even he realised at the beginning of season 2013.

    Gold Coast Suns supporters are now believers. We will see them playing in September within the next two seasons.

    And there’s a very strong chance they could make the last Saturday in September in 2016 as forecast by their Chairman earlier this year.

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    The Crowd Says (16)

    • Roar Rookie

      September 5th 2013 @ 8:10am
      josh said | September 5th 2013 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      There was some talk about having 4 or so pre-seasons under your belt to be a true AFL footballer, this preseason will be their 4th. I think a premiership may be a while off (inside 3 years seems optimistic; but you need to set goals), a finals appearance isn’t.

      • Roar Guru

        September 5th 2013 @ 8:24am
        SportsFanGC said | September 5th 2013 @ 8:24am | ! Report

        Hi Josh,

        I think at the start of the year when the Chairman came out and stated their aims of 20,000 members and a premiership within 3 years many were surprised and probably thought this would add to much pressure to a group coming off a total of 6 wins in the previous two years.

        I do agree that after this pre-season they should have the capacity to run out games strongly, the next progression of the development will be to further limit skill errors and continue to develop the belief that they can beat anyone, the mental side of the game often gets lost when everyone focuses just on beep tests and gym work.

        • Roar Rookie

          September 5th 2013 @ 8:53am
          josh said | September 5th 2013 @ 8:53am | ! Report

          A few things can improve for the Suns next season, fitness and mental belief (coming of an 8 win season helps, especially wins over Collingwood and North Melbourne) the next is memberships. A Queensland crowd loves nothing more than a winning team.

          The Suns could have got inside the 8 this year. A 2 point loss over Brisbane (as a Lions fan first, the Lions were lucky to get away with that match) and another 9 point loss to Richmond and two 17 point losses to West Coast and Port; these are the games and opposition the Suns need to target as wins to improve.

    • September 5th 2013 @ 8:42am
      mark said | September 5th 2013 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      Ablett seems to think they are target, finals next year seems quite obtainable.

    • September 5th 2013 @ 10:08am
      Samual Johnson said | September 5th 2013 @ 10:08am | ! Report

      Where are the NRL and soccer nay-sayers now? The soccer club is now defunct and a figment of history, the NRL club is bordering on bankruptcy and struggles to get a crowd.

      AFL has done it the right way, building from the ground up to build a legacy. Obviously the Giants will come along in the same fashion.

      For mine the 20,000 members and finals appearances are a fait accompli in the next couple of years, the big challenge is building tv ratings in SE Queensland for AFL. That is a major challenge. But the foundations are in place now for it to work.

    • September 5th 2013 @ 10:38am
      Australian Rules said | September 5th 2013 @ 10:38am | ! Report

      The Suns are one of the most exciting clubs in the competition.

      Fantastic stadium (fantastic stadium deal to boot); a fresh brand; exciting young team; enormous growth potential in terms of supporter base.

      If you think Sydney loves a winner, wait for the Gold Coast. If this team are pushing top 4 in a few years it’ll take over the town.

      I should also say, that the AFL’s expansion model…plant a seed and start watering…looks to have sprouted quite nicely.

      • Roar Guru

        September 5th 2013 @ 10:53am
        SportsFanGC said | September 5th 2013 @ 10:53am | ! Report

        AR – having been to roughly half a dozen games this year at Metricon Stadium and I agree that it is fantastic, easy to move around and great sight lines from just about any section of the stadium.

        The Suns are on the up, more players will hit the 50 game milestone next year, G Ablett Jr will continue to lead from the front and everyone I have spoken with are pretty keen to see Jack Martin strut his stuff on the AFL stage, he has from all reports been tearing up the NEAFL this season.

        Also to keep in mind for the Suns is that they still have a relatively low draft pick this year in the first round, which should net them another quality player.

    • September 5th 2013 @ 11:25am
      Winston said | September 5th 2013 @ 11:25am | ! Report

      How about a new coach? It’s one thing to have Guy McKenna develop the young side, but then when they enter the premiership window (which if you look at their target it means starting in 2 years or so). How good would it be to then get say Alstair Clarson or John Worsfold.

      • Roar Rookie

        September 5th 2013 @ 11:45am
        josh said | September 5th 2013 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        Agree they need a coach to take them to the next level.

      • Roar Guru

        September 5th 2013 @ 12:15pm
        SportsFanGC said | September 5th 2013 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        Winston I think that they are backing McKenna to keep going with this squad.

        I think that the players are behind him which is also important and with continued improvement there would be no reason for the board to replace him.

        Although this list would be a very attractive proposition for any coach (starting or recently retired).

      • September 5th 2013 @ 12:44pm
        Stavros said | September 5th 2013 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

        I don’t understand this talk about replacing McKenna, what indication is there that he can’t take them to the next level? Worsfold and Ckarkson were inexperienced coaches at one stage as well.

        Also not sure about the 20k members, that might be a while off. They do have 12k that go week in week out, but adding another 8k won’t be easy. They will get some big crowds when they become a legitimate top 8 side though.

        • September 5th 2013 @ 7:36pm
          Winston said | September 5th 2013 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

          I’m not necessarily saying he’s bad, but Clarkson and Worsfold are proven coaches with premierships under their belts. That’s hard to beat.

    • Roar Guru

      September 5th 2013 @ 12:24pm
      TomC said | September 5th 2013 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

      Right now they are competitive at home and uncompetitive away. Successful interstate sides are dominant at home and competitive away. There’s a lot of work to get from the former to the latter.

      It’s tricky to set a timeframe on success for a team like the Suns (and the Giants), because no one has ever had such a collection of high draft picks together at the one time. You would expect that these youngsters would rise quicker and to a higher level than most young teams.

      But there is still a lot of improvement needed to play finals. Typically you’d need 12 or 13 wins under the current system so they’ll have to start winning games away from home.

      They’ve made big strides in 2013, and generally young teams tend to improve in fits and spurts rather than consistently marching up the ladder, so I suspect 2014 will be a year of consolidation.

      2015 will be interesting.

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