With the impending finish to the weird and wacky 2020 AFL season, the silly season is about to begin. And the silly season means one thing: trade period.
After starting a season 3-0 for the first time in their history, and with the chance to go 5-0 in the next fortnight, one thing is about to become very clear: the Gold Coast Suns have grown up, right in front of our very eyes.
This comes in spite of a disastrous 2015 season in which coach Rodney Eade had to deal with injuries and disciplinary issues, as well as the trading away of two of their foundation players in Charlie Dixon and Harley Bennell.
In addition, despite being expected by many to take the next step up and make the finals for the first time in their history last year, they won only four games and drew one as they struggled to adapt to the standards set by Eade, who replaced foundation coach Guy McKenna at the end of the 2014 season.
McKenna had overseen the club’s first four years during which they suffered several horrific defeats (including a 119-point loss to Carlton in their inaugural match) as they continued to build a list that can perform up to AFL standard.
It was during this time that Gary Ablett Jr, who had to adjust to playing in a developing side following several successful years at the Geelong Cats, continued to maintain his individual form en route to a second Brownlow Medal in 2013.
And though the club would achieve their best ladder finish of 12th in 2014, it was deemed that McKenna was not the man to take the club forward. He was subsequently replaced by Eade, who has now overseen the Suns’ best ever start to an AFL season (and hence the best start by an expansion side in recent years).
Should they continue their impressive start to the season, the breakthrough that many expected would happen twelve months ago when he took over could come sooner rather than later.
Following on from impressive victories over Essendon and Fremantle in the opening two rounds, the Suns withstood some resistance from Carlton to win by 54 points and, with North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs still to play this afternoon, join the Sydney Swans on 12 premiership points with a 3-0 record.
The win over the Blues came on the back of over 70 disposals shared between Aaron Hall and two-time Brownlow Medallist Gary Ablett Jr, and vice-captain Tom Lynch, who kicked four goals to take a surprise lead in the Coleman Medal tally with 13 majors for the season.
Hall may have potentially denied Ablett maximum votes but there’s no doubting the latter is just about back to his best following two injury-plagued seasons following his second Brownlow Medal victory in 2013.
He had started the 2014 season on fire and was on track to become the first man since Robert Harvey in 1997-8 to successfully defend the medal before a serious shoulder injury suffered against Collingwood in Round 16 put paid to those hopes.
Suns fans will be thinking what could have been had their captain not suffered that fateful injury on that first Saturday night of July: the club could have made the finals that year and Guy McKenna would still be their coach today.
Instead, the Suns’ inability to win without him on a regular basis was to be the catalyst towards his dismissal at the end of the season, and he was replaced by veteran coach Rodney Eade.
The former Sydney Swans and Western Bulldogs coach arrived with plenty of expectations, including looking to extract the full potential out of the playing list he inherited from foundation coach McKenna.
That included taking the club to the finals for the first time and getting Ablett back to his Brownlow Medal winning form, having oversaw Adam Cooney winning the medal while he was coach of the Bulldogs in 2008.
But instead he was confronted with issue after issue nearly every week including Ablett resting his sore shoulder and later suffering a season-ending knee injury as well as disciplinary issues involving key players Charlie Dixon and Harley Bennell.
Ablett’s leadership also came into question during those issues and after deciding enough was enough, Dixon and Bennell sought trades to Port Adelaide and Fremantle respectively at the end of the season.
During Ablett’s absence, Lynch stood up and led the club well towards the back end of the season, leading the club’s goalkicking and winning their best-and-fairest.
But now, persistence is starting to pay off for Eade and the Gold Coast Suns and they are starting to grow into and perform like an established club, with the days of heavy defeats and excuses well and truly over.
With matches against the Brisbane Lions and North Melbourne to come in the next fortnight, it’s possible they could be 5-0 by the time they face Ablett’s old club, the Geelong Cats, at Simonds Stadium in Round 6.
The Suns have won three of the last four QClashes against the Lions, the last two without their captain, and have also recently built a dominant record against the Kangaroos, winning the last three meetings in succession.
However, the North Melbourne side that will turn up in Round 5 will be the one that is expected to contend for the premiership this year, not the one that has lost their last three meetings to the Suns dating back to mid-2013.
As a matter of fact, Brad Scott’s men should also take a 4-0 record to the Gold Coast, given they face the inconsistent Melbourne in Hobart today and then the winless Fremantle at Etihad Stadium next week.
And so, it’s all ahead of the Gold Coast Suns to continue their hot start to the season and continue their growth from boys to men. If they can do that, then finals could be a possibility for the club this year.
There is, however, still a long way to go this season and as the saying goes, anything could happen between now and September.