Tom Lynch must be allowed to make his own choice

Tim Lane Columnist

By Tim Lane, Tim Lane is a Roar Expert

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    As Tom Lynch deliberates over his future with Gold Coast, an issue bigger than the towering forward himself has emerged.

    Lynch, as is well known, will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and suitor clubs are queuing up.

    So, on one hand the competitiveness of one of the AFL’s expansion clubs is at stake. On the other hand, though, is something more important.

    The AFL might have to decide the extent to which it is an entertainment choreographer as well as a sports administration. And if it is both, and these days that is pretty much undeniable, which is the greater priority?

    The suggestion of some commentators, that the AFL should stump up money to ensure Lynch stays with the Suns, would once have been viewed as outrageous.

    But it reflects the reality that the business of football is seen, by some observers at least, as an environment in which this is permissible.

    Whatever happened to the expectation that a football administration must necessarily remain detached from the particular interests of any one team or individual?

    As with so much that’s viewed through the prism of the modern game, the line is blurred between reasonable, legislated equalisation and one-off, opportunistic ‘management’.

    After all, the AFL commission has overturned the result of a game – achieved on the field according to the rules – in its boardroom (the so-called ‘Sirengate’ match in 2006). A player who admitted he should have been suspended (Barry Hall), played in a winning Grand Final team. The ‘match review’ part of the league’s judicial process is now entirely without independence, having become an extension of the AFL football department.

    This is an organisation which regards its charter as being at least as much about business as it is about sport. And in business, the ethos is do whatever it takes.

    AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    In fact, the administration of a big professional sport has greater freedom than big business for it is basically accountable to no one.

    The AFL has a monopoly on elite Aussie Rules management. More than any other sport in the land, it is self-supporting and therefore isn’t obliged to observe any over-arching set of rules.

    Meanwhile, it is close to federal and state governments, to the extent that it even has its own department of government relations.

    So… back to the Tom Lynch situation.

    As much as the AFL might seek to portray it otherwise, this is a critical moment for the Gold Coast endeavour.

    Gary Ablett has gone home and is now part of the Suns’ history. Charlie Dixon is at Port Adelaide. Zac Smith, like Ablett, is at Geelong.

    Top ten picks in the club’s initial set-up, Josh Caddy and Dion Prestia, have returned to Victoria and found not just a fuller football life but, indeed, premiership glory.

    The latter pair, both selected just ahead of Lynch in the 2010 National Draft, provide a parable that Gold Coast players might think about as they consider how their careers will play out.

    Dion Prestia Richmond Tigers 2017 AFL

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    And those players will include Lynch. Later this year he will turn 26 and he will have a niggling awareness that, as John Kennedy used to remind his Hawthorn players, ‘it’s later than you think’.

    Lynch has spent half of a career with the fledgeling club and, while history might one day tell of him having played a noble role in a worthy cause, he can’t possibly know at this point of his life that a full career with Gold Coast will fulfil his ambitions.

    So, he has a fundamental – and serious – question to ask himself. If he stays, is it possible he will spend an entire football career not only with a battling club, but also swimming against the tide in a footy backwater?

    The choice Lynch makes is up to him and he must be allowed to make it free of pressure. Currently, the commentary that abounds on his difficult choice is to the effect that he will decide the future of a club. Not just any club, but one that is of crucial importance to the AFL. This is a heck of a load for a young person to carry.

    Lynch must be allowed to make his own judgement, free of pressure. Just as Patrick Dangerfield was when, in the wake of the unspeakably tragic death of his coach, Phil Walsh, Dangerfield chose to leave Adelaide.

    For all the rewards it can bring, football can also impose major sacrifices on those youngsters good enough to be draft-able.

    Being forced to leave home at 18, particularly for those taken across state borders, is a significant upheaval for both player and family.

    Those who have chosen to return home, like Caddy, Prestia, Chris Judd and others, made a perfectly understandable decision.

    And just as Dangerfield was allowed to make his decision in his own interests, so must Lynch be. Clubs lay out their best offers according to the rules and the player decides.

    The AFL’s needs in its modern expansion process were made clear by the acquisition of cross-code stars, Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau.

    The administration of the time lured high-profile performers from other codes with money: to give up what they were good at for a leap into the unknown. Neither story ended well.

    That pair might offer a cautionary tale. In the case of Tom Lynch, let him choose without pressure and live with the outcome.

    Tim Lane
    Tim Lane

    Tim Lane is one of the most respected voices in Australian sport, having gained a strong following for his weekly AFL column in The Age. Tim has also called 32 AFL/VFL grand finals and was behind the microphone for Cathy Freeman's memorable gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. You can catch him on Twitter @TimLaneSport.

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    The Crowd Says (41)

    • June 7th 2018 @ 9:17am
      Leighton said | June 7th 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      Good piece highlighting the big picture problem with Australian rules and the micro example of Lynch.

      Too much money, too many parasites (coaches, trainers media et al) and a shoddy governance (see capricious Commission, conflicts of interest, messing with tribunal, rule changes, joke forays into China etc) and the balance of a commercial product against a sport is well out of kilter.

      As I see it the answer lies in the membership based clubs standing up and pulling back some power. They have been eroded since they signed up to the AFL Commission, with plenty of clubs no longer independent via loan guarantees or hand picked and compromised boards. But member owned clubs are the unique thing about the game and the model is rare in the world. They are for the most part not ‘franchises’ (that ugly American term) or the play things of rich blokes. They are owned by their members who simply enjoy footy and want to be a part of their team.

      The clubs must assert their power and claim something back off the AFL and a players body in the AFLPA that is now primarily serving the interests of its top rungs via free agency – footy players pulling million dollar salaries is frankly grotesque. But can the clubs and their members that form the core of what is now the league act in a collective interest for the best long term interests of the game? Hard to see it happening at the moment.

      • June 7th 2018 @ 9:51am
        Tom M said | June 7th 2018 @ 9:51am | ! Report

        While I agree that the AFLPA has too much power, I disagree strongly that players earning 1million is Grotesque. If clubs are will to offer a player that much why can he not take it? Does it sicken you that the average wage of an AFL player is over 350,000k per season? Get with the times and stop being a damn dinosaur. AFL memberships are higher than they ever have been and the AFL is miles ahead of any other code in the Country. Yea the Gold Coast AFL side is a failure at present, but grassroots football on the gold coast has never been stronger and as such the club is serving its primary purpose.

    • June 7th 2018 @ 9:30am
      Liam said | June 7th 2018 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      Great article Tim.

      The extent to which plenty around the AFL sphere are willing to debate contracts and trades is borderline for me. On one hand, AFL’s a sport that makes money when it entertains, and americanisations like Supercoach and its variations encourage fans to view players both as numbers and interchangeable. On the other, the players are people, at their place of work; they have next to no privacy, and while they are well remunerated for their travails the intrusiveness is still distasteful.

      It comes out, not only around Lynch, but around Marc Murphy as well. Murphy has not actually said anything to the media concerning a prospective trade; he said he would have to ‘consider his future’, after suffering a severe foot injury. Once upon a time, that’d be code for retirement; instead, the media has turned it into fuel to continue to debate whether or not a club captain will leave their club. We had an absolute plethora of viewpoints – from Nick Riewoldt, Bob Murphy, Damien Barrett, and plenty more – discussing Murphy’s options, his position, whether he should stay or go.

      At what point does giving your opinion about what someone else should do with their lives become exactly what it is; a completely unwelcome and uncalled for perversion of what journalists call the ‘public interest’?

    • Roar Guru

      June 7th 2018 @ 9:46am
      Paul Dawson said | June 7th 2018 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      This is a much better piece than your Hawthorn ‘disaster’ one Tim! Enjoyed this a lot.

      I really feel for Lynch, you articulated his predicament very well. I would think it very harsh indeed if anyone were to blame him for walking out on the Suns, because he has given them 8 years or whatever it is and watched them go absolutely nowhere – Lynch sees O’Meara at the Hawks and Prestia at Richmond – and I think it will be a foregone conclusion that you won’t be seeing Lynch at the Suns in 2019.

      And good luck to him, the Suns will have to go on without him and work out a path forward, but I think with or without Lynch they’ll always be an ordinary side anyway.

    • June 7th 2018 @ 10:00am
      Tom M said | June 7th 2018 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      Good article Tim, definitely one of your better pieces. Lynch should be afforded the same luxury any other player in the game has, if he wants to leave than he should be allowed to free from criticism that he has doomed the GC footy club. When he leaves there will be an outcry for maybe a year but things are quickly forgotten in the AFL. He deserves the chance to come to Melbourne and show the competition how good he is. He has given the Gold Coast enough time to get its act together and they couldn’t, he shouldn’t be held responsible for it either.

    • June 7th 2018 @ 11:10am
      Mr X said | June 7th 2018 @ 11:10am | ! Report

      Great stuff legend

    • Roar Rookie

      June 7th 2018 @ 11:15am
      WCE said | June 7th 2018 @ 11:15am | ! Report

      well written article. Like every other player , you play for a flag , the ultimate pinnacle of the sport and sadly Lynch won’t experience that feeling staying at GC

      • Roar Rookie

        June 8th 2018 @ 10:28am
        Seano said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:28am | ! Report

        Yeah he should leave and chase a flag like Delideo or stay because of loyalty like Lin Jong.

        Both players who will never play in a flag that could have.

        Is Lenny Hayes less of a player because he didn’t win one? What about Gary Ablett SnR?

        Are they worse players that Paul Hills?

        No choice is right, no choice is wrong it’s just his choice.

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