The derision levelled at the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney for what many believe has been an armchair ride doesn’t look like winding up any time soon.
Footy fans, particularly in Victoria, are still struggling to come to terms with what they feel were unfair and preferential concessions provided at the expense of founding clubs – especially those already battling.
Ask fans of clubs who remain rooted at the bottom of the ladder, are in the midst of lengthy premiership droughts – or both – how they feel. Their exasperation and bitterness is real. So much so that any success experienced by the AFL’s newest franchises only riles them further.
The reality though has been vastly different. Even the most ardent and biased fans understood why the concession-laden silver platter was necessary. There was no real argument there but now, years after their inception, it’s time to cut them some slack.
Sure, the idea of draft privileges, millions of dollars and preferential treatment seemed outrageous at the time, but the geographical locations of the Suns and Giants alone told us how difficult life was going to be.
In actual fact, it’s been harder than most anticipated and is living proof that high-end draft picks and a seemingly endless supply of money don’t a premiership make.
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Not to mention the Giants are attempting to place a footprint in the rugby league heartland of western Sydney, where establishing a sporting team of any kind is tough, and the Suns are on the Gold Coast, where all other attempts to do likewise have failed dismally, regardless of the code.
But player retention was always going to be the major challenge – warding off big Melbourne clubs, who continually circle every first-round draft selection in an attempt to lure them south with the added ammunition of massive memberships, crowds and salaries. Other than money, these are factors the expansion clubs could take decades to generate.
Even after 36 years in the Harbour City, the Swans still need constant success to keep fickle, uninterested Sydneysiders curious.
Both the Suns and GWS are routinely raided every trade period. Jaeger O’Meara, Charlie Dixon, Dion Prestia, Caleb Marchbank, Josh Caddy, Tom Boyd, Adam Treloar, Will Hoskin-Elliot, Matt Kennedy, Jarrod Pickett and Cam McCarthy – just to name a few – are all at new clubs.
Suns co-captain Tom Lynch will almost certainly be next and rumours abound that Steven May will be requesting an early release from his contract too. The Giants Dylan Shiel is also very much on Carlton’s radar.
Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images
So what on Earth do we have to complain about?
Something worth remembering is the draft is not an exact science and early picks guarantee you nothing, but imagine if clubs had a place where first-round picks could ply their trade for three years at no cost to them. A place where players could be assessed to determine who can cut it at the highest level and who can’t.
Sounds a bit like fantasy land doesn’t it? Wrong.
These wonderful, magical places do exist in the form of Metricon and Spotless stadiums.
No, we should not lampoon the Suns, Giants or AFL for an uneven playing field. This competition will never be truly even anyway.
With a multitude of first-round picks on both lists, it is mostly the ‘go home’ factor that sees players consistently on-traded for further early picks in a cycle almost impossible to break. It’s a constantly revolving door the best young talent pass through each year.
Gold Coast and GWS are now feeder clubs for the rest of the competition. They are drafting and developing talent for the benefit of other clubs, who watch from afar, identify their prey, and then throw the kitchen sink at them.
Of course, not all of them are gettable, but enough have been and will continue to be. The salary cap alone will force this and, if history is any guide, clubs will continue to pick off developed and ready-made Suns and Giants.
It doesn’t always work, but let’s be realistic: how many young footballers lay awake at night thinking about one day representing the Suns or Giants in front of 9000 fans? Only time restricts them from fulfilling their real dreams of playing in front of packed stands at the MCG.
This is the perfect situation. So next time you feel like giving our northern neighbours a bash around the ears, just remember the wonderful and generous service they and the AFL are providing.