So the Gold Coast Suns have lost 11 matches in a row. They’ve never made the finals, and in their nine-year history they’ve won ten games in a season just once.
Clearly something must be done. The Gold Coast Suns hierarchy is lobbying hard, calling for a priority pick after their first round pick, which will almost certainly be in the top two anyway.
Do the Gold Coast Suns need help? Certainly.
Could they use a priority pick? Absolutely.
Would this be fair? Unequivocally not.
Since they entered the competition Gold Coast have selected in the top five of the draft three more times than any team not named Greater Western Sydney and in the top ten nine more times. Access to the draft has not been their problem.
They’ve drafted in the top ten of the draft 16 times since entering the draft for the first time in November 2010. That’s roughly equal to the total number of top-ten picks selected by the other three teams who haven’t won a final in that time – Brisbane, Essendon and St Kilda have a total of 17 picks in the top ten in that time.
We all know why Essendon struggled during that time, and their story has been often told. But let us just say that a lot of the circumstances that have contributed to their struggles have been self-inflicted.
Brisbane have already received a priority pick to combat their struggles.
So who would it be fair to give a priority pick to? Not the Gold Coast, but St Kilda.
Let’s for a moment cast aside the contention that during their struggles this decade St Kilda have been very poor for long periods but have never really tanked.
And St Kilda could have certainly done things differently. In retrospect it was a questionable decision to hand Alan Richardson a contract extension at the end of 2017, but it wasn’t too controversial at the time. St Kilda had gone 23-21 in the two preceding seasons.
But since then St Kilda has been particularly struck by bad, dumb luck.
There were question marks over Paddy McCartin as a No. 1 pick before his concussions got worse, but he was a safe pick in what has proven to be an underwhelming draft class – by my estimation there are only three elite players who were taken in that draft, and two of them were academy selections – and he was a No. 1 pick nonetheless. Now most struggle to see him playing another AFL game.
Even more unlucky was the loss of Dylan Roberton. In 2017 he finished second in the St Kilda best and fairest and was named in the All Australian squad. Four games into 2018 he collapsed with a heart condition and hasn’t played an AFL game since. He didn’t do his knee or tear his hamstring off the bone. As with McCartin, many think his AFL career is over due to a condition no-one could have foreseen.
Considering the lack of access to the draft, with its increasing inability to select the best players due to academies and father-son selections, it is clear that if the AFL want St Kilda to be competitive, a priority pick is a foundational starting point.
Melbourne made a preliminary final last year and Brisbane are on course for similar success this season. The one thing they have in common is that at some point the AFL decided that it could no longer tolerate how those two clubs were performing and intervened. With Brisbane this involved a priority draft pick.
The time has come for the AFL to provide St Kilda with some meaningful assistance.
That is, if the AFL want St Kilda to continue in their current form and location. And if not, they should come clean.