Round 23 – Gold Coast v Port Adelaide: Through the gloom, but…

Through the gloom a light, but…


Gold Coast Suns 9.12 (66)
Port Adelaide 13.11 (89)


Maybe it was meant to be, that on a gloomy night at Carrara the man who did more than any other to illuminate the evening was called Gray. Port’s everywhere man was in everything and with the Gold Coast scraping out the barrel of their season they literally had no one to play on him.


And so on it cantered, through quarters one to three, little fight from the home team and the Power doing what they wanted. Jay Schulz got a nice career send-off, bagging three goals, but like much of his career was almost unsighted for the most of the game.


But then a flash in the last a fightback, through a kid call Brayden Fiorini who was determined to not autopilot into the post-season. It was his second game and he bobbed and weaved through and around packs, kept composed in front of goal and helped reduce the margin to 15. The only other person paying attention at the Red Dragon in Moorooka gave a cough and said, “we could be on here.”


But then we weren’t, one of those Port forwards who all look the same got one back and the stuffing was loose.


So both sides now have ten weeks to contemplate their fortunes. It might sound strange, but I think I’d rather be Rodney Eade than Ken Hinkley. Eade is about to get smashed by an off-season walkout which will place the entire club at risk. No other club has had the path to success laid so nakedly at its door yet seen its near entire first generation squandered.


Ablett’s shoulders have fallen apart, Swallow’s knees might be worse, O’Meara is heading for the exit after two years on the sidelines and Dion Prestia is not far behind. Rumours around the Southeast have it that some of the longer-term injured feel they’re getting less than optimum medical treatment. Should this be true there can be no faster way to beat down the exit door.


For Hinkley there is an extremely uncomfortable summer wondering if these players are really good enough, was 2014 that big an aberration? Some of these guys, like Ollie Wines and Chad Wingard might be spectacular, but the ball can come back suspiciously quickly if they don’t take a clean grab.


The upside for the Gold Coast is that a host of new players are coming their way. O’Meara won’t get to the club of his choice without some good trades, same with Prestia. With six picks inside the top 27, Gold Coast don’t need more picks, so it will have to be players or 2017 draft picks.


What do they need?

Any discussion around Gold Coast’s performance this season, and what their future  playing needs may be, have to be tempered by the horrendous list of injuries the club carried through 2016. At round 23 the Suns had 18 players on the injured list, 14 of which were long-term, most of whom had been injured for most of the season.


To protect against the reputation shattering image of poor injury management, the Gold Coast should establish an elite injury prevention and recuperation partnership with a local university. Griffith Uni already has a large number of elite researchers in this field, are closely connected to the 2018 Commonwealth Games and offer readymade training and scanning facilities to ensure the club has the best people and resources available and can tell that story. It might also help to get the youngsters thinking about something more than football.


As far as players go its perhaps better to start with what they don’t need. They have two big, young forwards in Lynch and Wright who should hopefully stay together for the next ten years. They have Sam May in defence. They have host of midfielders from Hall to Swallow to Ablett to came into the midfield


Forward – they need experience and speed and they can get some of this from Hawthorn if the rumoured O’Meara trade comes off. I would be looking for Puopolo and Bruest.


Midfield – contested ball beasts. In and under types who might be a little slower, but could clear some space, extract the hard ball and distribute. The only clubs with an excess of these players are the Bulldogs, Sydney and Geelong. Richmond literally has nothing that GC needs so any Prestia trade should be for future picks or thee way deals with the above mentioned teams to add some muscle.


Backs – Beyond mere personnel GC need a gang of six. Thomson and May are a great start. Saad running off half back is another and McKenzie’s rifle foot could be used better. But beyond that, they are a bunch of players, not the unit that most of the great teams possess. To that end the key could be a marking back in the Rampe (Syd), Taylor (Geel) or Grundy Syd) mould, that has nothing but timing on their side. The coolest of cool heads could help settle and bind a back six that is not known for its temperament.


Depth – Time to play hard ball, the Queensland competition needs to be improved dramatically and this is where GC needs to work with Brisbane and the AFL. A Q-Cup needs to be developed with 12 leading teams playing every week. Tasmania and NT should be raided as they’re unlikely to get an AFL team anytime soon. This league should be worked up to VFL level with player payments better than those on offer down south.


Significant work should go into this, so opportunities outside of football are maximised giving the players good reason to make the move.


I could go on about this forever, but it is crucial to a sustainable Aussie Rules culture in Queensland.


Culture – The Gold Coast has never produced a single successful sporting club at a state or national level that wasn’t sitting down or wearing speedos. The signing of Jarred Hayne to the Rugby League Titans will make the Sun’s challenge of filling their stadium regularly even more difficult. But the Suns need to get a real understanding of where they are, their place in the world and the need to connect with the locals far more deeply.


Some of the local Australian Rules clubs are really big and they need to be brought closer to the fold. As mentioned above, Gold Coast can’t hope to succeed until their local comps are stronger. The junior kids should all be getting tickets to the AFL games, discounted memberships for senior players and families, elite training for juniors at Carrara a few times a year, the old fashioned school visits (does anyone still do this?), form alliances with surf lifesaving clubs, bowls clubs, swimming clubs and get them wearing the colours.


The Gold Coast is largely a working town and many of these workers are in hospitality or allied health, whose peaking working time is Saturday and Sunday. The weekend is Monday and Tuesday so why not try a few games on these days? Above all the club needs to be seen to be reaching out at every possible opportunity, perhaps even asking the AFL for salary cap release for the players extra marketing load. They also need to realise their cultural zone extends beyond Mount Tamborine and out onto the Darling Downs.


Crunch time has come early for the Suns and they need and will need a whole of club and community effort to become something more than a handy team.


About Hamish Townsend

Hamish Townsend was born and raised in Geelong, supports the Cats and lives in Brisbane.

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