Tom Lynch has a party trick. Everyone has some sort of party trick.
With barely a little pressing, but perhaps with a tall cold beverage or two involved, the blond footballer will climb on a pushbike and ride it backwards.
How he came by this knowledge is anyone’s guess. He wasn’t a young BMXer, but it probably involved his mate Myles Pitt, the Sorrento Hotel and too much time on his hands.
Why is this relevant in a story about Lynch? It’s not really, it’s just the most unusual thing to be found out about this most affable footballer.
Tom Lynch is the labrador of footballers. Warm and with a softness that draws people over to, OK, well, not pat him, but at least say hello. They want to be near him and hang out with him because he is easy company.
Gold Coast could have reason to be bitter and angry with Lynch, their co-captain of last year leaving the Suns. But they’re not. The only cross word they have of him is that he is not still there.
The teams which missed out recruiting him – Collingwood and Hawthorn – could snidely offer mutterings of how they really dodged a bullet or other such snippiness to make themselves feel better about missing out, but none of that is said about Lynch. They just gush about what a nice fellow he is and how much they wished they had snared him.
Lynch could have been the player who walked into a premiership team on more money than anyone in the team (all right, maybe not more than Dusty) and made them jealous. But he hasn’t.
When you ask Lynch about Matthew Lloyd observing that he was a liability for Richmond early in the season (a criticism that didn’t age well) Lynch smiles, mutters about knowing he was entering the fishbowl in Melbourne and sort of defends Lloyd.
“I think there was three or four weeks when I was down on numbers,” he said.
“One of the things I knew coming down to Melbourne was increased scrutiny but to be honest I spoke to ‘Dimma’ and to Andy McQualter, the forward coach. I knew if you listen to everyone you weigh yourself down.
“In goal tally I started the year OK but sort of the six-week mark when I wasn’t kicking as many goals I thought I was playing better footy in terms of all those things like connection. I think it was in that period where I wasn’t kicking the goals that I was earlier in the season.’’
He smiles too when asked about Alex Rance clumsily making the candid observation at Lynch’s under-development when he got to Richmond. It was a comment intended to convey his excitement at Lynch’s upside, but was taken as a slight on the Suns and their football program.
“To be honest I thought, I think it [Rance’s comment] was on the back of watching me do one-on-one drills and I was a fair way off it at that stage. I couldn’t really pick up the flight of the ball,” Lynch said.
“We more or less had a laugh about it. I don’t think he thought too much through, it was an off-the-cuff comment.
“I was just coming out of rehab and I wasn’t picking up the flight of the ball – I find picking up the flight of the ball is the hardest thing when you haven’t played much footy, or for me it is. I was probably all at sea in the one-on-one drills for a while there.”
Suffice to say he is now picking up the ball very well. Lynch has steadily improved in form week on week. Coming off his posterior cruciate ligament surgery last year, the hope was for him to play round one, but his full fitness would take time.
It has only been since the mid-year bye that he has begun training twice a week. Prior to that he trained on the Thursday, but on a Tuesday he would just jog slow laps.
The trust in his knee, and in particular confidence to jump into packs to mark, has improved. He is happy to ruck around the ground now, but will still avoid the centre bounce because of the fear of damage from collisions.
“I just felt like I have built into the season not just me but the little things you learn with your players: who likes to kick it long, who likes you to lead up and being in a new club I had to learn that quickly,” Lynch said.
“I think picking up the ball flight has got better and the strength in my legs has got better throughout the season so [it’s now easier] for me to read the ball better and launch into those packs better.”
Andrew McQualter first met Lynch when they played at Gold Coast. McQualter was the Saints veteran brought north to help the fledgling club in its formative years. He got a close look at the star boy forward.
“He was this quiet, friendly kid and I remember saying to him, ‘Mate you don’t know how much you remind me of Nick Riewoldt’. And his face just lit up, he was only 20 at the time, and he just started giggling. He didn’t speak he just giggled,” McQualter said.
The comparison was not out of place, but where Riewoldt carried his determination on his deep brow, Lynch’s determination was hidden behind his boyish smile.
“Because he is such a rock-solid person one of the things that gets missed about him is how incredibly competitive he is on the field,” said McQualter, reunited with Lynch at Richmond where he is the forwards coach.
The second term that is quickly uttered by people about Lynch is he is fiercely loyal. That comment seems slightly at odds with the idea of a co-captain walking out on his club.
McQualter reconciles it by offering that Lynch’s loyalty was shown in staying with the Suns as long as he did. But it was also his first, and keenest loyalty to his family and close friends in Sorrento that informed the decision to leave Gold Coast.
“I always think the most loyal people, or footballers, are the ones who are still close mates with their childhood friends and Tom is still really close with them all in Sorrento,” McQualter said.
Because he is such a rock-solid person one of the things that gets missed about him is how incredibly competitive he is on the field.
Andrew McQualter on Tom Lynch
Lynch still reddens slightly and shifts in his seat when asked about leaving the Suns.
“I did feel guilty leaving, definitely,” he admits. “Contrary to public opinion I was really weighing it up and first of all I just wanted to make the decision on whether I wanted to play footy at Gold Coast or not without entering too much into which club I might go to and what that would look like because I wanted to be clear in my mind if I wanted to move from a club first.
“It wasn’t until half way through the year that I thought I’d be keen to move home and when I got the news about going in for surgery it was best to sit down and really cement that I was keen to come home and I spoke to the club then.
“It was a tough position for both parties really. They were keen for me to tell them when I crystalised in my mind what I wanted to do. So I did that the best I could.
“I told the club – the coach and the CEO Mark Evans and key people and some close mates – and we thought it best if we didn’t tell the rest of the playing group.
“I told them before I came down and then it was fairly well publicised when I met with clubs when I came down.
“If I was in their position [the Suns players] I would feel pretty disappointed because they weren’t privy to the information that I already told the footy club, they didn’t know anything about that.
“I could completely understand, I would be pretty annoyed if I was them. So I came back up and told them. I felt very privileged to be able to captain a footy club, to captain Gold Coast alongside Steven and definitely that was one of the major things I was thinking about with leaving was being captain of the footy club. You don’t want your captain leaving.
“I still hope they go well, I have a lot of close friends there.”
McQualter said that when he arrived at Richmond Lynch behaved like a respectful first-year player, not another club’s ex-captain.
“It was fascinating to watch him go about it. He didn’t come in with the attitude ‘I have been a club captain’ and was barking orders. He just listened and learned and showed his way of leadership without overpowering people.”
He was also trying to find his place in the group. He arrived as an injured player and so was unable to display his talents to the new teammates. As he said, he had trouble reading the ball in flight and getting back into the rhythm of football after an injury lay-off.
Amusingly, the team’s pre-season camp was up on the Gold Coast. Lynch was doing rehab on the outside of the oval when Robbie Inness, running the group, said he could join in a drill.
It was just a simple kicking drill but he got involved and did it. He doubted the other players were even aware he was there but he nervously joined in, took his kick and ran through. Suddenly players came at him from everywhere. He was mobbed. It was just a minor drill but suddenly now he was part of it, he was one of them.
“It was pretty special. It was a bit embarrassing but pretty special at the same time,” he said.
It was Rance who called all the boys to run to Lynch.
As much as he had felt part of Gold Coast and loyal to them, his first loyalty was to home, and home is the Mornington Peninsula. He grew up in Blairgowrie and Sorrento and it is where his closest friends, like Myles Pitt, still live.
Every chance he gets he now he drives down the peninsula, goes to Sorrento footy club and to the Pitt family’s pub, the Sorrento Hotel.
Lynch was close to former Collingwood and Port Adelaide player John McCarthy who died in an accident in Las Vegas on an end-of-season trip in 2012. His death only tightened the bond among the Sorrento mates.
“We are all close,” said Pitt, who played at Port Melbourne.
“Bloody oath, Johnny and him had a great relationship. He was three years older but he was a mentor to Lynchy going through the draft. They had a great relationship.
“We are all really close here. It’s a tight crew. The Sorrento footy club is a really tight club, really close. Everyone comes back and plays again at Sorrento; no one goes off playing for other clubs chasing money.”
Tom Lynch was a Sun and is now a Tiger, but he’ll always be a Sorrento boy.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.