If this is perceived as a prop to a club that has scored own goals in the past, the rescue package is really a correction for the AFL’s own blunders when the Suns were established, as the league – wrongly – assumed that the Suns would be an easier sell to players and staff than GWS, which was then based in the far west of Sydney.
The Suns entered the competition with insufficient people with experience in key roles and they did not receive the same recruiting concessions as the Giants, whose mature recruits – especially Phil Davis and Callan Ward – were inspired selections.
In their pitch, the Suns cleverly planted the idea with headquarters that if they were travelling better than expected then the AFL would have the option of reducing these concessions – removing picks next year or in 2021, or taking away the freebie deal on Gold Coast academy players (who can be just added to their list).
But let’s face it, this is unlikely to happen.
Gold Coast also used the handouts given to the Swans in the ’90s as a point of comparison for the AFL commission, while chief executive Mark Evans buttressed his arguments by showing the AFL how his old team, Hawthorn, had managed to stay thereabouts by trading and free agency, virtually without having any early draft picks over the past decade.
The Suns got most of what they sought: picks galore, free academy players, Darwin in their academy zone, extra spots for rookies – all of it over three years.
Where they failed in their lobbying was in getting a salary cap allowance, such as the cost of living allowance that Sydney and GWS lost post-Buddy Franklin, to assist with retention, easily their greatest issue.
Gillon McLachlan has an ideological view that clubs should operate on more or less the same salary cap. The league cites the Lions’ rise up the ladder, with no salary cap advantage, as a case in point, and also argues that the extra money would be swallowed up without making a difference.
Only time will prove McLachlan and the league right on that score. I would have given the Suns a moderate allowance – less than the 10 per cent the Swans had – over that three year period, in view of the club’s unique challenges.
It cannot have hurt the Suns that Richmond had gained both Tom Lynch and Dion Prestia and reached another grand final with three ex-Suns (Josh Caddy too), and that, as with Jaeger O’Meara, Steven May and Gary Ablett, the players that leave Gold Coast have been accepting less money than the Suns would have paid.
The most intriguing aspect of the hand out, though, is the while the Suns didn’t formally ask for this, the AFL is really handing them access to two specific players, Carey Grammar school mates Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell, who – barring some mishap or unexpected trade – will be headed to the Suns as a tandem.
Clearly, the fact that these close friends could come, as a pair – as if they were boarding Noah’s Ark – is supposed to improve the prospect of keeping them for long enough for Gold Coast to build a decent culture and team, in that order.
The AFL have given them a shot. Henceforth, it’s up to the Suns.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.