Heading into round 17, Gold Coast sat eighth on the AFL ladder. They had just come off an inspiring win with no rotations for the whole of the last quarter against Collingwood in round 16. Their extremely talented midfield continued to be marveled at from AFL fans all over the country. ‘Ablett, Swallow, Prestia, O’Meara, Bennell. Can they fight for a premiership as early as next year?’
Their fixture was one of the best out of all top eight teams. They had the Western Bulldogs, Brisbane, St Kilda and Carlton – four of the bottom six sides at the time. It all looked positive for the Suns who were, in most people’s eyes, very likely to finish in the top eight for the first time in their short history.
So, what could go so wrong that the Gold Coast would only win one game from their next five? The only feasible answer is the lack of a certain superstar named Gary Ablett. It is astonishing to think that a team can rely on one player so heavily, but the truth is they do. Had Ablett not suffered a season-ending injury, the Suns would have all but secured a top eight spot by this stage of the season.
It is no longer reasonable to blame tired legs. This is the Suns’ fourth year in the AFL and it’s time for some mature-aged players to stand up and show their endeavour to play finals football. Not just when Ablett is playing, because when that’s the case his teammates play their role well, not really well, but well enough to snatch the four points because the little master is normally putting on a clinic. It’s time for the players to realise, when Ablett is not playing, there needs to be a substantial lift in intensity to make up for such a big loss. At the moment it’s not coming.
To say there’s no more run in the legs is unrealistic. There are more than enough capable players on the list who should understand the occasion and rise to it accordingly. If Gold Coast are really wearing out so much as to lose games to the Bulldogs, Brisbane and Carlton in the space of five weeks, then their bid for a premiership may be another two or three years away.
The numbers are there to prove the drop-off from top-line players since round 17. From rounds 1-16, Dion Prestia had accumulated less than 25 possessions only four times. In the three losing games against the Bulldogs, Brisbane and Carlton, his highest possession count was a mere 22. David Swallow has averaged 17.6 disposals in his past five games, quite a staggering contrast to his average of 23.6 disposals from rounds 1-16. Especially given the lower quality teams the Suns played in most recent weeks.
When arguably the Suns’ best two midfielders have quite significant form lapses, it becomes easier to see the real problem in front of Guy McKenna. There need to be more leaders on the field that put their hand up and demonstrate they can still challenge and compete well against any other side.
It shouldn’t be a case when their best player is out, it becomes a matter of win and loss. The Suns have too many high-quality players for that to be the case, but they need to understand victories are just going to happen for them. They have to make it happen with a stern will and desire to win the footy and give their forwards the best opportunity to kick a winning score.
The two remaining rounds have Gold Coast playing Essendon at Etihad before finishing up against West Coast at Metricon. The Suns should be playing finals in 2014, but at this point in time it would almost take a miracle. If Suns had the chance to rewind time one month ago, they would grasp it. They were on the brink of securing a top eight spot, but ultimately shot themselves in the leg. They need to learn to walk in Ablett’s shoes and, until they do, might find themselves still quite a while away from being serious premiership contenders.