TO be fair to the AFL, who could possibly foresee that an introduced football club was going to struggle in the same city where soccer, basketball, ice hockey, baseball and rugby (league and union) clubs had already failed?
The Gold Coast might be Australia's fastest growing population, but it also has a habit of doing for sporting clubs what global warming does for coral reefs.
Somewhat ironic that such a vibrant, young destination should be such a sporting graveyard.
But by offering up ever more toys for its problem child, the AFL is only serving to nurture a brat who will continue to take advantage until it is made to stand on its own two feet.
The most predictable 15 words of this, or any other, AFL season represented the top line of a press release issued early last week.
“The Gold Coast SUNS welcome the commitment and support of the AFL Commission and its Executive following the confirmation of the assistance package outlined this morning." - Chairman Tony Cochrane— Gold Coast Suns (@GoldCoastSUNS) September 30, 2019
"The Gold Coast SUNS has welcomed the AFL Commission assistance package provided to the club."
Aside from posing the question why the club feels the need to write its nickname in capital letters (maybe it's an acronym for Stump Up New Salaries), it left most fans pondering how much the other 17 clubs welcomed the package.
Announced by the league 58 minutes earlier, the package represented the latest of countless handouts to assist the ailing franchise which has singularly failed to come anywhere near finals in its nine-year existence, finished second-last for the previous two seasons and rock bottom this year after amassing a rather impressive 18 straight losses to finish the campaign.
The package involved four extra draft picks over the next three seasons, including this year's No. 1 selection (thus handing the club the first two picks) plus expanded academy player access incorporating the Darwin region, the ability to pre-sign academy players and an increased rookie list.
While the releases from both the AFL and Suns were crammed with carefully-worded spin ("critical to providing a sustainable solution to the current challenges"), a more relevant analysis was always going to come from the perspective of disadvantaged rival clubs.
While most grumbled behind closed doors, or dipped their toes into the media pool, Adelaide was one of the few clubs to go as far as publishing a statement on its website.
Acknowledging the need for "an appropriate assistance package", chief executive Andrew Fagan said there had been "significant interest in our view on this issue given we were involved in a trade for a future first round selection which falls in the upcoming national draft".
He added: "We have spoken with the League on several occasions in recent times and clearly and firmly expressed our view."
Sadly, he didn't add exactly what that view was.
Leigh Matthews, who led another Queensland-based club to four straight grand finals including three premierships, called the move "demoralising for the sport".
Sydney's former premiership coach Paul Roos said the Suns had a track record of failing to capitalise on draft pick incentives while Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon went a step further.
"The steps they've taken seem to me to be doing more of the same but expecting a different result," he told The Age.
Unsurprisingly, the most frank reaction came from the Hawthorn president.
Rarely shy to push a debate into unchartered waters, Jeff Kennett questioned whether the Gold Coast should have been established in the first place.
"The AFL is trying to give the Suns an opportunity to grow, but it's probably based on a recognition that must call into question whether the Gold Coast should have been established," Kennett told AFL Trade Radio.
He also cut to the chase by pointing out the elephant in AFL House: "It discriminates against the other clubs."
Just for good measure, Victoria's former Liberal Premier also threw in a bit of politics by describing the handout as an "extension of socialism in our lives".
An underlying issue behind the debate was raised by On The Couch host Gerard Healy about a month after retired Melbourne great Brad Green had made the same point in The Examiner.
"What it doesn't address is the R-word and that is retention," Healy said.
Since being established in 2010, the Suns have consistently struggled to keep hold of star players.
After prized recruit Gary Ablett returned to his ancestral home in Geelong, former co-captains Tom Lynch and Steven May left for Richmond and Melbourne respectively while Dion Prestia (Richmond) and Jaeger O'Meara (Hawthorn) also jumped ship with Jack Martin and Callum Ah Chee seeking to follow suit.
Discussing the prospect of a potential Tasmanian team joining the competition, Green had highlighted player retention and talent pool dilution as the most pressing issues facing the AFL.
"It's easy to say 'here's a 19th licence' but Gold Coast are struggling at the bottom of the ladder because they don't have enough talent," he said.
"If we are going to have another team is that healthy for the comp? That's the biggest hurdle for our game."
It was not lost on many that Gold Coast's ongoing and escalating problems coincide with co-expansion club Greater Western Sydney making its first grand final.
The Giants may have been cut down to size by Richmond but at least demonstrated that a new club can thrive in the competition.
So far the Suns have indicated the opposite.
Maybe the problem facing the AFL is bigger than player retention.
Perhaps it's a question of club retention.
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