GOLD Coast has turned up the heat on its young list, employing a running coach in a bid to close the gap to the competition's best.
In a plan hatched by new high performance manager Alex Rigby in September, the Suns struck an arrangement with the powerful Gold Coast Run Co squad.
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It signifies a change in philosophy from the club that it's taking running more seriously.
During the off-season up to 20 players attended optional sessions with the squad coached by former national-level distance runner Jacko Elliott.
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What started as a loose arrangement has since been formalised, with Elliott employed by Gold Coast on a part-time basis to work with it during pre-season.
While Elliott took a group of players, the remainder underwent an equally running-heavy program set by Rigby and his staff.
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The early results are encouraging.
At the club's 2km time trial in early November, the average improvement across the group was 15 seconds.
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Fourth-year midfielder Brayden Fiorini, who dropped 20 seconds from his previous best time, said the idea to seek a specialist running coach was a joint decision between Rigby and the players.
"We chatted to him (Rigby) to ask how we could have a bigger off-season than we have had in the past and try to catch up on the comp a little bit because in previous seasons we have been running out of legs," Fiorini told AFL.com.au.
"It wasn't compulsory.
"Instead of running by yourself, when you run with other people you're pushing yourself harder."
Gold Coast was the worst fourth-quarter team in the AFL last season, winning just three final terms.
In one notorious stretch during the middle of the year they failed to kick a goal in four successive fourth quarters.
As October rolled around, the group at Burleigh's Pizzey Park swelled, not only featuring young players like Fiorini, Lachie Weller, Touk Miller and Jack Bowes, but also older heads like David Swallow and ruckmen Jarrod Witts and Tom Nicholls.
They would generally train twice each week – starting at 5.30am – and line up with some of Queensland's best runners.
They were at the mercy of whatever Elliott threw at them.
Rather than the traditional off-season diet of short intervals, the Suns were exposed to more 'runner-specific' sessions like hill repeats as well as 400m and 1km efforts on the track.
The Suns' players have shaved plenty off their personal best times. Picture: Gold Coast Run Co
"We just listened to Jacko … and trusted the process," Fiorini said.
"He pushed you along, helped with pacing and helped with form a bit too, so technically we ran better.
"We're the fittest we have been, so it's going well."
With 13 new players and 11 new staff, the change in pre-season philosophy is another example of what CEO Mark Evans described as a total "transformation" of Gold Coast.
The philosophy is simple – to become better runners, train with them.
"It's not going to be the biggest improvement for me, but little bits you can find to become a better footballer, you take it," Fiorini said.
"Everyone is doing the same program in pre-season and in-season so it's hard to catch up.
"To do it in the off-season is the best chance. Every bit helps."