Most experts had the Suns pushing for the top eight but not quite getting there, which is just the way the season panned out. But after starting 7-2, Gold Coast won just three games in the final 13 weeks to completely hit the wall. Gary Ablett's season-ending shoulder injury in round 16
completely derailed their campaign.
Everything was going rosy for Guy McKenna early on as the Suns won games, and he was re-signed until the end of 2015. But after the late season wobble and with expectations set to rise again, he will be under the microscope next season.
-The big question before the season was whether Gold Coast’s key position players could stand up. Tom Lynch is now arguably the best young forward under 22 in the League, while Steven May pinned down the fullback position for the long-term. The emphatic answer was 'yes'.
-The Suns were ranked third in contested possessions and fourth in clearances. Most coaches use these indicators as barometers for success, and the super-talented Suns midfield generally took a step forward in this department.
-The contract extensions of young stars David Swallow, Harley Bennell, Sam Day, Brandon Matera, Tom Nicholls and May – among others
– was a huge tick for the club's culture and retention program. No-one's leaving because of homesickness.
-The season fell apart when Ablett got injured. While the young midfield rallied over the final three weeks to recapture some good form, the team as a whole failed to take responsibility in the skipper's absence.
-The Suns' reserves team failed to win a game in the NEAFL. They were decimated by injuries in the back half of the season and had to utilise lower standard top-up players, but it's a major issue. While their top-end talent is unquestionable, the Suns’ depth appears well behind that of fellow expansion outfit GWS, which dominates the NEAFL.
-More bad luck than bad management, but the Suns were dealt a terrible hand with injuries. Aside from Ablett, the big man stocks took a battering as Nicholls, May, Rory Thompson, Zac Smith and Charlie Dixon all missed chunks or played hobbled.
He missed the final seven matches, but Ablett still holds this mantle by some way. His 15 matches were peerless - averaging 32 disposals, kicking 24 goals and being ranked first for average contested possessions and clearances. You only have to look at what happened when he didn't play (1-6) to realise his influence.
He started the season as a fringe player, but May finished it as one of the most crucial. Was given the responsibility of playing at fullback and took his chance with both hands, taking on the opposition's best forward every week, and more often than not, winning. A super season that had him in All Australian contention for the first 15 rounds.
Best rookie/first-year player
In a close call, Kade Kolodjashnij gets the nod here. The Tasmanian taken at No.5 in last year's NAB AFL Draft instantly looked at home at half-back and impressed with his composure under pressure. He is an elite ball user and long-term prospect and was nominated for this year's Rising Star award
. Jack Martin finished with a flourish after dislocating his shoulder in round one and has limitless potential.
It’s tough to be too harsh on him but Sam Day struggled to find the rise in form many expected. While fellow talls Lynch and May flourished in their fourth seasons, Day stagnated after a promising first eight weeks. His task was made more difficult when thrown down back and into the ruck, but the exciting South Australian will be hoping for a more consistent 2015.
The five-point win over Collingwood, round 16, Metricon Stadium.
In undoubtedly the best win of Gold Coast's four-year history, the Suns played the last quarter with no interchange rotations following second-half injuries to Ablett, Trent McKenzie, Dixon and Sean Lemmens. Out on their feet, and under immense pressure, the Suns overturned a half-time deficit for the most gutsy of wins.
This can be bundled up in one nightmare fortnight for the Suns. First Ablett's dislocated shoulder required season-ending surgery, then following an acceptable loss against the Western Bulldogs, they were humiliated by the neighbouring Brisbane Lions. It was an insipid display and one the Suns never really recovered from.
What needs to improve?
Whether it's mental or physical, Gold Coast needs to run seasons out better. In 2013 the Suns won three of their final 11 matches, and this season it was worse, with three of the final 13. On the whole it's a young list that experienced a number of injury problems, but all the tools are there and those excuses won't wash as they enter year number five in the big time.
The club has said goodbye to Campbell Brown (sacked) and Karmichael Hunt (Queensland Reds)
, and this week delisted senior players Jackson Allen, Jack Hutchins, Jeremy Taylor and Matthew Warnock and rookie Leigh Osborne.
Trades/free agents: Aside from utility Luke Russell, who is yet to re-sign, the Suns' list is pretty much in order and they're unlikely to put anyone on the trade table.
What they need
McKenna has suggested they need another mature midfielder to complement the brigade of young talent, and after the late fade-out, it's hard to argue. Throw in another key defender too and their bases would be covered. When either Thompson or May went down, they looked thin at the key defensive posts.