THE CONNECTOR is back.
Adelaide's Tom Lynch became renowned by that nickname at the Crows throughout the club's recent peak period, with the clever phrase stemming from his supreme ability to provide the vital link between the side's midfield and attack.
The nickname grew to such an extent that when the 193cm forward turned down interest from Victoria to commit his future to the club back in 2015, the Crows announced the news on social media via a simple image of a connector pen.
Fans instantly knew what the club meant by the picture.
Well, fast-forward five years and The Connector is in vogue again. The AFL's new standing rules have opened up the game, making for a more end-to-end spectacle. It's led to clubs scrambling to find their own link-men to help in transition.
Unsurprisingly, the rule changes have also brought out the best in Lynch. Now 30 years of age, the Adelaide forward is the game's best Connector once more … although he has some stiff competition from a couple of young Swans.
Champion Data narrows down what makes a Connector into five categories. Percentage of score assists per disposal, score involvements from attacking midfield and kick inside-50 retention rate, mark percentage and team score percentage.
Essentially, all five statistical categories determine how well a player knits together the plays, runs and chains from the midfield and turns them into scoring opportunities for their side.
The results? Nobody connects better than Lynch. Of every player in the competition, the important Adelaide marking forward is the only one to rank top-five in each of the five statistical categories.
Lynch ranks No.1 for percentage of score involvements per disposal, No.5 for score involvements from attacking midfield, No.2 for kick inside-50 retention rate, No.5 for kick inside-50 mark percentage and No.4 for kick inside-50 to team score percentage.
Essentially, there's a reason the nickname first stuck with Lynch. But the stats also indicate a new breed of Connector is coming through the system at a rapid rate. And most come from Sydney.
Expand to the top-10 for the five statistical categories and only 11 players feature on multiple occasions. Three of them are young Swans who have helped inspire the club's 3-0 start to the season – Errol Gulden, Chad Warner and Jordan Dawson.
Gulden is one of only three players to feature in the top-10 in four out of the five Connector categories, alongside Lynch and triple-premiership Richmond player Kane Lambert. It's a remarkable feat, considering the 18-year-old is just three games into his AFL career.
Warner, who is 19 years old and just five games into his AFL career, is another young Sydney player with high-level football IQ who is helping John Longmire's side cause upset after upset this season.
The fact Dawson is also present in three out of the five statistical categories, despite Champion Data having logged him playing in the backline for 99.8 per cent of the season so far, is just as incredible.
The others featuring prominently with multiple top-10 entries in the Connector categories include West Coast's Liam Ryan, Hawthorn's Liam Shiels, Collingwood's Jack Crisp, Richmond superstar Dustin Martin, Melbourne's Angus Brayshaw and NAB AFL Rising Star winner Caleb Serong.
Geelong and North Melbourne are the only two teams without a single player in the top-10 in any of the five Connector categories.
Lynch's ability as The Connector caused a bidding market for his signature six years ago, with the forward attracting offers of up to $2 million from Victorian-based sides including Melbourne and Carlton.
Don't be surprised to see the role's re-emergence and subsequent importance in the game cause another scurry among clubs, as they all attempt to find their Connector for season 2021 and beyond.
THE CONNECTOR CATEGORIES
PERCENTAGE OF SCORE ASSISTS PER DISPOSAL
19% Tom Lynch (Adelaide)
19% Brent Daniels (GWS Giants)
17% Logan McDonald (Sydney)
16% Isaac Heeney (Sydney)
15% Dustin Martin (Richmond)
15% Laitham Vandermeer (Western Bulldogs)
15% Harry Himmelberg (GWS Giants)
15% Liam Ryan (West Coast)
SCORE INVOLVEMENTS FROM ATTACKING MIDFIELD
18 Chad Warner (Sydney)
17 Kane Lambert (Richmond)
16 Errol Gulden (Sydney)
15 Liam Shiels (Hawthorn)
14 Rory Sloane (Adelaide)
14 Tom Lynch (Adelaide)
14 Jordan Dawson (Sydney)
KICK INSIDE 50 RETENTION RATE*
77.8% James Aish (Fremantle)
75.0% Tom Lynch (Adelaide)
73.3% Errol Gulden (Sydney)
73.3% Chad Warner (Sydney)
72.7% Jordan Dawson (Sydney)
72.7% Liam Ryan (West Coast)
KICK INSIDE 50 MARK PERCENTAGE*
62.5% Travis Colyer (Fremantle)
53.8% Kane Lambert (Richmond)
50.0% Liam Shiels (Hawthorn)
46.7% Errol Gulden (Sydney)
41.7% Tom Lynch (Adelaide)
41.7% Travis Boak (Port Adelaide)
41.7% Ollie Florent (Sydney)
KICK INSIDE 50 TO TEAM SCORE PERCENTAGE*
72.7% Jordan Dawson (Sydney)
70.0% Angus Brayshaw (Melbourne)
69.2% Kane Lambert (Richmond)
66.7% Tom Lynch (Adelaide)
66.7% Chad Warner (Sydney)
* Stats are filtered by the top 100 players for total kicks into the forward-50