"Finals" was not the "f" word many expected Gold Coast captain Gary Ablett to utter after the Suns’ second-last round clash with Carlton.
However, Ablett believes a top eight finish could come sooner rather than later after their shock 12-point last-start win over the Blues, that instead had Carlton coach Brett Ratten cursing his fortunes. Despite nursing a 20-strong injury list and banishing star utility Jared Brennan to the reserves, the Suns pulled off the upset of the season to end Carlton’s finals hopes.
"It’s going to give the guys a huge amount of confidence going into next year - there’s no doubt about that," Ablett told reporters.
"I think next year is still going to be another learning year.
"If we play the game style that we want to play, we can match it with most sides.
"I’m hoping we can play finals footy (but) I think people have got to remember it’s going to take time."
Ablett showed no sign of a severe flu that hampered his preparation to play another inspirational hand against Carlton, further enhancing his Brownlow Medal chances.
But Suns coach Guy McKenna believed the Gold Coast should not be dismissed as a one-man team. Indeed the likes of youngsters Charlie Dixon - the first player signed by the Suns - and Michael Coad were shining lights for the Gold Coast on Saturday night in what McKenna believed was an indication of things to come.
"It has probably taken him two years to let go a little bit, have some trust in the other players," McKenna said of Ablett.
"He is a proud skipper and he wants to lead from the front.
"I wouldn’t say he has handed over the baton - it’s a long way before that happens.
"But him having the trust now in some of those blokes to go there and get it forward for him, it helps our side going forward."
In another shot in the arm for the Suns, Dixon knocked back interest from Hawthorn and Geelong to re-sign for another three seasons.
But Brennan’s horror run has continued. While he showed promising form in the reserves last weekend he rolled his ankle late in the third quarter and did not return to the field.