Tom Lynch had to choose between three of the AFL’s powerhouse clubs. Picture: AAP Images
Tom Lynch had to choose between three of the AFL’s powerhouse clubs. Picture: AAP Images

Inside story: Why Pies, Hawks really missed out on Lynch

DAN Butler swoops on a loose ball at the Punt Rd end, sidesteps Tom Scully and kicks Richmond into its first grand final for 35 years.

Player agent Robbie D'Orazio doesn't barrack for the Tigers but he reaches for his phone and dials his client, Gold Coast Suns skipper Tom Lynch, and relays the scenes of yellow and black delirium spilling out over the Melbourne Cricket Ground stands.

"It was the craziest thing I've ever been to," D'Orazio recalls of the 2017 twilight preliminary final between Richmond and Greater Western Sydney.

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"For crowd noise it was nearly the best game I've ever seen and I remember ringing Tom and saying, 'You deserve to be here'.

"When Richmond ran out that day you almost felt sorry for the Giants boys.

Tom Lynch was the biggest free agent signing in the game when he joined Richmond. Picture: Getty Images
Tom Lynch was the biggest free agent signing in the game when he joined Richmond. Picture: Getty Images

"That was when he was first thinking of what he was going to do as a free agent. But at that stage it was probably more me than anything getting caught up in the moment."

Lynch played the next season at Gold Coast, his eighth at the struggling expansion club, but knew he had options as footy's most sought after free agent.

Surgery to his posterior cruciate ligament in June 2018 ended his season and accelerated the race for his signature.

Lynch, from Sorrento on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, made the decision to come home two months later.

"He gave everything he had to the Gold Coast and I don't think anyone could begrudge him for leaving, but the club wanted an answer and he gave it to them," D'Orazio said.

On Thursday, August 2, 2018, Lynch walked into Suns chief executive Mark Evans' office and told him he was leaving.

The club immediately stripped him of the captaincy and banned him from doing rehab in the football department before he was attacked for his lack of loyalty at a players-only meeting led by several younger teammates.

"That was interesting," D'Orazio said.

"Tom is the best bloke you will ever meet. He's a ripper. I know people say that, but he is legitimate. You ask him to jump and he'll say, 'How high?'

"He's just a gentleman. He'd given the Gold Coast his all and wanted them to succeed, but it was time to come home."

Through a process of elimination, Lynch, D'Orazio and senior player manager Paul Connors narrowed it down to three clubs: Hawthorn, Collingwood and Richmond.

"Once he got his mind around coming home it was probably only ever those three," D'Orazio said this week.

When the story broke that Lynch wanted out, former Richmond assistant coach Mark Williams declared on Adelaide radio that the star forward had eyes only for the Tigers.

"It's been a 2-3-year process to get Tom Lynch to Richmond. I'm telling you it will happen," Williams said.

But D'Orazio insisted no decision had been made.

Master coach Alastair Clarkson put in a bold pitch best remembered for an episode of levity in which Lynch lost track of his use of nicknames.

Clarkson began referring to Connors as "Jake", the club's fitness guru Andrew Russell as "Jack" and Hawthorn midfielder and former Sun Jaeger O'Meara as "JOM".

Tom Lynch gave the Gold Coast Suns everything he had. Picture: Getty Images
Tom Lynch gave the Gold Coast Suns everything he had. Picture: Getty Images

"Paul is called Jake from his school days (named after the wrestler Jake 'the Snake' Roberts), so Clarko is going 'Jake', 'JOM' and 'Jack' and after the meeting Tommy walked out and he's like 'who the f--- is Jake and JOM and Jack?"

"It was pretty funny."

Hawthorn came agonisingly close, but the pending retirement of Jarryd Roughead made a partnership with Richmond spearhead Jack Riewoldt more appealing to Lynch.

Collingwood pushed hard all the way.

Coach Nathan Buckley complicated the Pies' bid in July by admitting on Channel 9 that he had personally met Lynch before the Suns knew of his decision to depart.

"It wasn't anything major - it was just a bit annoying," D'Orazio said.

The Magpies fluffed their lines again when journalists were tipped off about a secret meeting between Lynch and Pies' recruiting boss Ned Guy at the Lynch family home in Blairgowrie.

Guy narrowly avoided a waiting TV crew by running through bushland at the rear of the house.

"I remember looking out the window and saw a camera - I still don't know how they knew we were there," D'Orazio said.

Others suspect the source of the leak was a senior football official with strong media connections.

D'Orazio said Richmond was "the right fit" for Lynch.

Over coffee in a Toorak Village deli in early October 2018, a Richmond contingency of Neil Balme, Brendon Gale and Blair Hartley got the answer they wanted.

Lynch called coach Damien Hardwick an hour later and the deal was done.

Friendships with former Suns teammates turned Tigers Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy didn't hurt. Nor did Collingwood's upset win over the Tigers in the 2018 preliminary final.

Lynch felt joining a team on the road to redemption would be easier than one in pursuit of a three-peat.

He knocked back far bigger financial offers at other clubs and remains outside Richmond's top-three earners.

"It wasn't about the money for him at all. He just wanted to win and have some success," D'Orazio said.

Twelve months later, Lynch played in his first finals series and won a flag in his own MCG romp over the Giants.

"I remember trying to squeeze into the rooms. It was hard to get in," D'Orazio said.

"His mum and dad were there, his girlfriend Olivia, who is a star, and I had my wife Sarah there as well. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

"It was pretty cool. It's not often that it's a fairytale end to a trade and you win it in your first year.

"He made the right call."

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