Jesse Lonergan
Jesse Lonergan

They insist they didn't mean to, but Gold Coast has stumbled upon the perfect replacement for the departed Josh Caddy in hard-as-nails Tasmanian teenager Jesse Lonergan.

The Suns' first round draft pick in Thursday's AFL Draft held in Broadbeach, the strapping midfielder has three years of senior football with Launceston under his belt and looks likely to pick up right where Geelong defector Caddy left off in the expansion side's engine room.

There were concerns when Caddy requested a move home to Victoria that a young Suns outfit would find it difficult to replace his hustle and bustle at the bottom of the pack, but 18-year-old Lonergan's fearless attitude should have put them to rest.

Lonergan started playing in Tasmanian first-grade football at the tender age of 15, against men twice his size, and has come out a player unfazed of the physical challenges of the AFL.

"It fast-tracked me a lot. It taught me don't be scared of it - attack the ball," Lonergan said.

"If you're scared you get hurt even more. There's a few bullies back home so they pick on the young guy.

"You've got to beat them with your own skill."

That was music to the ears of Gold Coast recruting boss Scott Clayton, who put together a list of talented youngsters that had their wiry frames put to the test over the club's first two years.

"As a player, in his words, he has a crack all the time. And he does," he said.

"Clearly we just love the way Lonergan goes about his footy. He's a real clearance, inside, tackling machine.

"He bashes in and enjoys the competitiveness of a combative game.

"He's extremely competitive and wants to be the best player that he can. They're all good signs."

Lonergan has long been talked about as a ready-made replacement for Caddy, who shook off an injury-riddled first season on the tourist strip to play 22 games in 2012, averaging 15 touches a game.

"We hadn't thought of it that way but he's (Lonergan) certainly going to play in that position," Clayton said.

"And he's certainly physically ready to play. and we'll give him every chance.

"He had a setback with a knee for a lot of this year so there's a lot more improvement in him.

"Everyone that comes in has got a lot of conditioning work to do so I don't want to pre-empt where that will be in a few months time, but he'll have every chance to push for a claim. It's in his hands now to take the opportunity."

Lonergan is feeling no pressure to live up to Caddy's rising profile.

"You don't really worry about that," he said.

"You already know in yourself and you've got people around to to tell you what you need to work on and what your role is in the team. I'm excited to get there and play that role."

He's also excited to be playing alongside Gary Ablett, the Suns' superstar captain who is somehow raising the bar year on year.

"To be honest for the first month I'm going to be starstruck, seeing him around and trying to run around training with him," Lonergan said.

"He's a magic man. I'm just excited to get there and learn as much off him as I can."


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