Nick Holman is one of the great second-chance stories in the AFL. A standout junior drafted by Carlton ahead of eight AFL 100-gamers and an AFL club captain, sacked by Carlton after two years and nine games, and after two years in the SANFL, re-drafted by the Gold Coast Suns as a rookie.

So when Holman played his 100th AFL game in Round 11 last year it was a very special moment. A triumph for sheer persistence and hard work, and the headline story in this week’s flashback series.

It was the first leg of the Suns’ Darwin experience last year, when Holman had 12 possessions, two goals, a team-high 10 tackles and two goal assists as the Suns beat the Western Bulldogs by seven points.

Ten years earlier Holman, from Kyabram in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley, was on track for a very promising AFL career when he was vice-captain of the Murray Bushrangers in the TAC Cup, shared Victorian Country’s MVP award at the 2013 Australian Under-18 championships and won a senior premiership.

He was something of a ‘big thing’ in Kyabram, a farming district with a reported 2023 population of 3658 which is home to ex-Melbourne captain turned media guru Garry Lyon, Richmond/GWS 275-gamer Brett Deledio and ex-Australian leg spinner Jimmy Higgs.

Holman was drafted by Carlton at #51 in the 2013 National Draft ahead of Port Adelaide’s Darcy Byrne-Jones (#52), Carlton livewire Orazio Fantasia (#55), Hawthorn captain James Sicily (#56), West Coast speedster Jayden Hunt (#57), Hawthorn wingman Karl Amon (#68) and Fremantle forward Matt Taberner (#70), plus Brisbane’s Charlie Cameron and the Bulldogs’ James Harmes, who began their AFL journey as rookies.

Carlton thought highly enough of him to give him the #20 jumper worn by Team of the Century fullback and AFL Hall of Famer Geoff Southby, but things didn’t come easily.

He copped a 108-point loss on debut in the penultimate game of 2014 under Mick Malthouse in his 709th game as an AFL coach, and by the time he played his second game in Round 13 2015 Malthouse had been sacked and John Barker was caretaker coach.

His second game was against the Suns at Marvel Stadium and delivered the only win of his time at the Blues, and in his sixth game he copped a 138-point loss to Hawthorn as club favorite Marc Murphy played his 200th game. At the end of the season he was delisted.

There was no great fuss or fanfare when, after two years with Central Districts in the SANFL, he was thrown a career lifeline by the Suns, but by the time of his 100th AFL game Holman had won the hearts of the Suns ‘family’ for his total commitment to the team cause.

With five different coaches in an AFL career that now stands at 120 games, Holman shares with vice-captain Sam Collins, dumped by Fremantle after 14 games, as the Suns’ great second-chance stories .

And, in a statistic which will put a smile on the face of the now 28-year-old, his 110th game for the Suns against North Melbourne in Darwin in Round 9 before he was rested last week puts him 13th on the club’s all-time games list – equal with Gary Ablett.

In other Round 11 highlights over the Suns’ 14 years in the AFL:

2011 - A Double Century

In the club’s ninth game in Round 11 inaugural captain Gary Ablett played his 200th AFL game as Taylor Hine debuted against West Coast at Subiaco. Despite Ablett’s 32 possessions, two goals and two Brownlow Medal votes in the club’s first trip to Perth the brave Suns went down by 18 points.

2013 – First Win v North

The Suns were 31 points down one minute into the second quarter against North Melbourne at People First Stadium in Round 11 2013 but kicked nine of the last 12 goals to post their first win over the Kangaroos 9-12 (66) to 8-3 (51). Gary Ablett had 33 possessions and two goals for three votes, and Jarrod Harbrow had 30 possessions and a goal for one vote in one of the club’s great early wins.

2014 – Swallow’s Career Best

In 229 games David Swallow has had 4598 possessions. He’s the club’s all-time leader and has 15 times topped 30 possessions. In his 61st game and the Suns’ first visit to Adelaide Oval in Round 11 2014 he had a career-best 37 against the Crows. A Swallow goal right on three-quarter time pulled the Suns to within nine points before they went down by 32 points.

2016 -  A Palm Beach Trailblazer

It’s become a regular thing for products of the Palm Beach-Currumbin to join the Suns, with the 2024 trio of Jed Walter, Ethan Read and Will Graham taking centre stage, but not to be forgotten is one of the trailblazers from the club, Jesse Joyce.

Having moved from Melbourne to Tweed Heads aged two and played with Coolangatta-Tweed Heads before the PBC Lions, Joyce joined the Suns via pick #67 in the rookie draft in November 2015 – the second-last of 91 first-time draftees.

But by Round 11 2016, when Gold Coast hosted the Sydney Swans, he’d fought his way into the senior side. And when the 15th-placed Suns led the eventual grand finalists by 11 points at quarter-time, and he was playing in the same part of the ground as Buddy Franklin, he was thinking ‘how good is this?’

The Swans bounced back to win by 38 points but an 18-year-old Joyce hadn’t looked out of place at the level. It was the first of 64 games for the red-headed half back who played his last game as the AFL competition was shutdown due to Covid in Round 1 2020. And there were plenty across the League who thought he was a little unlucky to be de-listed at the end of the year.

2017 – An Historic Late Winner

The Gold Coast posted their first win over West Coast in Round 11 2017 when Peter Wright kicked a last-minute winner from 52m. It was the 16th-placed Suns against the sixth-placed West Coast at People First Stadium. The Suns were down 11 points in the first quarter, up 15 points in the third quarter and down nine points with nine minutes to play.

A left-foot snap from Brandon Matera gave the home side a sniff before Wright, in his 30th game, got on the end of a long bomb from Jarrod Harbrow and kicked truly to clinch an 11-14 (80) to 11-11 (77) win in the shared 50th AFL game of now co-captains Jarrod Witts and Touk Miller.

They’d played a draw with the Eagles in 2015 but this was the first win over a side that 16 months later would win the 2018 flag.

2020 – A Draw on Debut … on a Wednesday night

Among 149 Suns players all-time 30 have enjoyed a win in their first game in red and yellow, and 118 have had to accept a loss. And one player has walked away from his Suns debut with the empty feeling of a draw. Who is it?

It was Sam Flanders in Round 11 of the 2020 season disrupted by Covid.  Sitting 11th on the ladder, a game behind the 10th-placed Bombers, the boy from Fish Creek in Gippsland fulfilled his childhood dream in the club’s first Wednesday night game.

The Suns led quarter-by-quarter by 10 points, 19 points and 12 points, and led until David Zaharakis squared it up and Kyle Langford put the visitors six points clear with 3min28sec on the clock.

Hugh Greenwood kicked long, #19 brought it to ground and Ben King, facing away from the goals, crumbed it nicely after Josh Corbett brought the ball to ground. He turned left, went back to his right and straightened up, slotting it from 25m. It was 11-6 apiece.

A Dylan Shiel behind put the Bombers in front again before Noah Anderson and Ben Ainsworth combined to send the Suns forward as the clock ticked down. King pulled down a strong overhead mark in the middle of three Essendon defenders but from 40m he sliced it right. Scores level.

In a frantic finish, Izak Rankine, in his sixth game, had a set shot from 55m which fell short. Sean Lemmens crumbed it but was tackled from behind by Martin Gleeson. It spilled to Brandon Ellis but his snap was smothered by Andrew McGrath. And just as Jarrod Witts grabbed the ball from a boundary throw-in, looking to pull off a miracle, the siren sounded.

Flanders, wearing jumper #26, played 59% game time and had eight disposals and five tackles as Greenwood, in his 11th game for the Suns, earned three of 11 Brownlow Medal votes for the year which were good enough for him to head the Suns count and finish equal 15th overall.

It was the first of four Friday games for the Suns (including a twilight game at Norwood Oval in Gather Round 2023), which, with two Monday nights, two Wednesday nights and three Thursday nights, are the only breaks from the customary Saturday-Sunday schedule.

Season 2020 was crazy, with two Mondays, two Wednesdays, two Thursdays and one Friday in the 17-game season.

2021 – Ab Historical Outrider

In years to come people will look back through the 2021 AFL fixture and see in Round 11 Gold Coast 17-11 (113) d Hawthorn 11-10 (76) – at the SCG.

Yes, the SCG. It was the same weekend Richmond and Adelaide played at GWS’ Sydney Showgrounds in a flow-on from Covid times, and in front of an official crowd of 1241 the Suns gave Nick Holman a 26th birthday present he’ll never forget.

They won each quarter as Touk Miller (37 possessions, one goal) topped the votes from Jack Lukosius (27 possessions, one goal) and Brandon Ellis (28 possessions, one goal), and Ben King and Izak Rankine kicked four goals.

2022 – A Second Home … and an odd debut   

In Round 11 2022 the Suns launched what has proved to be a wonderful initiative, playing their third game overall in Darwin after ‘away’ losses to the Western Bulldogs in 2012 and Carlton in 2020, and their first ‘home’ game in the NT capital.

They beat Hawthorn 18-13 (121) to 7-12 (54) to record the first one of what is now six consecutive Darwin wins, with Malcolm Rosas and Mabior Chol kicking three goals and the votes going to Brandon Ellis (24 possessions, two goals), Lachie Weller (27 possessions and one goal) and Touk Miller (24 possessions, one goal).

It was a mixed night for Charlie Constable, who, after 12 games with Geelong, made his Gold Coast debut. He looked right at home singing the club song post-game but inwardly would have been a little disappointed – he spent the entire night on the bench as the unused substitute.