In this age of multi-linked Zoom calls and carbon offsetting, can anyone make a case for travelling 27 hours, across multiple time zones, just to hold a face-to-face meeting?

For the tech-savvy and environmentally conscious alike, the answer is an unequivocal 'no'. But for Mark Evans, the CEO of the still-to-rise Gold Coast Suns, going to great lengths went beyond expression in his search for legitimacy.

Just days after the Suns shocked Brisbane in QClash XXV, Evans made tracks for Milan.

His target in his cross-equator hunt? Damien Hardwick, a man less than three months into his globetrotting hiatus.

Inside the chief's carry-on? A five-year contract, perhaps nestled between Birkenstocks, linen shirts and a dog-eared paperback, or two

Without local spies or even a travel agent's nous, we're not sure exactly where Evans stayed in Lombardy. We're not sure, either, which of the high-end boutiques he hit up. What is clear, though, is that the man with more than a quarter of a century of AFL experience had returned home with the most precious of cargo: Hardwick's signature.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 23: AFL General Manager Football Operations Mark Evans speaks at the media launch for the 2015 NAB Challenge at AFL House on February 23, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Three times a premiership coach from his 13, and a fraction, seasons at Tigerland, Hardwick's CV sees him sit alongside the likes of John Kennedy Sr and Mick Malthouse, a resume that will doubtlessly grant him Hall of Fame access once his name is printed on the  ballot.

Set to return to set in 2024, the 50-year-old will be seeking the join the company of Ron Barassi, Allan Jeans, Tom Hafey and Leigh Matthews, as well as former mentors Alastair Clarkson and Kevin Sheedy, in the 'Four Flag Club'.

But while Hardwick's resume makes for better reading than anything from any departure lounge bookshop, it will only serve to add expectation once he trades the warmth of a European summer for the heat of the coaches box.

Just how a team that has never met expectations will handle an enlarged set throughout the next five seasons is the multi-million dollar question. But with the cheque cut, the dotted line signed and the stable stocked, the excuses peddled in the past can no longer pass as currency at Carrara.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Tigers captain Trent Cotchin and Tigers head coach Damien Hardwick hold aloft the Premiership Trophy after victory in the 2019 AFL Grand Final match between the Richmond Tigers and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 28, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

There is no cloak and dagger required to highlight the Suns' many lowlights. Since October of 2010, the expansion franchise has used a total of 31 first-round and mini-draft selections for the sum total of zero finals appearances, let alone wins.

Though their locker room has routinely been raided by rivals clubs seeking blue-chip kids, the notion that Gold Coast acts as a prep school for the rest of the league has tapered off of late, with just one name - Izak Rankine - opting out since the dawn of the 2019 season.

While the premiership clock may have been reset when names like Tom Lynch, Jaeger O'Meara and Dion Prestia made tracks, the reality is that an uninterrupted core has now formed on the 'Glitter Strip', one aged between 18 and 23.

Residing outside of the code's heartland and having less access to distinguished leaders have also been levelled as markers of an uneven playing field, however, with outgoing league chief Gillon McLachlan publically pressing that the Sunshine State is now footy state, and Hardwick now unveiled, the well of excuses has officially run dry.

But that's the whole point, isn't it?

Only those frozen by fear enjoy making excuses, a tag that just doesn't apply to a club willing to courier its own contracts around the globe.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 09: Noah Anderson of the Suns celebrates kicking a goal during the round 17 AFL match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Richmond Tigers at Metricon Stadium on July 09, 2022 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

Previously, it had been those from outside the inner sanctum that acted as the source of Gold Coast's great expectations.

'They should be playing finals', plenty of talking heads crowed before the whips crack last season, many of whom opted to double down in 2023. But like the time before, and the time before that, the Suns have failed to meet the outsider's bar.

No longer, though.

The bar may still be poised on the verge of September, only this time around, the club has placed it there on its own accord.

“80 per cent of our first premiership side is sitting in this room right now," Hardwick pressed at his Carrara unveiling on Monday.

"There will be a few bits added along the way but the fact of the matter is this side and this club are capable of saluting in the not-too-distant future."

In Hardwick, the Suns now have a leader who is intimately familiar with the premiership summit, a coach who can explain with the greatest authority just how much sweeter champagne tastes when slung back at altitude.

While the Suns' former stewards in Guy McKenna, Rodney Eade and Stuart Dew could each recount what it took to win it all on grand final day, none had the know-how to take others all the way, not like their own guides, messrs Malthouse, Kennedy, Jeans, Williams and Clarkson.

Not so Hardwick. The tactful, yet also prickly steward has made the climb behind a pair of legendary sherpas, only to go again - and again and again - when leading his own expeditions.

Hardwick won't be forced to rescale the mount in boardshorts, either, with Evans, alongside list manager Craig Cameron and footy boss Wayne Campbell, providing the club's fourth full-time coach with top-of-the-line products to lead a hungry young rope team the rest of the way.

Gold Coast Suns player Bailey Humphrey agains tWest Coast, 2023 (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos)

In the engine room alone, Hardwick has the makings of a golden generation at his disposal, with Noah Anderson, Matt Rowell and reigning league MVP Touk Miller all adept at winning plenty of their own. Bailey Humphrey's spike in midfield minutes has also excited onlookers, the teenager having attended an average of 24.8 per cent of the Suns' centre bounces since Round 9.

Beyond this quartet, the Suns have a happy and healthy forward line, with Ben King fit and contracted, at least for one more season. The old dog with the new tricks, Levi Casboult, has also inked on, and with 38 goals from 60 scoring shots, Jack Lukosius is well and truly living up to his early billing. All three will also be ready to mentor Academy man-child Jed Walter who will officially arrive during November's draft.

Sam Collins and Charlie Ballard will still require a helping hand behind the ball while Mac Andrew continues to learn the trade, but if this is the toughest task to tick off during the off-season, then it's near certain to be less hairy than Collins' upper lip.

Gold Coast talent Jed Walter in the 2023 Coates Talent League (Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos)

Since joining the competition in 2011, the Suns have often been out for less than flags and finals. They have even been out for less than wins. They have, at their most base, been out for legitimacy and respect.

But as they say, you can't be given respect, you have to earn it, and now, like no other, is the time for that.

With a coach with clout onboard and a young core intact, Gold Coast are on now the clock, a fact they wouldn't want any other way.