A solid crowd of around 24,000 filtered into a sunny Metricon Stadium in anticipation of an excellent game of football between the up and coming Gold Coast Suns and the visiting Collingwood Magpies. With positions tight for a Top Eight finish, a Gold Coast win would set them up with a real chance to play Finals for the first time in their short history, while Collingwood was looking to consolidate a Top Eight spot and possibly challenge those in the Top Four.
With two-time Brownlow Medal winner and best player in the competition Gary Ablett in career-best form, Magpie tagger Brent Macaffer would have the biggest job in the contest, trying to contain the great Ablett. Within two minutes of the opening bounce Tom Lynch had the red and yellow flags waving as he kicked the first goal of the game but from there the Magpies had the better of the contest early. Clinton Young marked from a Travis Cloke kick to score Collingwood’s first goal before Steele Sidebottom nailed a beautiful strike from right on the 50 meter arc. Ten minutes in and Collingwood was controlling the tempo but led by just six points. An excellent Charlie Dixon mark and goal tied the scores but Cloke answered quickly to maintain the Magpies lead. Young was looking dangerous for the Magpies as he rammed home a long bomb from outside 50 meters to increase the Magpie lead, the visitors dominating with 14 to only five entries inside their forward 50 meter arc. With Cloke looking ominous, Suns' coach Guy McKenna made a move, shifting Sam May off the burly Collingwood full forward. At quarter time, the Magpies held a 13 point lead that could have been much greater given their dominance in clearances and forward entries.
As the second quarter commenced, a deliberate "out of bounds" call against Sam May continued his dirty day as Dane Swan fed the resultant free kick straight to Cloke who goaled once again. Suns' fans were getting nervous as their team did not seem to have the answers to the Magpie dominance around the ground. A lucky break came for the Gold Coast when a Sam Dwyer fumble close to goal allowed Aaron Hall to recover, kick the goal and reduce the margin to 13 points. The Magpies continued to attack as Tyson Goldsack extended their lead to 19 points at the seven minute mark. Collingwood had its chances to go even further ahead but they were off target in front of goal. Dixon made the Pies pay as he marked just 25 meters out before kicking truly, and the Suns began to fight their way back into the game. Further easy misses to Collingwood through Young, Cloke, Sidebottom and Jarrod Witts would prove costly as their 17 point lead could easy have been much greater as half-time approached. To add insult to injury, Ablett found Day 30 meters out and the big man didn’t let his team mates down, slotting the Suns fifth goal in the shadows of half time. At the long break, a wasteful Collingwood led the Suns by just 11 points despite having significantly more of the play.
In almost a carbon copy of the last goal of the first half, Ablett once again fed Day to start the third quarter, though his shot on this occasion was much tougher. This proved no obstacle as the young forward converted to reduce the margin to just five points. After a horror start, Day was making his mark on the contest, performing extremely well once he was moved up forward. Gold Coast looked the more threatening team in the third quarter but a couple of misses kept the game tight. At the eight minute mark, disaster struck! The game's best player, Gary Ablett Jr, stayed down after a hard tackle from Macaffer. Once Ablett stood up in the arms of the trainers, it was obvious his shoulder had become dislocated and he trotted off the ground with the club physio and doctor at his side. As if that wasn’t bad enough news for the Suns, just four minutes later Charlie Dixon was subbed out with a calf injury. With two Gold Coast players hurting, Collingwood had the chance to strike. While the Pies did most of the attacking for the next few minutes, their run of misses continued. At the 23 minute mark the Suns made their move, the silky Harley Bennell receiving a pass from Alex Sexton prior to slamming home the goal to rapturous cheers from the home crowd. With three quarter time approaching, Beams missed another Collingwood chance - incredibly their tenth behind in a row since their sixth goal was scored. At the final break, the Suns led by a slender six points.
The final quarter started with the Suns down both Dixon and Ablett who would not return. Josh Thomas had been subbed on for Collingwood in place of Dyer. With numbers down, Gold Coast would have to dig deep, while Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley would have implored his players to run and play on at all costs in an attempt to wear down the depleted Suns. Alarm bells were ringing for the home fans when the Pies' sub Josh Thomas leveled the scores with an excellent individual goal just one minute into the final quarter. Then there was another blow for the Suns, as defender Trent McKenzie limped off with a hamstring injury just three minutes into the quarter, leaving them without rotation options off the bench. Sean Lemmens was also receiving treatment for a cut head, so for the time being, the 18 Suns on the field would have to run out the final 20 minutes without a rest.
Nathan Buckley would have been livid with Jack Frost as he gave a way an unnecessary free kick to the red hot Sam Day just inside the 50 meter arc. Day coolly went back and drilled his shot to put the Suns six points in the clear. At the 12 minute mark the Gold Coast was hanging tough, with a Bennell handball to Dion Prestia resulting in a sensational goal from the young midfielder, extending the lead to 13 points. Collingwood kept pressing the tiring Suns, and when Beams dished to the speedy Paul Seedsman, the result was a sprint, two bounces and a wonderful finish to keep the Magpies alive. With time running down the Pies kept coming. Taylor Adams passed to Ben Kennedy 40 meters out and the youngster did the right thing, taking a shot that sailed right through the middle to reduce the margin to four points! With the game on the line, a wayward hurried kick from Collingwood defender Alan Toovey fell straight into the arms of man-of-the moment Sam Day. Day lined up from 50 meters and banged through a beautiful goal. This one wasn’t over yet as Kennedy booted his second for the quarter to once again make it a four point contest. With only a couple of minutes remaining, Sidebottom moved the ball to Macaffer. Macaffer spotted Young all on his own at center half-forward, passed the ball straight to him for what would surely be the winning mark and goal. Inexplicably the experienced Young dropped the mark. Beams pounced on the loose ball but his snap shot missed, and the Suns fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. The tiring Suns played smart possession football for the last minute and a half and as the siren sounded, players embraced in scenes of joy as they had held on against unbelievable odds.
Make no mistake, this victory was a coming of age story for the fledgling Suns. With no bench players available for almost a full quarter, they managed to hold off one of the AFL’s powerhouse clubs and perennial Finals' contenders with a gutsy display of both blue collar and intelligent football. Admittedly the Magpies made some horrendous mistakes during crunch time, but nothing could be taken away from Guy McKenna’s young charges. A Finals' appearance looks to be a realistic prognosis for the Gold Coast, though the extent of Ablett’s injury will be a very big story in itself this week. For Collingwood, it was a frustrating performance that will leave pundits and supporters questioning its credentials as a Premiership threat.
Looking ahead, the Suns will look to consolidate their Top Eight position next weekend when they take on the Western Bulldogs in Cairns, while Collingwood go head to head with rivals Essendon in an important contest at the MCG.
Scoreboard Gold Coast: 2.2 5.3 8.7 11.14 (80) Collingwood: 4.3 6.8 6.13 10.15 (75) Best Players Gold Coast: Swallow, Day, Rischitelli, Bennell, Lynch Collingwood: Pendlebury, Cloke, Witts, Beams, Kennedy
Article last changed on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 5:22 AM EDT