Gold Coast have overcome a slow start against an undermanned Essendon to remain unbeaten in the AFL pre-season with a three-point win in hot conditions at Harrup Park in Mackay.
The Bombers were without captain Dyson Heppell, vice-captain Zach Merrett, David Zaharakis, Mark Baguley, Orazio Fantasia, Patrick Ambrose, James Kelly, Matt Dea and David Myers but still managed to push the Suns all the way before going down 0.12.7 (79) to 0.12.4 (76).
Adding insult to injury for the Bombers was star defender Michael Hurley hurting his right foot late in the fourth quarter. He took no further part in the game.
Gold Coast were missing Gary Ablett, Tom Lynch, Jarrod Harbrow, Jarrod Witts, Aaron Hall and Matt Rosa.
Essendon coach John Worsfold said he expected no major issues from Hurley’s injury.
“I haven’t had any feedback on that [but] it didn’t look too bad so I’m pretty confident he’ll be up and going soon,” Worsfold said post-match.
And he was particularly pleased with the efforts of Josh Begley.
“Outstanding start,” Worsfold said. “Young kid who’s worked extremely hard over the last 12 months in his footy. Gave himself the opportunity to get drafted and his first step out there today was very impressive.”
Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade had praise for one of his own youngsters, with first-round draft pick Will Brodie pushing his case for a round-one berth after his 18 disposals and two goals.
“With young lads, it’s a fairly hectic pace, the game in round one and round two – quickest part of the year except for finals,” Eade said.
“But he’s a tough player, he’s going to be a really good player for us. There’s no doubt about that.
“But we’ve got some good midfielders coming back … so if he does miss out he’s not far away.”
The inefficient Suns’ sheer dominance of disposals (407-350), clearances (36-26), inside 50s (59-40) and contested possessions (153-116) ultimately tipped the contest in their favour.
Alex Sexton was the standout for the victors with 25 touches and two goals, while Michael Barlow (31 possessions), Steven May, Brodie, Touk Miller and Pearce Hanley also shone.
Essendon youngster Begley was a revelation in attack, booting four goals and setting up a few others while teammate Jayden Laverde (three goals) was also effective.
Brent Stanton (23 disposals) starred in defence in his official return from a 12-month doping ban, while Hurley, Michael Hartley and Mitch Brown were also stoic in defence. Darcy Parish and Jobe Watson stood out in midfield for the Dons.
The Bombers got off to a flying start with the first four goals of the game, including a miracle left-foot snap from James Stewart next to the behind post while being tackled.
The Suns proceeded to kick seven of the next eight goals to grab a 14-point lead late in the second term in the see-saw clash.
The Bombers trailed by eight points at the major break and four at the final change.
Goals to Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Josh Green early in the final quarter gave the ascendancy back to the Bombers but the Suns kicked the next three goals to take a nine-point lead before Parish cut the margin to three points with 40 seconds left.