Footy by the sea

In the lead-up to Thursday’s team being announced, we’d flagged a few players to be rested for the Gold Coast game. Not because we don’t respect the opposition, more because we do – so many connections with Collingwood in that team, you wouldn’t want to demoralise them by beating them by a record-winning margin. So we thought it might be rest time for Jolly (then ‘spare’ Wood could have another run, and we noticed Jolly being a bit limpy after an awkward fall last week); Taz (because he’s 30 and he’s been ‘on’ for a while now); maybe Krakouer (because he’s looked like there’s not much petrol left in his tank), and perhaps Pendles, but he’d never admit to weariness.

So no surprises with Jolly, except that he was ‘ill’ – knee-related flu, no doubt. And with Tooves being out for 2-4 weeks, I guess that meant Taz had to play. And Krakouer – I’m still not sure why he wasn’t given a rest.

Anyway, we get to the Gold Coast at lunchtime, having sat next to Mrs Maxwell and our captain’s baby all the way. They seemed very relaxed about everything, looking forward to some warmth, as I was. The place hasn’t changed; it’s still as tacky as the last time I was there which was in the mid-90s when Mystery Flights were all the rage. How weird that this was chosen as a new home for footy. Still, the sun is shining and we enjoy our overpriced seafood lunch and a couple of soothing ales before thinking about how to get to the stadium.

This is the thing about interstate games (except for Sydney). To find out how to get to the stadium, step outside your hotel, look for someone in a Collingwood jumper and follow them. You’ll find that soon there’s a whole tribe of people falling into line, and you’re part of the Magpie Army. And so it is that we stumble on a line of buses and everyone starts pouring onto them, so we do too. It’s high-spirited on the bus: one bloke walks down the aisle saying, ‘It’s just like the 50s – everything is in black and white!’

And he’s right, until we get to the stadium. It’s painted red and yellow all over, so the overall effect is that of a toy stadium. And the atmosphere is like a seaside carnival, one of those ones at Rosebud about 40 years ago. We walk past the Navy band belting out a tune, and there’s every kind of fast food stall imaginable, and even a West Indies trio playing a reggae version of the Gold Coast song! It’s all very neat and new, and everyone’s having fun – but it doesn’t really feel like we’re going to the footy.

Our seats are great – half forward flank, second tier – but I reckon there wouldn’t be a bad seat in the house. The ground is normal size (so I’m told) but the stands are small so you’d never be far away from the action. There’s just the one big screen down one end. And everyone’s really nice – people smile and direct you to your seat. We settle in, surrounded by black and white. By 7 pm the place is nearly full, and it’s looking like a Collingwood home game, except we’re in a make-believe stadium at a seaside carnival.

So the Pies start a bit sluggish, like they’ve forgotten to flick the switch to ‘on’. The Suns get a couple of quick goals and the red parts of the crowd go wild. They’re enthusiastic supporters, to say the least! We’re 0.4 before we get a goal, then Lachie Keefe boots the first, in his home state. After an early stuttering point, he kicked true. And that was it – four straight goals follow and we go to quarter time 21 points up.

Pleasing things to note right from the start:

Johnno is back to his best, quietly appearing wherever required to run with the ball in a highly effective way. It’s so good to have him back!

Luke Ball is in everything – and I mean everything. Is there anything he can’t do? He’s marking, kicking, and in-and-under everywhere.

Leigh Brown is up and about, at his bullocky best.

Daisy is performing his usual hard-working tricks, along with Pendles and Swan.

Keefe is looking more settled, less out of place.

The second quarter is sheer entertainment – it looks like the sunshine has done the Pies good and there’s plenty of spring in everyone’s steps. Macaffer plays like a man who hasn’t played footy at this level for a long time, but we all know Mick has plans for men like him, and that all being well, he’ll play himself into a bit of form. Fasolo reminds us of Blair, last year – confident at this level, and keen to keep his spot. He has sticky hands too, marking the ball like a tall man, a bit like Medhurst in his good year. So this is footy Gold Coast style, with plenty of flashy play. We pile on 6 goals before the Suns get their first for the quarter. Soon we have 11 individual goal kickers. Fifty-four points up at half-time. The worry is Daisy – on the bench with a bag of ice on his thigh.

Every now and again we notice Fraser, and one of our party defends him, saying the Pies wore him out prematurely. True – he still looks worn out, so much so that Wood doesn’t look too bad. And Stanley and Iles get a bit of the ball too, and it’s worth remembering they’re from that group who were tried and didn’t make it. They’re from Toovey’s early years. We miss Tooves.

You all know I believe you can get the best info from (some) professionals and the more elite Floreat Picans, and I can’t compete with their ability to explain tactics and what worked and what didn’t. But my amateur interpretation of the game is that the Pies were a helluva lot better than the Suns, probably about 100 points better if we were in a punishing mood, but the Suns play in a spirited way that is quite entertaining, even when they’re being beaten by 50 points. Trent McKenzie’s long goal is a game highlight, and everyone applauds him. They’re going to be hard to hate (until they start thrashing everyone in sight, in about three years) – they’re ‘the team that never say die’! They’re frisky and keen with Gazza in the middle.

As the third quarter starts, we’re surprised to see Daisy back on the ground. The word amongst our black-and-white friends is that he’s ‘trying to run out a corky’ but it looks like he’ll be donning the red vest any minute. Which he eventually does. We slow right down – it’s like the boys partied hard in the second and then decided to have an early night but the bus didn’t show up to take them home so they stuck around, waiting. Macaffer shows small signs of increasing confidence, Trav marks most balls that come his way, and sub McCarthy doesn’t really impress with poor decision making. Taz is having his rest week on the field, Harry keeps trying to set the world on fire and mostly succeeds, Maxy plays his role, Swan and Pendles keep delivering and we remind ourselves that we’re still missing Jolly, Wellingham, Didak, Dawes, Beams and Tooves. And Shaw. This B+ team ain’t half bad.

The fourth quarter is about the same as the third, and the Suns match us for the second half. We win by 54 points, the exact margin at half-time. The single most worrying thing (apart from Daisy in the red vest, again) is Johnno taking himself to the bench, clearly in pain, after an awkward fall. At least it’s not his back-hammy – it’s a whole new injury to his shoulder. The good-natured Suns fans stick it out till the last ten minutes and then they clearly want to beat the Pies fans to the buses that are queued up and ready to take us back to Surfers.

We’re happy we’ve made the trip. If we play there next year – and there’s every chance since the Pies fans have apparently contributed $5 million to the local economy – I’d recommend a trip to the footy but I’d add a short break in the nearby hinterland beforehand. The sun and the good humour of footy on the Gold Coast made it very much worthwhile. But keep an eye on those Suns – they’re not half bad. They’re talented and optimistic in the way they play, and that will get them over the line in the end.



3 Ball

2 Johnno (he probably would have got 3 votes if he hadn’t gone off)

1 Leon


OK, I know I’m playing favourites here with Leon, because the 1 could have gone to Pendles, or even Leigh Brown, both for 4-quarter efforts. But Leon was a consistent performer down back, a vital piece of the back-line puzzle as injury after injury keeps changing the personnel.


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