Joe Daniher of the Bombers marks strongly against the Gold Coast. Photo: Getty Images
Bombers coach Mark Thompson wasn't one to get sentimental about his return to top-level coaching at the end of Monday night's game. He was just grumpy at losing a game his side looked to have safely in its keeping.
The familiar feeling, he said, was "that anger you feel when you lose matches. It shouldn't be like that, it's only a practice game, but yeah. I don't like losing." Thompson's demeanour was affable, but no one could doubt his desire after his side had gone down by a point in its first competitive hit-out for 2014.
"We look for positives and look for room for improvement – that's what these games are for," he said. "Unhappy to lose the game and unhappy that we broke down when we had a lead. We want to win all games. But it is a practice match, and we expect to get better."
The structure of the Essendon side looked more settled than in recent years, with Michael Hurley now settled in defence, while Jake Carlisle and Joe Daniher showed the makings of a potent two-pronged forward line. Daniher approaches season 2014 a far stronger player, having gained over 15 kilograms since joining the club.
"For about six weeks we've been playing them together, and we'll continue that," Thompson said. "We can't play them enough together; I think they're going to have a good chemistry in the end.
"They're both 200 centimetres, so they're going to be hard to stop if they stay fit and work together and get some experience under their belt playing together."
"We want to play Hurls back. He played all his junior footy there, and he just looks good; he looks safe. The back six, when it repeatedly comes in quickly, any side's going to get goals kicked on them. That happened a bit too much tonight.
"We did have a young side, and they did show ability at times – [Martin] Gleeson, [Zach and Jackson] Merrett, [Jason] Ashby, Joe Daniher. That's what I was pleased about tonight; I just wanted to see these players play, and they excited us."
Gold Coast Suns coach Guy McKenna was wry about the result. "We could say it went according to plan," he quipped. "It was a good result, better to finish that way than the other way, and we got away relatively unscathed from an injury point of view, so we're happy with that.
"Certainly [I was] pleased by the boys' willingness to fight out the game, not that I've ever questioned their ability to do that, but I thought that was a good sign of their maturity.
"We turned over some good kids again. Sean Lemmons, before he hurt his shoulder – he may be right next week, he showed he's got some wheels down back. Clay Cameron, his ability to compete in the air and on the ground on talls and smalls. And Jack Martin certainly got his hands on the ball and tried to take the game on, got caught on a few occasions and got away on some others."
Both clubs said there would be turnover in their midfields approaching their next games, with captain Jobe Watson, Brendon Goddard and Paul Chapman all to come in for the Bombers. McKenna said Gary Ablett, Michael Rischitelli and David Swallow would all be rested, with the club to face the Brisbane Lions in Townsville on Sunday.
Essendon didn't escape unscathed from the game, with youngster Alex Browne injuring a knee and likely to miss weeks, though it is not yet known whether he has injured his medial or anterior cruciate ligament.