Gold Coast 5.4 10.9 12.11 14.13 (97)
Collingwood 0.5 3.10 10.13 16.15 (111)
Goals: Gold Coast: Dixon 4 Matera 2 Stanley 2 Rischitelli 2 Hall Sumner Boston Shaw. Collingwood: Cloke 6 White 3 Clarke Sidebottom Maxwell Young Kennedy Pendlebury Swan.
Best: Gold Coast: O'Meara Stanley Dixon Rischitelli. Collingwood: Cloke Young Pendlebury Swan.
Venue: Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast.
Out on the wide open spaces of Metricon Stadium on a steamy Sunday afternoon, it seemed like some of the widest gaps were between the 18 Collingwood footballers running around and their designated Gold Coast opponents. It looked, for all intents and purposes, the definition of a practice match. Bruise-free footy, you might say.
So how seriously to take the contest? Magpie fans, in particular, will want to know. With a close to full-strength squad – including 11 premiership players and practically their entire starting midfield of Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, Luke Ball, Dayne Beams, Brent Macaffer and recruit Taylor Adams – the Pies were toast by half time.
Toasted, mind you, by a Suns side missing captain Gary Ablett (the result, apparently, of a cooking accident at home, where he burnt the top of his hand) and key back Rory Thompson.
This was the third competitive hit-out for Collingwood this year, and for that first half, they looked uncompetitive, even listless. It's getting a bit late to say they're just rusty.
The Magpies' embarrassment had nothing to do with the youthfulness, and one-time easybeat status of their opponents. These Suns are rising fast. They looked hungrier, quicker, more skilful, and they've clearly spent a lot of time in the gym. Jaeger O'Meara, in his second year, already looks like a midfielder in his prime.
The scary thing is, like most of his teammates, he's most likely a long way from his peak. Ditto players like David Swallow, now playing a battering-ram role in the midfield; Charlie Dixon, who was commanding up forward; and a significantly beefed-up Brandon Matera.
These players – along with a rejuvenated Michael Rischitelli and the gutsy Danny Stanley – tore Collingwood to shreds in the first half, establishing a 41-point lead at half-time. And the Pies were a fumbling, incoherent mess, particularly in their delivery up forward (a familiar complaint).
So what to make of that second half? The most obvious change was Travis Cloke, who found his radar and kicked six second-half goals after completely working over opponent Steven May. But someone had to get the ball to him first, and it started coming in faster and more cleanly than the Suns' defenders could handle.
Clinton Young, after a year dogged by hamstring issues, was a shining light for Collingwood, and the longer the match wore on, the more the influence of prime movers Swan and Pendlebury grew. But it should be noted, too, that Rischitelli and the dynamic Dion Prestia had come off, as did O'Meara in the last quarter.
Perhaps the most telling clue to what to make of this topsy-turvy game was the demeanour of the teams' respective coaches after it. Nathan Buckley was glum, all his attention focused on that dreadful first half and his team's struggle for consistency, both within and between games.
The Suns' Guy McKenna, by contrast, could barely contain his excitement. Of course, he has good reason to talk up his troops to the public ahead of the season. But like Buckley, all his attention was on that first half. It was, he declared, the best half of football he'd seen his team ever play.
A win, at this time of year, was of no object and no concern to either men. And that tells you more about the formline of these two teams heading into season 2014 than the scoreboard possibly can.