In the Hunt: Gold Coast's Karmichael Hunt charges clear during the Suns' seven-point loss to North Melbourne last night. Photo: Getty Images
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.5 3.12 7.17 11.21 (87) GOLD COAST 1.3 4.3 7.5 12.8 (80)
GOALS North Melbourne: Harvey 4, Petrie 2, Thomas 2, Cunnington, Firrito, Wells. Gold Coast: Ablett 4, Bennell 2, Brennan, Patrick, Hine, Caddy, Day, Matera.
BEST North Melbourne: Harvey, Wells, Petrie, Swallow, Grima, Thomas. Gold Coast: Ablett, Bennell, Stanley, Hunt, Matera, Smith.
INJURIES Gold Coast: Tape (knee), Thompson (ankle).
UMPIRES Meredith, Wenn, Jennings.
CROWD 10,107, at Metricon Stadium.
ELVIS Costello called them “Sneaky Feelings”. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking. But with the Gold Coast coming off perhaps the most discouraging defeat of its short existence and North Melbourne having its own annus horribilis, this match promised something not seen too often at Metricon Stadium. A contest.
Well, with two minutes to go in the last quarter, the difference was just four points.
It had been goal for goal – not least between two of the game's champions, with Gary Ablett and Brent Harvey putting on a clinic by booting four goals each.
When Sam Iles made a desperate run to deliver to Harley Bennell in the square, the Suns were hot, and looked ready to overrun the Roos. But the visitors found extra reserves of grit, and when Lindsay Thomas – excellent for North – marked with a minute on the clock, those sneaky feelings of an upset gave way to the inevitability of another Suns defeat.
It would have been hard – maybe impossible – for the Suns to put in as dire a performance as last week. Coach Guy McKenna asked for an honest effort, and he got more than that. Suddenly, Suns players were running in waves to back each other up. They laid tackles and desperately repelled forward thrusts.
A number of players caught the eye. Liam Patrick, with his bounding run for the Suns' third goal, capitalising on a crushing tackle by Jared Brennan that dispossessed Jamie Macmillan. Matthew Warnock and Seb Tape's spoiling efforts in defence. The welcome, high-leaping return of Zac Smith.
And, as usual, there was Ablett, whose second goal in the second quarter was a thing of beauty: roving a throw-in deep on the forward flank, Ablett gathered, sprinted to the line and, on his left foot, curled in the shot.
"The pleasing thing was we won some footy, we moved it forward and we came up six points short," Suns coach Guy McKenna said.
And the Kangaroos, in a dark place of their own, were ordinary, lacking spark, inspiration and nerve. They couldn't hit a barn door, either, registering 1.10 by midway through the third quarter. That ratio did suggest, though, that at some stage the tide had to turn. Some individual brilliance, greater experience and good fortune made sure it did.
The brilliance came from Harvey, who got things moving for North as he tore strips off inexperienced opponent Joel Wilkinson, out-marking him in front of goal to give the Kangaroos the lead; running rings around him in the third quarter for two more majors.
Inexperience, of course, brought the Suns undone on several occasions. Taylor Hine, who had just kicked a goal for his team, crashed front on into Lindsay Thomas at the other end to give away a free. Thomas kicked the goal, and the Suns gave away another free in the ensuing melee. They were lucky not to pay double for the error.
But the profligate North couldn't put the Suns away.
"If you don't put adequate pressure on them, they can execute pretty well, and they actually executed in front of goal a lot better than we did tonight," North coach Brad Scott said.
It was a two-goal game at the last break when Ablett kicked his fourth from the first clearance to set the Suns charging, but once again, Harvey made the reply. From there, the Roos only just did enough to hold the Suns at bay, and with 30 scoring shots to 20, they probably should have won by more.
But don't let that detract from the Suns' effort.
At least they could look each other, their opponents and the rest of the football world in the eye.
GAZ VERSUS BOOMER
After a rare poor performance last week against St Kilda, Gary Ablett was back to his best last night, with 42 possessions and four goals, one of them from the forward pocket a serious contender for goal of the year. But he was matched by another champion in Brent Harvey, with four goals and 29 touches of his own.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Seb Tape has already shown his guts for the Suns this season - he had his front teeth knocked out in the first game of the year - and he had an excellent first half for the Suns, spoiling everything that came within his range. But his season took a cruel twist in the third quarter when his knee buckled under him. Scans will reveal the damage this week.