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Five talking points: Gold Coast v Essendon

Michael Whiting  March 26, 2016 7:23 PM

Highlights: Gold Coast v Essendon The Suns and Bombers clash in round one
AFL 2016 Rd 01 - Gold Coast v Essendon

Zach Merrett and Gary Ablett contest the ball at Metricon Stadium during the Suns' big win

1. Gazza's back with a bang
Did we expect anything less? The Little Master has played just six games since July 2014 and missed the entire NAB Challenge with a foot niggle, but Gary Ablett bounced straight back to his best. He had Ryan Crowley as company from the first bounce, but it was evident early that was a mismatch. Ablett finished with 34 touches (14 contested), nine clearances, seven tackles and a goal. He was exceptional around the stoppages, never lost his feet and showed great speed off the mark when resting in the forward line. The only slight blip on his game was missing a few set shots in the first quarter, but all in all, it was a brilliant return.

Full match coverage and stats

2. The Bombers are in for a long year
There's been plenty of doom and gloom chatter about Essendon ahead of the season, and on the evidence of one game, it looks right on the money. As you'd expect pre-match, Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade was talking up his opponent's chances, but the Suns eased home in a canter. To their credit, the Bombers tried hard - they just weren't good enough. The Suns dominated in contested possessions (152-126), although that levelled out after half-time, inside 50s (66-40) and a more ruthless team would have won by more than 61 points. David Zaharakis (33 disposals and two goals) was superb, while Zach Merrett (31 disposals) offered good midfield support, but the overall talent just doesn't seem there. 

3. Tom Lynch might be in strife
The Suns' vice-captain was one of his team's best, but a first quarter incident is likely to raise the ire of the Match Review Panel. Lynch was late – very late – to a marking contest with Mark Baguley on the outer wing and his ungainly spoiling attempt collected the Bomber on the side of the head. Essendon were awarded a 50m penalty and whether or not the action costs Lynch time on the sidelines, only time will tell. Baguley was momentarily stunned, but played out the match. It didn't affect Lynch's play too much, as he went on to kick four goals. Suns coach Rodney Eade didn't seem too concerned. "I thought at the time it was in the contest, but I'd have to look at the replay. I would have thought at the time the guy was marking and he's tried to contest the ball. I think you're allowed to contest the ball," he said.

4. The Suns' midfield looks slick
It's hard to judge your team's performance against a patchwork Bombers outfit, but Gold Coast's midfield was polished. And even without injured stars David Swallow and Jaeger O'Meara, they now have some serious depth. Aside from Ablett, Aaron Hall (36 touches and two goals) was arguably best afield and showed he has kicked on from last year's dramatic improvement. Michael Rischitelli (28 touches, 10 clearances) was strong in his 200th, while West Coast recruit Matt Rosa (32) was everything advertised – smart and efficient. With Dion Prestia playing strongly, Touk Miller, Jesse Lonergan and Alex Sexton also running through there, coach Rodney Eade has plenty of options in the middle of the ground.

5. Parish a real shining light for Essendon
In his first game at the top level, number five draft pick Darcy Parish showed some real go. He took a little while to get into the game, and didn't always use the ball well, but generally got better as the match wore on and finished with 25 disposals, 10 in the third quarter when Essendon stopped the bleeding. Of the other nine players pulling on the red and black for the first time, former Cat Mathew Stokes might have provided some light-hearted amusement with a goalsquare miss in the third, but was generally very good, finishing with 27 and three goals. Former Brisbane Lions Matthew Leuenberger was excellent in the ruck, while James Kelly (26) was also strong, although he faded late.