Gold Coast’s maturing young guns were commended for “standing their ground” with their five best players either sidelined or injured to almost pull off the AFL upset of the season on Saturday night.
A season-ending broken leg to stand-in skipper Nathan Bock dramatically worsened the Suns’ cruel injury plight and helped Fremantle get out of jail with a tense seven-point win at Metricon Stadium.
Despite Bock’s ugly first-quarter collision with Matt de Boer, plus the absences of Gary Ablett and Michael Rischitelli, the Coast gave the Dockers an almighty scare before falling seven points short in a pulsating encounter.
Continuing the leadership vacuum, senior players David Swallow (ankle) and Jared Brennan (knee) copped worrying injuries but bravely battled on in reduced roles.
But with a redeemed Harley Bennell and his former housemate Karmichael Hunt stepping up to enjoy career-best displays, the Suns grabbed the lead three times in a thrilling last quarter.
In the end, the injuries took their toll and the Dockers wriggled free with Tendai Mzungu sealing the result 14.10 (94) to 14.3 (87) in the last 30 seconds.
While relieved Dockers coach Ross Lyon said his players would learn their lessons on a “stressful” night, Suns counterpart Guy McKenna could only applaud his youngsters.
A week after pushing North Melbourne on the road, the best win in the club’s short history looked on the cards when they led by 15 late in the third term.
“I said to the boys after the game, `I’m hoping that burns in their gut a bit’,” McKenna said. “But to expect them to be in that position again already in 27-28 games in the competition is a great step forward.
“Now these boys can understand they’re big enough to stand their ground and that’s pleasing.
“That’s the lesson we’ve learned (through the injuries) … and they’ve certainly matured the last two weeks.”
Swallow personified the Suns’ guts by staying on the ground in the second half despite struggling badly on his left ankle and finishing with three goals.
“There must be something about West Australians because we sent him deep forward and we kept getting messages from him he wanted to go in the midfield,” said former West Coast captain McKenna.
Another WA product Bennell was best on ground with 37 disposals, six clearances and three goals, which included two pressure last-quarter snaps.
Lyon defended his midweek comments that tweeting Suns had shown a lack of respect for the Dockers, and dismissed any questions about his side underestimating the fledgling Coast.
Chris Mayne and de Boer stood tallest for the Dockers with three goals each while Hayden Ballantyne almost cost them the game by gifting Brennan a goal with a mindless last-term shove over the boundary which gave the fatiguing Suns a second wind.
Fremantle were not helped by the loss of Stephen Hill with a quad cork suffered in the first term, which saw him subbed out after halftime.
“We go away with some really big lessons from this game as a football club,” Lyon said. “About not being an if , if we turn up and if we give effort we want to be in every minute and every moment and every quarter team.”