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Port on a Shanghai high after eclipsing Suns

Football

David Koch stood on the Jiangwan Stadium boundary line at halftime, watching his granddaughter Matilda playing Auskick.

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The scoreboard showed Port Adelaide leading Gold Coast by seven goals and the fans were showing Koch lots of love.

Everyone wanted a photo with him, everyone wanted to congratulate him.

It was put to the Port president that the only way he could feel happier at a football match is if his team wins the AFL flag.

“That’s perfectly fair,” he said.

It will take several years and a lot more hard work before Koch knows whether Port’s China experiment works.

But this was the start they needed.

The 72-point win over Gold Coast was the cherry on top of the cake – the main thing is the game went off without any noticeable dramas.

After all the pre-match concerns about air quality, travel and who could wear which guernsey, Port emphatically answered the critics.

And the fans lapped it up.

“Set aside everything else for a second – something like this brings all these people together,” Koch said.

“That’s what I love – there’s my granddaughter, playing Auskick against some Chinese kid.”

Alistair “Sandy” Payne was one of the fans keen to pat Koch on the back.

He and his wife Dr Michelle Stone are Port fans from Adelaide and they made the Shanghai match the centrepiece of a 10-day China holiday.

“We’ve been the Great Wall, Michelle’s sat next to a panda – this has been fantastic,” Payne said.

Fans watch on as Travis Boak is presented the Shanghai Cup by AFL Chairman Richard Goyder. Photo: Tracey Nearmy / AAP

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart was also spotted in the crowd, wearing a Port scarf.

No alcohol was on sale for the general public, but no-one seemed to mind.

Cynics will point to a couple of notable sections of empty seats on the outer wing, but AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan noted all the public areas were full, saying the empty sections in the grandstand were due to fans in those sections having access to nearby corporate marquees.

“So a lot of people would have been in there, eating and drinking,” he said.

The game attracted 10,118 fans and, if anything, the AFL wants a bigger crowd capacity next year.

The league said about 2000 to 3000 local fans attended – it looked more like around a thousand – but they were enthusiastic and lapped up the game.

“Someone was yelling ‘go Richie, go Richie’ and then someone turned around and said ‘no, it’s Ah Chee’,” McLachlan said, referring to the Port player.

And in the end, the number of locals in the crowd is not the big test for the AFL – it’s what their government thinks of the concept.

“It was obviously a really pleasing day for football, for Port Adelaide, for our game – a good crowd, the venue looked amazing and it came up well on broadcast,” McLachlan said.

“We think we’ve invested for the long-term here – we’ll continue to work with the local authority and the layers of government in this country… but today’s been a big success, I’m sure they would have enjoyed today.

“Everyone sees the opportunity in China and they certainly see it clearer today. Like all progress, people see obstacles when things are harder.

“People (now) see a clearer path and maybe an easier path.”

Suns coach Rodney Eade said he would want to return so Gold Coast can redeem themselves.

But the Suns are yet to decide whether they will commit again.

“There’s a first-mover advantage, clearly, and I think it’s a question for Gold Coast,” McLachlan said.

“If they do (want to return), I think they’re in a good position, without any guarantees.”

New dad Brad Ebert – who only flew into Shanghai on Friday – was best afield and Robbie Gray kicked two goals after another week of speculation about his fitness, as Port belted the Suns by 72 points.

Ebert was Port’s best yesterday. Photo: Tracey Nearmy / AAP

Coach Ken Hinkley joked last week had been easy for Ebert – the week before, when son Leo arrived, was the hard part.

But the Power had complete faith that if Ebert said he would be ready to play on Sunday, he would deliver.

“He’s a pro – Brad’s as good a preparer as we have at our football club,” Hinkley said.

“On the ground, off the ground he does everything perfect.”

Hinkley added they had discussed the Shanghai trip weeks ago and how the birth would affect preparations.

“Not a problem – if Brad wants to do that, I trust Brad Ebert to do that,” he said.

“I know as a professional athlete, he does it better than anyone.”

Ebert said Cathay Pacific looked after him well on the flight over – Hinkley muttered he was stuck in the back of the plane – and he never found the late travel a problem.

His starring midfield performance was the latest success in what is probably career-best form.

“It is a good mix – it’s been a big week or two, but I’ve been loving it – it’s been fantastic,” Ebert said of fatherhood and footy.

“Once I got here, I felt like it was pretty much business as usual.”

There was been speculation about Gray for weeks and Hinkley has had enough of talking about him.

“He’s fine – it’s quite amazing, it just keeps coming,” Hinkley said of the question.

The Port coach noted Gray had Suns co-captain Steven May as his opponent.

“That’s the quality that they put on him,”‘ he said.

“I’m probably sick of talking about Rob and I know he’s sick of me talking about him.”

It was put to Hinkley that Gray looked proppy, to which he replied: “You haven’t watched Robbie train very often, have you? He hobbles around at the best of times.”

The strong message from Gold Coast ahead of the China match was they needed to be more consistent, and they failed badly to deliver on that mission.

Eade said it was as disappointed as he has been and added he felt “pretty flat”.

The Suns coaches’ box was only a few metres away from the media section at Jiangwan Stadium and Eade’s well-known temper was at full throttle as the game rapidly was taken away from them.

“I was calm in the second half,” he said, but by then the contest was over.

Eade said he did not see the disaster coming, noting the team’s attitude seemed good.

He added the loss of defender Rory Thompson 10 minutes before the opening bounce with hamstring tightness did not contribute to their poor start.

“We were just smashed in tight, (with) contested ball,” he said.

Eade said their starting midfield combination managed just one contested possession among them in the first term.

The Suns also fumbled the ball and fell over far too much.

“Some of the fumbles were inexplicable – they were clear,” he said.

“I thought there was something wrong with the football at one stage.”

Eade noted that when Port were taking control, Gold Coast needed to battle and stop the rot.

“We didn’t seem to have any get up and go to fight early,” he said.

“That’s not us – that’s not the way we were charting up.

“Obviously we’re still going to be a bit inconsistent, because of age, etc, but that was no excuse today.”

Despite appearing to criticise the Shanghai experiment last week, Eade said he wanted the Suns to be back in China next year, so they can produce a better performance.

“We were poor and we need to redeem ourselves next (match) and hopefully we get a chance to redeem ourselves next year,” he said.

-AAP

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