Cameron Joyce had to choose his words carefully when heading into Gold Coast's dressing room following Sunday’s 30-point loss to Carlton.

For the second week in a row the SUNS had coughed up a three-goal lead in the first quarter and could not reel it in.

Any chance of playing finals, which was slim entering round nine, was now dashed. 

Joyce sat on a chair in the Ikon Park dressing room, looking around at his players, also on chairs in a semi-circle that took up about half the room.

"I want to hear from our leaders. What do you think happened in the last two hours?" Joyce asked.

Captain Hannah Dunn, directly in Joyce’s eyeline, spoke first.

"We don’t fire the first shot," Dunn said. "I think we’re waiting for someone else to do it."

After a short silence, young defender Serene Watson was next.

"We showed again that when we get the game on our terms, we’re competitive, but we’re not doing it for long enough."

Vice-captain Bess Keaney talks about how the Suns' best footy is good enough, it's just not often enough.

Then it's Jamie Stanton's turn. Stanton, the rugged midfielder who has played in finals with both Brisbane and North Melbourne and had just kept Carlton dynamo Maddy Prespakis to a relatively quiet 16 disposals, was more direct.

"I feel like we're seen as this developing team, and today we had a chance to shake that tag a bit. But we didn't, and we're not shaking it. How much do we want to?" she said.

It was a rhetorical question with a clear inference.

Kate Surman says they're too passive.

There's obvious frustration. Never a raised voice as bodies were still slumped only 15 minutes after the final siren.

Joyce took it all on-board. Then it was his turn: "We don’t worry about one-offs, but we worry about patterns. That’s two weeks in a row we’ve started poorly and have been chasing."

“What is it?”

Joyce, in his own understated way, was cheesed off. He’s not a fire and brimstone leader, but his tone was one of annoyance. A few heads were bowed, but most eyes were locked on him.

"We’re looking at everything. Are we doing everything we can during the week? Is it the hotel? Our preparation? Are we doing absolutely everything we can?" he asked.

"I want us to be disappointed, I want us to be frustrated, and I want us to be professional.

"I want us all to have the freedom to be ourselves - and I’m pretty f***ing generous with that - but let’s tick off that preparation. 

"We’re not done yet."

He finished off by referencing men’s co-captain Touk Miller, who trained with the team during the pre-season and reminded the players about his talk on preparation leading to the diminishing gap between his best and worst football.

With that, the 23 players – the 21 that played and two travelling emergencies - stood up, put their jumpers in plastic bags to be whisked off by the property steward who put it on the team bus. 

It was a debrief that lasted more than 10 minutes and left the room relatively quiet afterwards.

The players had a table of pizzas, around 20 in all, laid out to refuel on, bottles of water and Powerade were being passed around and 15 minutes later they were walking from the ground to a waiting bus that would take them to Tullamarine’s Jet Base and their charter flight home to the Gold Coast.

Four hours earlier they had got off the same bus with their top-six hopes still alive.

A quick stroll around to gate two at Ikon Park and the team was ushered into its generous change rooms where each player had an open locker space with a training shirt and jersey beautifully hanging up inside.

First, every player put their mobile phone in a box that was waiting on a table right next to the entrance so they could not access it until after the match. This is to satisfy an AFL rule that bans the use of communication devices during games.

A table of snacks were there, along with the water and sports drinks, that players could access whenever they needed.

A noticeboard showed the pre-match timings – right to the minute.

The players started with their own preparation, which for some, like Sarah Perkins, included strapping of knees and shoulders. For others, like small forward Janet Baird – playing her first AFLW game in a year – it meant getting on to the field as quick as possible for a light kick.

As they got closer to the 4.23pm official on-ground warm-up – 47 minutes before the first bounce – the intensity in the room picked up.

The smell of Deep Heat was strong! Music was pumping, but players still did their own thing.

No.1 draft pick Charlie Rowbottom and small defender Daisy D'Arcy were dancing, formulating their own handshake and keeping it light. Viv Saad was foam rolling her calves and lower back, while Bess Keaney used activation bands to warm up her glutes and hamstrings.

Then 4.23pm ticked over and the players headed down the race – a narrow tunnel that exited a couple of metres below the playing surface to a ramp that would take them past a hearty group of SUNS supporters which included player parents and family members and on to the ground.

The tunnel was dark and a bit damp, but suddenly the players were on-field being taken through their paces.

At 4.43pm they were back inside and changing from the playing shirt into their striking blue Indigenous guernsey and continuing with some final preparations.

High performance lead James Foord called out times.

"Two minutes," he'd yell. "Sixty seconds. Thirty seconds."

That gave the players the time until their next engagement – a 4.56pm team meeting that would give Joyce his final chance to talk before they ran out.

The next time he would speak would be quarter-time, down by 18 points.

Players spoke to their line coach first before assembling in front of Joyce, who was calm, pointed to the positive of Baird's early contribution and reinforced that they didn't need to get the deficit back all in one go.

"Just one more goal this quarter," he said.

It went better than that, with the SUNS playing by far their best 20 minutes of the match, reducing the margin to one straight kick at the break.

It wasn't enough though, as they fell away in the second half to lose a second straight match and drop to ninth on the ladder.

The players walked, slowly, back up the tunnel to their dressing room, where the pizzas, plastic bags and coach Joyce awaited, where the first seed would be planted for next Sunday's challenge against Fremantle in Perth.