A Seductive Afternoon With Sherrin

I’m getting jealous.

While increasing numbers of our community here are enjoying closer and closer shared family experiences at the footy, my own experiences are going in the opposite direction. My wife’s previous apathy to attending any sort of sport is slowly reasserting itself, while my son said goodbye to me from the couch at noon and hello from the couch when I returned six and a half hours later.

And the TV was still showing The Simpsons, although I do believe that he did something else during the afternoon.

Like breathing.

Possibly.

So “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you with”. (My excuse for my now being a member of GWS as well as my beloved Geelong, by the way. Or for my living in Sydney, when my druthers are very much Canberra, Melbourne/ Geelong and/ or Hobart.)

Alone and bereft of any sort of shared love, I took my unrequited passions off to pas de deux with Sherrin.

I physically walked out of my front door at 11:40 & trudged up the hill to catch the noon train. It arrived at Central station forty five minutes later and I practically walked straight on to a shuttle bus to the SCG, which $6.10 for a return (the walk there is 3kms uphill). Arrival at the SCG was just after 1pm.

I was planning on buying my usual General Admission ticket & swanning around in the company of the Sydney cheer squad, but my first hiccup was learning that there were no GA seats available. I ended up paying more than twice the price for what was a very similar seat a couple of bays to the left of the squad (close enough to have the same view, but too distant to enjoy having the cheer squad providing their inevitably hilarious soundtrack to the contest).

The first shock was seeing that what was once the Noble Stand is now set to become the Nomore Stand. The opposite third of the stadium was basically bare seats and a handful of security goons in fluoro vests (there primarily to retrieve balls). So the eventual crowd of 22k+ was crammed into 2/3 of the usual seating, which in turn caused us all to overestimate the crowd numbers (consensus where I was sitting was around the 27000 mark).

The Freo players, and eventually their banner squad, emerged from a hole in the middle of this demolition site, which somehow looked a bit forlorn off away from the crowd. I’ll bet their pre-game gee-ups echoed as well.

The wind was up at the start of the game – a cross breeze which all but shredded the Swans’ banner before the players were even on the grass – but it died away during the actual game and was essentially a non-factor. Pav won the toss, and Freo kicked to the (Soon To Be) No Stand end.

It was apparent from the get – go that this was going to be one for the defensive purist. Both coaches are graduates from the Paul Roos school of No-No Doze footy, and the ball was basically restricted to heavily populated parts of the paddock. Fat sides had about the same numbers of players as the (ig)Noble Stand, and it wasn’t long before Ross Lyon shoved Duffield back as an extra defender, leaving Nick Smith wandering around as the neddy no-mates of the Swans’ D. As the first quarter evolved, the Swans actually began to play some attractive footy, occasionally unwinding some very un-Sydney like fluid transition work. Reid was soaring as per usual, and his superlative aerial work was being topped off by sublime kicking for a change. The game settled into a clash of structured defences with entertaining counter-attacking, and the Swans were deservedly ahead 4.4 to 2.2 at the first break.

Early in the second quarter, the ball popped out of a pack at my end, and Aaron Sandilands lumbered off after it only to have Benny McGlynn dive through his legs and onto the ball. Down came the biggest player on the ground with a thud on to the smallest, pressing him like a bug in a book (who won the free despite him being the initiator of the contact by basically tripping the big bloke), and the SCG won a McGlynn shaped depression. (Coincidentally, the same script was also followed by the same pair in the 4th quarter on the opposite forward flank.)

Reid scored the goal of the game soon after, taking an outrageous mark above a pack on the left wing, playing on and thumping a two step monster from 65 out, which took a Pythonesque bounce to totally elude a fair sized pack in the square and take a seat front and centre in the No Ball Stand. Freo’s only goal for the stanza was far more prosaic, when a clearance from the resultant centre bounce was lobbed straight on top of Sandiland’s head in the square as he rested at full forward.

Josh Kennedy was taking control of the midfield for the Bloods, and Sydney were slowly but surely grinding the Dockers down. Their midfield dominance and ruthless forward pressure meant that the six security types were seeing more of the action than the paying public, but what we saw (on the big screen, often enough) was top class footy. It had the lot: speed, death defying leaps, and hilariously inane commentary from a more elderly Swannie sitting behind me. (His 2nd/4 classic being, “Malceski’s being a bit quiet – GET INTO THE GAME, MICK”. This was early in the quarter, being after _defender_ Nick Maceski had just scored a goal with his 10th disposal, and was about thirty seconds before he climbed above a pack to literally rip down his 11th from the clouds).

The score at half time saw Sydney leading 9.7 to 3.3, and the 16 scoring shots to 6 was more indicative of the difference than the other stats, which although favouring the Swans, were basically even. Sydney had control of both territory and tempo, and Fremantle was literally teetering on the edge of the abyss.

Two minutes into the second half, Paul Roos’ influence on the game became even more obvious. After a Lewis Jetta goal directly arising from a seriously dumb Freo turnover in their back pocket, my hot date, Sherrin, then spent a couple of minutes in Sydney’s left forward pocket along with all thirty six players. The fat side was devoid of life (bar 2 boundary umps, a dragonfly, and of course, the turf), and there was nobody on the skinny side any closer to the Freo goal than the Sydney edge of the centre square.

It did not make for anything remotely attractive. The highlight of this period was a punter tripping on the bit of the concourse before he reached the actual steps descending into my area, and managing to drop $35 worth of over priced under strength beer so dead straight forward that it didn’t hit anybody (and I was sitting on the edge of my row, so I thanked Max Rooke for his benevolence). To a chorus of hoots and hollering, the red faced waiter designate returned to his mates bearing five plastic cups with about a centimetre of froth in each.

My opinionated Swannie wondered aloud, “How did this useless mob do the Cats?”, so the Dockers decided to show him. All of a sudden, the purple people eaters were rampaging towards the outnumbered fluoro vests in the empty stand, and goal followed goal followed goal followed goal. Suddenly, Fremantle looked hungry, and their much vaunted potential was not so much rising to the surface as exploding clean through it. What appeared to be a sea of scarlet and white supporters was suddenly drowned out by wave after wave of the droning chant of “FRRREEEEEEEEO, FRRREEEEEEEEO, FRRREEEEEEEEO … “, and it was game on.

The Swans’ command of the skies was gone, and their structure fractured and then melted in the onslaught. Their disposals were rushed and disjointed, and returned with interest from a Fremantle backline that had the taste of blood. The bloke behind me was now utterly subdued.

Then, as the going got tough, the tough got going. Adam “Skeletor” McPhee (classic name, thanks K-ROCK) attempted to surge yet again out of defence, but he was run down from behind by the slower 150 game celebrating veteran Lewis Roberts-Thomson and was pinged for incorrect disposal. LRT bombed his kick towards a pack in the right forward pocket, and as Sam Reid was yet again getting mugged it was that ageless immortal, Adam Goodes, who rose high and plucked Sherrin from the grasp of the heavenly hosts.

Despite the angle, despite the pressure of the Swans’ screaming need, despite the obvious anguish of almost twenty thousand of the faithful looking him almost straight into his eyes, Goodes did what true champions do and knifed the ball through the centre of the big white sticks, through the very heart of Fremantle’s revival. The siren immediately blared as the twenty thousand true believers roared their relief and belief into the Sydney skies, the sound a bestial roar from the very core of our game.

I sat there in the heart of the tumult, dressed in the colours of neither team, utterly exhilarated.

Sydney clung to a 11.9 to 9.4 lead, but Fremantle had proven that their claim to be taken seriously is deeply rooted in reality, and the game was anybody’s to claim.

Freo charged forward from the start of the last stanza, defensive mindsets utterly gone (they set up at one centre bounce with seven forwards). Time and again they surged forward behind the complete ruck dominance of Aaron Sandilands (55 hit outs being a fair day’s work on its own, but he was also a key link player in transition, and a man that tall should not be so clean handed below his knees). But still Sydney hung tough.

The rock that was the cornerstone of Sydney’s defiance in the face of the Docker tsunami, was Josh Kennedy. Early in the fourth quarter he collected the ball by the centre circle and booted it into clear space in the Sydney left forward pocket. One of the subsequent match reviews has called it a “speculative kick”, but it was nothing of the sort. It was as deadly accurate as a laces out worm burner onto a leading player’s chest, and it was a pass of sublime beauty, intelligence and grace. It landed alone and supposedly misplaced, but the closest player to it was the magnificent Lewis Jetta, twenty metres away, and it allowed that vastly improved player to leave his opponent trailing in his dust as he collected Sherrin just as he hit Warp Speed 5 and consign it to the embrace of the security bloke standing immediately behind the goals at that distant deserted end.

Later, as Sydney abandoned any pretence of wishing to do anything more than just hoik the ball back out of the Fremantle offensive area, it was Kennedy who time and time again cut of the Docker’s sorties and bought Sydney time and breathing space. He surely must be now hailed as one of the best players currently plying their craft, and if he hasn’t already got six Brownlow votes safely secured there is no value to that award.

Freo clawed back to with 13 points, but their bombardment of the Sydney goals had yielded behinds when goals were needed. The wind was taken out of their wonderful fight back when Tendai Mzungu was blatantly scragged as he ran on to the Sherrin as it lay unloved and unclaimed in the goal square with no Swan between him, it, nor the goal with a couple of minutes to go and glory within reach.

That most blatant officiating mistake regrettably ended the game as any sort of contest.

Both teams should come out of the game with a lot of confidence. If both can continue to logically develop through the course of this season, they will be significant participants in the September passion plays. Though they both slipped back into dour mode on occasions, both can play some seriously entertaining footy.

My desires for a Sherrin fest sated, I was able to return to my home by 6:15 that evening, to relive my memories of that stirring game alone again, naturally.

My points: 3 – Josh Kennedy (Swans); 2 – Aaron Sandilands (Dockers); 1 – Sam Reid (Swans)

About Richard Naco

We are Geelong.

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