AFL Round 1 – Sydney v St Kilda: Swans lose the toss again

by Neil Jackson

As a devoted Swans supporter of 14 years, I was so excited about this Round 1 clash. Sydney had had its best preseason since 1856. Then there was the appearance of no less than 6 new recruits on board, (Bradshaw, Mumford, Seaby, Kennedy, McGlynn and Jetta), plus the return of the prodigal Irishman, Tadhg Kennelly.

St Kilda were also near full strength. They have had a whole six months to ponder about the near miss that was the 2009 Premiership.

Then there was the prospect of another tight, tense clash against traditional rivals St Kilda. The last two games, (in the Home and Away in 2009, and in the NAB Cup Quarter Final), had both produced one point thriller wins to the Saints. This game was surely going to live up to being yet another thriller.

The first half of quarter number one was outstanding for Sydney. The Swans were perhaps a little unfortunate not to kick more than the two goals through the evergreen Adam Goodes and Ryan O’Keefe.

The balance of the first quarter saw the Saints playing at their best: efficient, faultless and brilliant. Five straight goals are recorded for St Kilda, taking a 5-0 to 3-3 lead at quarter time. Herein Nick Riewoldt is now showing why he is such superstar, with that knack to simply stand out, no doubt aided and abetted by his standout blonde hair.

But the Harbour city has its own superstar, a double Brownlow medallist no less, in the guise of Adam Goodes. Goodes leads Sydney’s goalkicking with three, including an extraordinary soccered effort off the ground that would make Tim Cahill proud. It’s no surprise that Adam Goodes played competitive soccer until switching to AFL at age 14.

The second quarter was your typical Sydney-St Kilda arm wrestle, the Swans winning the contest in a tight one by just two points. This contemporary tense rivalry between the old occupants of the south of Melbourne has an almost ironic antecedence. The two coaches, Paul Roos and Ross Lyon are the best of mates, having played 10 seasons together at Fitzroy, then being the coach and assistant coach of Sydney’s first premiership in 72 years. How can such two closely bonded men off the field coach such feelings of intense enmity of their young footballers on the field?

During the long summer of 2009/10, Sydney’s likely defence unit, led by Craig Bolton but including Mattner, Richards, Shaw, Kennelly, Robert-Thompson and Grundy was quietly lauded as the backline six pack to watch in season 2010. Unfortunately they were largely a disappointment in Round 1, with  St Kilda when it mattered taking advantage of some atypically flaccid Sydney defensive pressure to lead the Saints to a 20 point lead at the last break. The third quarter, with St Kilda winning by 13 points, proves to be the most one side portion of the game.

Despite the disappointment of Sydney’s defence, the Sydney crowd, reputed by some south of the Murray to be lacking passion, are getting restless. The holding the arm during a contested mark should not be a controversial rule, compared with say, holding the ball. However on 3 occasions tonight, Sydney’s Heath (Reg) Grundy is penalised for purported cutting Nick Riewoldt’s and Justin Koschitzke’s arms in a marking contest. The one involving Koschitzke did not even in my view involve physical contact, Grundy simply touched the ball. It is very sad to see the over policing of this rule, particularly when it becomes very difficult to explain to a developing player how to play contested marks in defence. I actually wonder if this rule is entirely necessary.

The last quarter proves to be your typical thriller end between these two sides. Sydney come within 2 points at one stage, but the Saints hold on to win by 8 close points. There is yet another controversial non-decision in dying minutes of the game. About 50 metres from goal and right in front, Kennelly takes a mark but at that moment is hit from behind with the knees of a St Kilda player. The Irishmen is stretchered off field.  But there is no 50 metre penalty. Unfortunately, the overwhelming feeling from the crowd was a game decided by umpiring decisions. For the Swans, that means (including the NAB Cup game) for three straights games between the two teams, St Kilda has got the money without being the evidently better side. The winner of all three games has effectively come down to a coin toss win. Surely it’s Sydney’s turn to win the toss next time!

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