AFL Round 21 – Western Bulldogs v Sydney: The Appetizer

By Jake ‘Cobba’ Stevens

The restaurant was busy that time of night. Like other Springvale eateries, the décor was simple, but the flavour was strong. Again, I was the only person with white hair in sight. A mixture of languages filled the air, and the waiters had a sense of urgency. On the worn, cream-coloured menu, Dad and I first chose to order a scallop entrée and a ‘Triple Three’ beer each (pronounced ‘twiple-tree’). With growing anticipation we waited, and finally, the scallops arrived. They were soft and tangy, but there were only three of them. They were delicious, but we weren’t yet satisfied. The main meals had been ordered. There was Mongolian beef and a roasted duck. Oh how we waited to be filled with a decent portion of food! Nobody goes to a restaurant to eat just an appetizer. We were excited. Our expectation was growing, as we waited for the highlight of the night, the climax, the finale.

Earlier that day, Dad and I traveled to Etihad Stadium. The Swans were playing the Dogs, in what looked like a pretty standard game running into the finals. Swans had their first loss since May last week, and flew south to face a pretty disappointing Bulldogs team for 2012. Handy upsets to Collingwood and Adelaide meant that Sydney was set up in a great place to defend their territory on top of the ladder. Every expert would have picked the Swans, but in a week of unexpected wins, nothing was certain.

After snatching some free tickets off a friend the day before, Dad and I found our seats on the third tier. Under the closed roof, we saw the big half-back Brian Lake kick the first goal of the match through the Swans’ messy defensive work. However, not long after that I was cheering for McGylnn’s first running goal of the game. It was clear early on that the Dog’s midfield group were running circles around the Swans, and their classy clearance work set up two goals for 15th gamer, Tory Dickson. The core group of Skipper Boyd and especially Ryan Griffen assisted the team in a synergetic way we hadn’t seen from the Dog’s since earlier in the year. But the determined Swans persisted. Later, a Lewis Johnston smother caused a turnover, and the Sydney spread moved fast with the eventual delivery to Mike Pyke, who ensured another goal. But the fast-start award belonged to the Dogs, as two bouncy dribblers, from Addison and Gia, kicked them into a three goal quarter time lead.

Dad and I stood perplexed. In 2012, the Swans had prided themselves on their ability to win the first quarter, and get away to a healthy lead. The absence of this made us reconsider their prospects for the remainder of the game. If the Swans couldn’t win here, what good would the rest of the match be? The intensity the Dog’s showed early continued after the break. Picken kicked a short goal after receiving a precise kick from Griffen, who was on fire. The defensive pressure, like that of Clay Smith, was probably the reason the Dog’s were winning the contests. Dickson gave a wide handpass to Johannisen who snapped to maintain the Dog’s lead (pun intended). I was starting to get a little edgy. I could feel that the Swans were going to come back, but they weren’t quite there yet. Finally, an opportunity arose when Jack tackled and gave a handpass to the running McGylnn who kicked straight from 50. I jumped up. Swans were back! Seconds later, Reid gathered and kicked his first. Mumford and O’Keefe followed with accurate kicking from set shots. The depth of Sydney’s player development showed through as Roberts-Thompson’s late second quarter goal was created by a genius tap from Pyke, both former rugby players. The Swans efficiency lifted, and the Dog’s fell. It was turning into a different game. But it was half time. Recovering from the first quarter, Sydney now led by 14 points.

Readjusting our perspective, Dad and I traveled south to level one, on the border of the Swans’ and Bulldog’s crowds. There was a clear physical divide between the fans, but I would definitely say that more than half of the crowd were Bloods supporters. Happily we sat just in time for the second half, and Goodes’ opening goal. I felt that, despite an average first half, this was the game Goodes was on the verge of finding his form again. Moments later, a very poor kick from Fletcher Roberts found Goodes in space. A well-timed kick gave maple-syrup-lover, Mike Pyke another contested mark, and goal. Pyke’s involvement in this game has been his best to date, as he continually finds improvement in only his 15th game. The Swans balanced attack and defence, as Grundy and Mattner combined to incessantly push the ball forward of halfway. Kieran Jack was among the best, his highlight came when he roved the pack mark and produced a skilful left foot snap. The floodgates had opened. Dad and I raised our voices. Parker and LRT kicked more goals to make it ten unanswered for the Swans. But all good runs must come to an end. Dickson kicked his third, to try and help bail their sinking ship. Addison bobbed up twice, and kicked his fourth for the game. Old dog, Adam Cooney, recovering from a round 14 knee problem was subbed in aswell. At three quarter time, Swans were leading by 34 points. Dad and I felt comfortable again.

Within a minute of the fourth quarter, Goodes gathered from the pack and snapped truly. He left in his wake, an injured Lin Jong. The courage from the young Taiwanese man was humbling. Meanwhile, the Sydney band marched ahead. Hannebery finished off a great play, and added his name to the goalkickers. Meanwhile, a rolled ankle resulted in Pyke receiving the red vest, and his replacement was, the former Tiger, Mitch Morton. Throughout the season, Morton had been kicking bags of 10, 9 and 8’s in the reserves, and his inclusion in this game saw him take only seconds until he was involved in a score assist to Adam Goodes. The Sydney crowd welcomed his involvement. Minutes later, it was a McGylnn bomb that landed in his hands to give Morton his first Swans goal. Kennedy racked up more possessions and did well in the clearances. He was rewarded with a round of applause when he was twenty metres out and slotted a goal. The relentless attacking power from Sydney was no match for the young pups, who had well and truly run out of breath. Lewis Jetta contributed his mandatory goal late in the match too. The spread of goalscorers was as large as I can ever remember seeing, fourteen in fact. The Dog’s had been steamrolled. Griffen’s 47 disposals weren’t enough, and the siren blew to end a 10 to 2 goal final quarter.

The Swans had won by 82 points, a convincing and wonderful victory.

But now, it is finals time. What we’ve been waiting for.

Easy victories over the Bulldogs may be fine and good fun,

But the real satisfaction comes from the hard fought games, at the business end of the year.

Me and Dad have had enough appetizers, we are waiting for the main course to arrive.

 

 

 

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