A rivalry for the ages

by Jake Stevens

With so much talk about the Collingwood & Carlton rivalry this week, Richmond & Collingwood and Carlton & Essendon next week, it reminds me of, in my opinion, the most thrilling and closely contested match-ups of recent times. Ah the memories!

It was the 2nd September 2005 and West Coast was playing host to Sydney in the second qualifying final. The 2005 season had passed as a very entertaining one for the Swans. Numerous close games had proved that the Swans were determined to go all the way. Adelaide had finished on top of the ladder and West Coast was second due to percentage. Sydney was sitting on third, the highest finishing spot since 1996. The Swans entered this game as the in-form team at the time. Momentum had been an important thing, and had been stirred up with the memories of the old bloods.

I was at home, watching the game nervously with my dad. The Eagles had started well and led for most of the first half. Then, much to our delight, the Swans appeared to have the momentum to take the lead for the rest of the match. But the West Coast midfield trio of Judd, Kerr and Cousins had denied this attack and responded by taking control of the fourth quarter. Dad and I both felt like we had been robbed, as a few late controversial umpiring decisions against Sydney felt that it cost them the match. West Coast had won by 4 points.

The next week I was home alone yelling at the TV as the Swans overcame a four-goal margin in the last quarter. Nick Davis was the hero as he kicked all four goals including the match winner with less than 10 seconds to go. It was the most exciting game I had ever watched. Needless to say I cried when my boys had hit the front.

The Swans marched through to the Grand Final by defeating St Kilda by kicking seven un-answered goals in the last quarter. Meanwhile West Coast had toiled hard to defeat Adelaide at Subiaco to set up what would be an amazing end to the season.

It was the 24th of September 2005, and I was one of the happiest eleven year olds going around. Dad’s mate and fellow Swans supporter, Des, was lucky enough to secure tickets to the big event. He told me “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!” All of Dad’s side of the family were there to witness the event. I remember taking my seats on the second tier, on the half-flank. The stadium was packed with 91,000 footy fans. It was amazing. I had never been so thrilled and anxious in all my life.

West Coast started strong as Sydney struggled to maintain possession. However, more accurate kicking meant that the Swans led at quarter time.

In the second quarter Sydney looked to be taking control of the game, kicking three goals while the Eagles got none. However, after the long break, West Coast fought back by kicking three goals while the Swans went goalless.

The last quarter was a blur. I remember both teams missing easy goals. With about one minute remaining the Swans had a five point lead. The ball had been kicked by Mark Nicoski in the goal square, only for Tadhg Kennelly to run through and rush a behind. Kennelly kicked to Leo Barry in the pocket who then sent a long bomb up the ground that was marked by Dean Cox. He sent another long bomb to the pocket that was marked by leaping Leo Barry amongst a pack full of Eagles. “Leo Barry you star!” The roar of the crowd was so deafening I couldn’t hear the siren sound. But it had. I cannot explain the joy that I had experienced at the moment. I jumped up and hugged a complete stranger as we both shed a tear. I couldn’t believe that Sydney were premiers and I was there to experience it. Sydney had won by 4 points.

It was Saturday the 15th of July 2006 and the Swans again returned to play West Coast at Subiaco for their round 15 clash. I was once again watching the game from home with Dad and Des. The Swans started strong leading 8 goals to 3 at half time. West Coast had failed to kick a goal in the second quarter. We thought that the Sydney-West Coast close games had come to an end. Oh how we were wrong! Barry Hall was on fire kicking 4 goals, but a courageous Chris Judd was also playing well. Swans poor accuracy at goals had cost them as the Eagles fought back to hit the front within the final minutes. The Subiaco crowd helped them across the line to win in another thrilling contest. West Coast had won by 2 points.

It was 9th of September 2006 and once again the Eagles hosted the Swans in the first Qualifying final. West Coast had been on top of their game all year. They finished with 5 losses and strong momentum going into the finals series. Last year’s Grand Final defeat had the team as hungry as ever. The swans also had finished strong to a somewhat disappointing home and away series. They were lucky enough to make the four and only did due to percentage.

I was at my grandparent’s house watching the game with them and my sister. It was a toughly contested game right through the match. There were never more than a few goals difference throughout it. It felt that the umpires were against us all night as many of the Eagles goals came from free kicks. However the swans played well and looked the goods for most of the match. Hall and O’Loughlin both played pivotal roles and finished the game with 5 and 4 goals respectively. But the eagles wouldn’t lay down. They started to claw their way back half way through the third term. Once again Judd played a huge role in the comeback and important goals from Cousins and Armstrong put West Coast in front with a few minutes to go.

Then with less than 5 minutes to go the Swans created one of the most inspiring team plays of the night. Buchanon, Kennelly, Davis, Goodes, Fosdike, and Malceski linked together with a bold series of sweeping handballs from Half Back until a long bomb to O’Loughlin in the goal square to kick a goal before he ‘exchanged pleasantries with a few of the locals’. Back in Parkdale my grandparents and I were yelling and jumping around like crazy. We had known we just witnessed something very special. The swans went on bravely to register a remarkable win in enemy territory. Sydney had won by 1 point.

These teams met once again in the 2006 AFL Grand Final. It was the 30th of September 2006 and West Coast had recorded an easy win against the Western Bulldogs. And then a hard fought 10 point win over Adelaide at AAMI Stadium. The Swans had also won easily over Fremantle at home.

Once again I counted myself as extremely lucky and scored tickets to the MCG. The build up to the event had been somewhat familiar. My family once again attended the Grand Final parade, and took part in the various Grand Final week events.  This time around our seats weren’t as great as last time. We were on the very last row at the top of the ground. But that didn’t really matter to me, as I was just happy I was there to experience it anyway.

Similar to last year West Coast started the better, and outplayed the Swans in the first half. However inaccuracy at goal cost them and so only led by 25 points at half time. In typical Swans fashion, they fought back in the third quarter. Brett Kirk showed true courage and goals to Nick Davis meant the margin at 3 quarter time was 11 points.

Goodes goalled within the first 15 seconds of the last quarter and the margin was suddenly less than a kick. It was goal for goal in one of the most intense final quarters Grand Final history. The Swans supporters found voice and lifted the team to a 1 point margin. And then the siren blew. West Coast were the champions. It broke my heart. I punched the concrete wall behind me. In a cruel twist of fate, West Coast had won by the same margin they lost to 3 weeks prior. West Coast had won by 1 point.

It was 31st of March 2007 and round one was upon us. After a good 6 months to recover from the heart-breaking one point loss in the Grand Final, I was excited to know that footy was back. A crowd of 60,000 turned out at ANZ Stadium to watch the Swans host the Eagles in the Grand Final replay. I was once again at home on the couch with dad and Des. This game gave ‘Grand Final replay’ new meaning as once again West Coast jumped out of the blocks early. And like usual Sydney played catch-up all night. Brett Kirk and Tadgh Kennelly inspired the team to 7 goals to 1 second half. But Judd and Kerr were determined to stay in front. The game was an almost identical replay of last year’s Grand Final. It was a fantastic effort by West Coast who were missing many of their premiership players. For the sixth consecutive time the margin was less than a goal. West Coast had won by 1 point.

The teams met again in round 16 at Subiaco. It was the 21st of July 2007 and I was watching the game at Des’ house with dad. After a controversial pre-season Ben Cousins returned for his first game back since his suspension. Cousins played an important role that night in front of his adoring home crowd. It was a toughly contested game for the first half until the 3rd quarter when West Coast kicked away. It was goal-for-goal but Sydney was determined to turn it around. Despite the four goal effort from Ryan O’Keefe, West Coast held on to record an important win. West Coast had won by 12 points.

When September came, both teams fell short of making their third consecutive Grand Final. Sydney finished seventh and lost to Collingwood in the Elimination Final. Whilst West Coast, who finished third, lost their Qualifying Final to Port Adelaide by 3 points, and eventually lost to Collingwood in the Semis after extra time.

It would seem that the long reign of close games had ended between the pair. And the rivalry was over. It was sad to think such an exhilarating contest had finally ended. This suspicion was confirmed in round 4 2008, where the Swans smashed the Eagles by 62 points at ANZ Stadium.

Just 7 seven weeks later, the teams met again at Subiaco. It was the 7th of June 2008 and I remember being occupied by a cousin’s birthday party. So I delayed watching the game until the next day. I blocked out all media, which proved difficult but manageable. I was expected another easy win for the Swans. Oh how I was wrong! The Eagles jumped away to another good start, keeping the swans goalless in the first quarter. Thanks to Lynch and Kerr, the Eagles had a comfortable 6 goal lead at half time. However, this lead would slowly diminish as the bold swans would kick 4 goals to none in the third term before kicking the final three goals of the match, with the last coming at the 31 minute mark. Sydney had won by 5 points.

These teams faced off only once in 2009. And both teams had a somewhat different line-up since their glory days in 2005 and 2006. It was the 16th of May 2009. This round 8 clash was held at ANZ Stadium. I was watching the game live at Des’ house with dad. It was goal-for-goal the entire night. Rhyce Shaw played well in defence and Barry Hall kicked 5. The Swans lost the lead late in the last quarter, but a late goal from Kieran Jack put the swans in front in the dying minutes. Me, Dad and Des went crazy when the final siren blew. The swans had won yet another amazing game. Sydney had won by 5 points.

Tradition was broken yet again in round 5 last year. It was the 24th of April 2010 and the swans and Eagles were to have very different seasons. The Swans, spurred on by the retirement of Premiership coach and captain, Paul Roos and Brett Kirk, went strongly to finish the year in 5th place. Whereas West Coast had a very unsuccessful year. For the first time in their 23 year history, they finished as the wooden spooners. It was a very on-sided affair at the SCG. The Eagles looked OK during the first quarter, but since then it was Sydney all the way. Nick Malceski and Ryan O’Keefe played very well. A six goal effort from Daniel Bradshaw helped the swans with a comfortable victory. Sydney had won by 52 points.

Last week the competition arose again. It was the Eagles turn to host the Swans in round 3 of the 2011 competition. Both teams had the belief they could win the game. Once again, I was at home watching the game on Foxtel with my dad.  Although the bookies had the teams at even odds, we were confident the swans would pull through.

The game was played much like every Swans/Eagles game, contested and stoppage heavy. There were tight one-on-one contests across the ground, as he teams went goal-for-goal for much of the first half. Kennedy (Swans), Jack and Bolton were hard at work in the midfield, providing many important clearances. Cox was influential in the ruck. And Quinten Lynch proved to be a handful up front, kicking 4 goals in total. West Coast had a lot of the run in the 3rd quarter, but Goodes took control of the contest. Sydney came home strong and kicked the last four in the match to win register yet another significant and exciting win. Sydney had won by 13 points.

During these amazing years these two teams broke a lot of long-standing records.

The record for lowest total points difference across six games: 13 (next lowest: South Melbourne vs Melbourne, 28 points, 1898–1900)

Lowest total points difference across five games: 9 (next lowest: Hawthorn vs Collingwood, 19 points, 1958–1960)

Lowest total points difference across four games: 5 (next lowest: Footscray vs Hawthorn, 7 points, 1931)

Most consecutive one-point games: 3 (six pairings share with two)

What a wonderful contest between these two proud teams. I only hope they continue this amazing rivalry into the future!

Ah the memories!


About Jake "Cobba" Stevens

Cobba Stevens works in sports social media and content. A keen middle-distance runner in both the ammos and the pros, he's also one of the youngest 'old bloods' supporters in Melbourne.


  1. Great report Cobba, loved the memories of those epic Eagles-Swans clashes. Would always watch on in eagerness when these two played.

    My favourite clash? I would say the one where Tyson Stenglein kicked the matchwinner for the Eagles in the 2005 final.

  2. westcoastdave says

    Jake, I watched most of those games and shared most of your emotions – just on the opposite days!

  3. Brad Carr says

    That 05 QF was one of my favourite memories of watching footy in a bizarre location: the Sports Bar in Queenstown, NZ. With bounce-down at 10:30pm NZT, the joint was virtually empty when I walked in at 10:15, wearing the same (sweaty, smelly) Eagles beanie that I’d skied in that day. By quarter-time, the palce was jumping. I don’t know if there was a WA tour group in town, but it was a very pro-Eagles crowd and it got increasingly vocal, cumlinating in multiple club-song renditions after the final siren (and not a lot of impetus to get up the mountain for the first lift the next morning).

    I think one of the most engrossing aspects of the rivalry in that 05-06 period was the clash of styles. Worsfold had West Coast always playing man-on-man, no matter the circumstances (and sometimes questionably so, thinking of the dying minutes of the 06 QF). I always thought Sydney played a kind of ‘rolling wave’, if that makes sense (as opposed to a boring defensive flood) – they would push numbers back in defence, open space in front of them, and all push forward when in possession (I know I’m over-simplifying it, the point is it wasn’t a traditional structure). As well as the recurring close games, the different brands of football added to the intrigue.

  4. Cobba

    An excellent report on the West Coast-Sydney rivalry. Even as a neutral, I’ve loved the extraordinary sequence of close games and count myself privileged to have attended their back-to-back Grand Finals in 2005 and 2006.

    Your up-front comparison of this rivalry with the “traditional” rivalries got me pondering the evolving nature of rivalries in the AFL/VFL.

    In pure football terms, it’s ludicrous that a Richmond-Collingwood match in 2011 should be pumped up as a big rivalry match, But you can guarantee a crowd of 60,000 will front up at tonight’s game and, whether the assembled masses realise it or not, much of this enduring popularity has its roots in these teams’ historical legacy of the old suburban VFL.

    This particular rivalry was formed during the 1920s and 1930s when these two clubs enjoyed their most successful eras, collectively winning eleven premierships between the two World Wars. Whilst there was doubtless a grudging mutual respect for their on-field ability, the rivalry extended well beyond the footy field.

    Collingwood and Richmond were two tough, adjoining working class suburbs, both with more than their share of poverty, criminal activity and generally violent behaviour. If you read accounts, like the late Jack Dyer’s, about those times, two things stand out. One is that footy matches then were often just extensions of the inter-suburban gang warfare that played out regularly on the streets. The other is the level of desperation that drove players to hold their places in the teams when match payments often meant the difference between food on the table or not. Dyer himself played most of his career with a knee injury that prevented him from twisting and turning. There was no surgery that could repair it then, but he couldn’t afford not to play. In such circumstances, it’s not surprising that the animosity between player, teams and suburbs was both bitter and long-lasting.

    More recent rivalries have progressively been more about football and less about on- and off-field hostilities. The Melbourne-Collingwood rivalry that peaked during the 1950s and 1960s was a genuine football rivalry, but given added frisson by the class divide that separated the “silvertails” of Melbourne and the battlers from Collingwood.

    By the time Hawthorn-Essendon formed on of the more intense recent rivalries in the 1980s, it was mostly about their clear status as the top two teams in the competition, , albeit fuelled by a few controversial on-field incidents that took place.

    To me, the West Coast-Sydney rivalry is a manifestation of the uber-professional era, and is forged solely out of professional respect. Two clubs, on opposite sides of the country, with no history of bitterness or animosity, have created a rivalry based simply on the quality of their football and the evenness of their contests. It’s great sporting theatre but it doesn’t have the hostile undercurrent of the historical rivalries. And I very much doubt that, in 70 years time, if the two clubs lie at opposite ends of the ladder, 60,000 people will turn up to watch them because of the great games they played back in 2005-06.

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