AFL Preliminary Final – Sydney v North Melbourne: up against the Extra$

It was like fighting Mike Tyson at his peak.  It was like facing the West Indies at their peak.  It was like cycling in the Tour de France against a drugged-up Lance Armstrong.  It was like trying to eliminate the Corleone family.


It was as hopeless as Luke Skywalker facing Darth Vader the first time.  It was embarrassing like Daryll Cullinan getting out to Shane Warne again.  It was as pointless as winning the opening set in a major against Roger Federer.


On Friday night before the preliminary final, the Fox footy panel was asked to nominate their tips and provide a margin.  Eddie McGuire was defiantly flippant, as you would expect an opposing club president to be.  He picked Sydney by about two-million dollars.


David King as a former North player, was more sensible.  He picked Sydney by the combined scores of Buddy Franklin and Kurt Tippett.


My garage was absent of nervous tension.  Adam and I were fatalistically calm.  The Pole donned his old North Melbourne jumper, desperate for a North-Hawthorn grand final.  His reasons extended beyond bipartisan support.


The Pole hates Sydney.  Franklin used to play for Hawthorn.  Now he’s at Sydney.  And Hawthorn lost to the Swans in the 2012 grand final.  The Pole is sick of their success.


Adam and I are sick of Sydney too.  It’s a hate that took time to manifest.  We didn’t hate them in 2005-06, but we hate what the AFL have allowed them to become.


They’re not the Sydney Swans anymore, they’re the Sydney Extra$.


North wasn’t expected to win, which is why we weren’t stressing.  That didn’t mean Adam and I weren’t hopeful, we just didn’t want a blow-out.  North had won two finals.  A massive loss would dent that progress.


A few minutes before the game started, Adam asked about my heart.  Its rate hadn’t elevated.  Adam’s hadn’t either.


We weren’t into the preliminary final.  Our conversation was built around hope, I hope North are in touch at half time, I hope Petrie kicks six, I hope we’re not embarrassed.


When the siren went, my heart lurched.  ‘I can feel it now,’ I said.  It wasn’t excitement.  It was fear.


‘I can feel mine too,’ Adam said.


North kicked the first goal.  It took Sydney about ten minutes to get their first and that was the extent of our resistance.  The remnants of two tough finals was evident.  North was second to the ball, played from behind, couldn’t break tackles and couldn’t make tackles.


The margin at quarter time was 21-points.


During the second quarter, there were times when we watched silently.  The vision didn’t need words.  Only errors broke the silence.  Our lament was stilted.


Adam and I ended the second term on our feet, unable to sit still.  Sydney led by six goals.  The Pole talked up our third quarters.  All I could do was nod.


‘We need to win the third quarter by two or three goals,’ Adam said.


I admired their optimism and tried to envisage a fight back, an eight goal third term.  I hoped for something to ease the angst that filled the garage.  My heart was yammering.  Adam retold the second quarter, the errors and hopeless play.  He filled his beer.  I couldn’t fill mine.


During the third quarter, I was overcome by disappointment.  There would be no fight back.  I willed North on without enthusiasm, wanting goals to ease Adam’s frustration.


Sydney monstered North on the inside and slaughtered them in space.  At times, the size and strength of the Swans was cruelly apparent.  They didn’t just brush us aside, they snatched the ball from our grasp with ease.


Pressure forced errors.  They launched themselves into smothers and relentlessly drove the ball deep into the vicinity of Franklin and Tippett.  But it wasn’t just the Extra$ show.  Adam Goodes and Luke Parker kicked three goals each.


At three-quarter-time with North 52-points down, I went to bed.  Not because I was angry or disgusted, but because I had to.  My alarm was set for 4am.  I was hoping for about six hours sleep before going to work.


I couldn’t sleep.  I had to know.  The final margin, 71-points, was dreadful.


The following morning, the newsroom was unhurried.  I went through the stats.  Sydney had eight goal kickers.  North had six.  Sydney had 27 more disposals and took 13 more marks.  Those stats are indicative, occasionally, of a closer game.


But the inside-50 stat told the story.  Sydney went inside 25 more times and had 21 more scoring shots.  The margin could’ve been much bigger.


Franklin took 11 marks and gathered 23 possessions.  Tippett was more subdued with 15 possessions and nine marks.  Collectively, they kicked 9.4.58.  David King’s prediction was 13-points out.


North didn’t have a hope.  They weren’t just fighting history, they were up against the best team Extra$ can buy.


Twenty-years ago, Sydney won their third consecutive wooden spoon.  They were a rabble.  The AFL, as they do for every club, offered assistance.  Two years later, Sydney lost the grand final to North.


The Extra$ have missed the finals just three times since, because the AFL has never stopped providing assistance.  The cost of living allowance is too much.


There were premierships in 2005 and 2012.  It’s been an extended era of excellence but those premiership teams have got nothing on this current side.


The Extra$ are making the difference.


Sydney has recruited astutely.  They develop young players exceptionally well.  Their no dickheads culture is non-negotiable.  And they don’t suffer as much from the go-home factor as other clubs.


They also gave up a bevy of fringe players to fit Franklin and Tippett into the salary cap.


History, however, shows that any club with Extra$, be it salary cap concessions or extra players on the list, will win multiple premierships.  Anyone remember the Brisbane Lions three-peat?


Extra$ money makes the draft and salary cap redundant.  Extra$ money might win the Sydney Extra$ another premiership.




About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Matt, I don’t get it.
    You mention the key things about the Swans – recruitment, development, culture, reduction of the go-home factor, creating salary cap space – and then come back to the Extra$, by which I assume you mean the COLA. The COLA is on the way out, to be replaced by an arrangement that helps the less well paid players to meet accommodation expenses, a move I’m very happy about.
    But you seem to think that once these Extra$ are removed, the Swans will fall back to the field, as if those other factors make little or no difference. It’ll be a while before we know, but I bet the Swans will be up there in the top eight for a while to come. The recruiting has been amazing: this article by Jon Ralph connects the dots:
    My wife and I were traveling back to Melbourne and bumped into a prominent AFL captain. We mentioned we were Swans fans and his immediate response was to shake his head in admiration and say,”Ah, that culture.” And THAT’s one of the things that makes the biggest difference.
    This issue has already been visited on this site, so I won’t elaborate.
    And I reckon your blokes will do as well or better next year; good luck to them.

  2. Sorry Matt, I usually quite enjoy your words, but I find this disgracefully disrespectful. A growing number of opposition supporters seem to share this incredibly naive view, and that’s fine by me. As a Swans member, I could not be prouder of my club and the remarkable transformation that has taken place over the past twenty years. It’s also interesting that you speak about the ‘go-home factor’ not being much of an issue. For Victorian clubs, it is simply NOT an issue. Must be comforting.

    I look forward to the next bitter excuse for our ongoing success, as COLA has now been abolished. For the record, the Swans have missed the finals just three times in the past twenty years, because of environment, coaching, development, recruiting, outstanding list management, player culture and bloody hard work.

  3. Great report Matt. I’m with you 100% on the Swans. I barracked hard for them in 2012 and I loved the Bloods culture/no dickheads policy. But they sold the family credibility when they did dodgey deals to sign Buddy and Tippet. Its the all dickheads policy as far as I’m concerned. They bought a 3 year extension of the dynasty that was originally built on hard work, but is now sustained by accounting deceptions. By being greedy they have ensured no broader credibility in the footy community, and they will rot at the bottom for a decade once this player group is sold off to feed the Buddy monster.
    Short term smart/long term dumb. Too clever by half.
    To my eye Buddy is a GF choker based on 2012 (when it was all me/me and bad kicking). Last year Clarkson used him as a decoy.
    Carn the Hawks.

  4. Ross Treverton says

    They won a premiership only 2 years ago without Tippett and Franklin. They won a premiership because they recruited astutely, were coached well and,as Dennis Cometti said, didn’t just want to win, they willed themselves to. That’s the foundation of their success, not because they were given 10 per cent per player on top of the salary cap. If being so bitter makes last Friday nights loss more palatable for you, then good luck to you. It certainly won’t make North a better side. You have 6 months to wallow in your own self pity.

  5. Peter_B, what an extraordinary outburst!
    Please tell me 1. what part of either deal (Tippo and Buddy) was dodgy; 2. which accounting deceptions you have in mind; 3. in what way has greed manifested itself that is different from what all clubs do whenever possible.
    And here was I thinking you seemed a sensible sort of chap!

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    Last Friday was men vs boys (or something similar). Sydney were too big, good, strong, rested etc. When Goodes out ran Luke McDonald up the wing, I knew we were gone. And the result probably would’ve been the same with or without one of Buddy or Tippett. Great club and culture, superb junior development and recruitment, but bottom line is Sydney are allowed to pay more, therefore were able to land Buddy. How can that be a level playing field? It is what it is, and I’m not sooking.

    When all is said and done, North had a good year. We had to win a final to receive a pass mark. To win two was a bonus. We’re doing a helluva lot better than a lot of bigger clubs.

  7. I thought North looked tired, but Mr Jack, you are very lucky young man you are playing this week. Lucky, the media didn’t run with what you did to Luke McDonald, it should have been at least a week off. But don’t worry, I’m sure North have long memories so look out next time sweet heart and that goes for you too Mc Veigh!!

  8. Ps North next time one of your players is manhandled I hope to see a very angry and aggressive response from all our players. Sometimes the reaction is not strong enough, so let’s see aggression and strength next year all year North boys and if we give a free kick away standing up to the opposition that is Ok. Stand up strong all year, not just sometimes. Have a good rest but come back very strong and make the top four. That should be the aim for North Melbourne. There can never be satisfaction with close enough is good enough

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