AFL Qualifying Final-Sydney v Fremantle: Buffer Zone

It shouldn’t matter this much.

The environment, Ebola, failing democracy, even my job should have had more of a bearing than three hours of footy.

But late in the fourth quarter, when Goodes chips over The Enemy’s head straight into Pyke who’s charging into the goal square, all that really matters is that we cannot lose this game.

It’s an illogical emotional involvement that’s been building since last week but this morning kicked into high gear. Ungluing the eyes, surfacing to a sound I don’t want to hear.

Rain.

Crap.

We play like crap in the rain.

I’ve got images of greasy handballs from Rampe to McVeigh sliding through damp fingers. Wet turf causing Rohan’s enthusiasm to outweigh execution. Jetta slipping over just as he’s in prime position. I spend the morning trying not to monitor the Olympic Park rain forecast every two minutes.

On the train out I ponder what to do with the extra ticket mistakenly bought for a friend who’s still overseas. Three hours of grappling with Ticketek’s twisted seat release model to find a decent perch. I’m considering offloading it at Olympic Park but the risk of spending the arvo explaining to NSW’s finest doesn’t appeal. Instead thoughts turn to how tough this game is going to be. The Enemy are renowned for their defence but their relentless attack during last year’s finals really opened up my eyes. Still we have our mojos back; Franklin, Kennedy and McGlynn. It’s unlikely our forward line will rip The Enemy apart but there’s no way to keep them quiet forever.

We get a good idea of that as Franklin marks quickly from the first bounce. But he’s offline and it sets up a rapid yet inaccurate ten minutes. Rohan runs too far and The Enemy boots the first major off the resulting free. Franklin makes amends but generally our forward entries are haphazard. Tippett’s being double-teamed and Franklin shadowed. He cops a wayward fist round the chops for his troubles and the crowd comes alive. But he can’t make it count on the scoreboard and the first quarter ends with the Swans only enjoying a slight advantage.

I like my fellow Swans fans, but there’s a decibel limit to this affection. When the lady next to my wife turns out to have a tinnitus inducing edge to her support, it’s time to convert that wasted seat into a one metre buffer zone for the rest of the game.

The second quarter is gruelling. Neither team is giving an inch, hurling their bodies into the contest. Goodes handballs when a goal is begging, and The Enemy make us pay on the transition. Malceski is subbed off. Everyone’s on edge, not injuries at this time of year? The Enemy press but scoreboard pressure eludes them. Our counterattacks are equally wayward and it’s a rolling battle until McVeigh, alone in the middle, hits Tippett top of the goal square. We return to the deadlock until The Enemy opportunistically soccer one in between three defenders. After all the hard work it’s disappointing heading into half time with only a fragile lead.

The game opens up in the third. Our defence keeps cool under intense pressure; Smith and Rampe putting in strong tackles. Jetta gets a goal after a superb link up from Buddy and Jack. It’s boiling down to a war of attrition and territory. Goodes isn’t paid a mark but then ghosts across the pack to secure the ball and a goal. We’re twenty points up and looking more composed.

A couple of early costly errors put The Enemy back in the fight but moving Franklin to the wing is the master stroke. Free of the tag he boots a monster from sixty out and then one of his freaky running goals from deep in the pocket. Fast exits out of the centre allow The Enemy back on the board but when Pyke goals it’s the sign that the game has shifted from a genuine contest to a run home. Multiple attempts on goal eventually pay off with Hannebery slicing through the uprights.

The siren goes. We’re into the Prelimanary Final. Poised for a spot in the Granny.

Now it really matters.

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