Eight Years of Footy at the Sydney Olympic Stadium

Throughout its 11 years of existence, the Sydney Olympic Stadium located in the western Sydney suburb of Homebush, has served as the backdrop to many of Australian’s finest and memorable sporting moments of the 21st Century. Many would argue that this venue has captured the hearts and minds of the Australian public and has conveyed the sporting elements of both incredible ecstasy and unbearable agony throughout the many events that have occurred at the Olympic complex. Recognizable high-profile athletes such as Cathy Freeman, Marion Jones, Johnny Wilkinson and John Aloisi just to name a few have entered their names into sporting folklore right around the globe by performing on the big stage.

What is often overlooked is the AFL’s brief but eventful affiliation with the ground. Although the venue has currently only hosted 31 AFL matches throughout its tenure, we have witnessed some terrific contests.

As we approach the second phase of the split round and avid Magpie fans prepare for their traditional trek up the Hume Highway to watch their side’s crucial clash with the Sydney Swans at the Olympic Stadium, let’s reminisce for a moment and take a look back at the fantastic moments that footy has brought upon the venue.

Top 8 Matches

Round 9 2002 Sydney v Essendon- An historical match for the Swans as they locked horns with a formidable Essendon combination in the opening match at the Olympic Stadium. This game also obtained extra significance in the context of the season for both sides. Essendon, the previous season’s runner up had commenced the 2002 season admirably before serious injuries claimed the likes of elite players in Hird, Lloyd and Misiti and suddenly the once invincible line-up were increasingly vulnerable. The Swans on the other hand endured a horrid run of form despite fielding a relatively talented line-up registering just 3 victories and a draw in the lead up to this match. The heat was certainly on senior coach Rodney Eade due to reported fallouts with board members and a dubious game plan in place. This was a crucial clash to say the least.

Following impressive pre-match festivities the Bombers claimed the early advantage and maintained a 3 goal buffer throughout the first half mainly due to the efforts of Steve Alessio up forward with three majors. However the Swans persisted and gradually eased back into the contest. When Swan goal sneak Matthew Nicks converted his 4th goal to place his side in the lead, the momentum was certainly with the red and white. But cool heads prevailed for the Bombers and after placing their noses in front battled grimly to defend their slender lead. In the dying seconds the result hinged upon ninth gamer Ricky Mott who took a towering mark deep in the forward line. The big ruckman had the chance to ultimately win the match for his side but inexcusably missed from 20 metres out. The look on coach Rodney Eade’s face said it all as the Dons held on in a cliff-hanger by just 2 points. Overall the Stadium’s opening night was a success as almost 55 000 ventured to the ground to witness the thriller. For the trivia buffs, tall ruckman Mott would see out the season for the Swans before unsuccessfully trying to resurrect his career at Carlton 2 years later, running out onto the field twice in the navy blue Guernsey.

Round 21 2003 Sydney v Collingwood- Ironically it was this Round 21 clash that was arguably the stem for the now traditional mid-season contest between the Swans and Magpies at the Olympic Stadium. Well over 72 000 fans entered the complex to witness a free-flowing match performed at a frenetic pace. Both sides were in superb form in 2003, however the Pies looked a class above on this night with midfielders Paul Licuria and Nathan Buckley producing stellar performances in the midfield. Meanwhile up forward Anthony Rocca was proving a hassle for former teammate Andrew Schauble, bobbing up to register three goals including a ripper from deep in the pocket. The Maggies appeared to have the match sewn up at the main break with a 27 point lead, however their opponents battled back gallantly. With Sydney stalwart Stewie Maxfield adding pivotal poise and experience in the midfield and youngster Adam Schneider (donning the number 36 guernsey)booting an inspirational goal hard up against the boundary line, the Swans gained hope. But Collingwood showed true class and composure to prevail by three goals. From a broader perspective, the crowd alone was a victory for the AFL and the back page of the Herald Sun the following morning conveyed this feeling with two images;  The large AFL crowd at Homebush in contrast to the miniscule NRL crowd in Parramatta.

Preliminary Final 2003 Sydney v Brisbane- This match was quite a physical encounter which many could have mistaken for a State of Origin series, after all it is virtually state against state. The Swans entered their first final at the Olympic Stadium realising they had exceeded the expectations of almost every critic; many tipped Sydney to be hailed as wooden spooners that season. The Lions were not exactly the colossus of previous seasons, battling through the Finals Series the hard way after losing their first final to the in-form Magpies. The match resembled an end to end flow of footy and this was indicated on the scoreboard as the Lions managed to keep their noses in front up until the final break. Despite their three point advantage the Lions were severely handicapped heading into the crucial final term. Skipper Michael Voss regularly received painkilling injections throughout the match while playmaker Nigel Lappin was in real trouble due to a rib injury suffered from a collision with Shaun Hart early in the last stanza. Proceedings looked bleak for the Lions but to their credit they managed to execute a magnificent 6 goal to nothing blitz for the remainder of the quarter effectively snuffing out a fairytale Grand Final berth for Paul Roos and his charges. Brisbane were easy victors by 44 in front of over 70 000 and would then prevail on the last Saturday in September over the Magpies the following week.

Round 7 2005 Sydney v Essendon- According to the opinions of experts and Sydney fans this match ultimately proved to be the turning point of the Swans 2005 Premiership campaign. After copping a hiding from the exceptional West Coast side the previous week, AFL boss Andrew Demetriou labelled the game style implemented by the Swans as simply ‘boring’. The Sydney unit were keen to prove a point to the football world, however those ambitions were not helped when goalsneek Nick Davis were forced from the field in the opening minute with a hamstring complaint. The game degenerated into a battle between the spearheads as Barry hall appeared dangerous early and ended up with 4 goals. Meanwhile at the other end the two veteran Bomber spearheads in Lloyd and Lucas were vital contributors, each bagging four goals. Throughout the bulk of the contest the Dons seemed the better side due to their tireless work in the midfield and exceptional delivery in the forward line. Despite a 16 point deficit at the last change the Swans waddled their way back into the contest using their aggressive mentality to advantage. With players such as Kirk, Buchanan and O’Loughlin adding extra impetus into the Swans forays inside 50 and beyond the Bloods grabbed a two goal lead with only minutes remaining. Despite a Lloyd goal from long range Sydney prevailed by one straight kick and more importantly gained the confidence required for their premiership assault in the months ahead.

Round 13 2005 Sydney v Collingwood- This mid-season clash gained added importance, particularly for the magpies who had only prevailed four times in 2005 in the lead-up to Round 13. Meanwhile the Swans struck a rich vein of form, dropping only one of the previous seven matches. The Swans seemingly looked certain victors at Three Quarter Time, leading by 16 points in a scrappy encounter. But the young Collingwood line-up still obtained plenty of fuel in the tank and threw everything at their opponents. Brownlow Medallist Nathan Buckley, who returning from a lengthy stint on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury, was simply awesome as he racked up 28 disposals in a fantastic display of endurance, skill and determination. His performance however was not enough as the Swans took home the chocolates by one solitary point however the result was overshadowed by the controversial climax to the match. Sydney veteran Ben Matthews effectively wiped off the final 30 seconds from the clock due to cramp complaint that held up play. Nevertheless the contest was one of the thrillers of the season.

Round 1 2007 Sydney v West Coast- In the view of many supporters, this match will be remembered as the thrilling final chapter to a remarkable and intense rivalry between these two clubs. Following a thrilling climax to the 2006 Grand Final which saw the Eagles prevail by a single point and take their third Premiership pennant, over 60 000 attended at the Olympic Stadium to witness the return bout between these two heavyweights. The West Coast, reeling after a controversial off-season which included the indefinite suspension of star midfielder Ben Cousins got away to a flier booting a mammoth 10 goals in the first half. This period of dominance was due to the outstanding efforts of dynamic Eagles duo Chris Judd and Daniel Kerr and to some extent the inaccuracy of the Swans. After opening up a 40 point lead at the major break, the Eagles control over the match began to deteriorate as the Sydney camp lifted to an enormous degree. It was almost inevitable to find that the Swans reduced the margin to 1 point before the final siren sounded. The wonderful efforts of Tadgh Kennelly and Brett Kirk who orchestrated the Sydney comeback were not enough as the Eagles opened their account for 2007 by the slimmest of margins.

Round 8 2009 Sydney v West Coast- In front of a reasonable attendance of 33 000, yet another thriller occurred between these two clubs. However these sides were no longer the dominant figures in the competition, instead both teams were fielding a younger generation of players. In that respect it is quite fitting that blossoming Sydney midfielder Kieran Jack was to boot the winning goal on this occasion. In the lead up to this encounter both sides were on the cusp of the Top 8, however neither side had really managed to defeat a quality opponent, adding a critical element to this match. The Swans ploughed through the match with their noses in front but the Eagles sent their opponents on the back foot late in the match with golden opportunities to bury the result. But the West Cost were extremely costly in front of goal in the dying stages and when Jack converted the running goal at the opposite end to place his side in the lead, the Eagles were left to rue a missed opportunity, falling by 5 points as the siren blared.

Round 20 2009 Sydney v Geelong- Although the Cats had already consolidated the all important second spot on the ladder, their recent form in the lead up to the clash against the Swans was wayward to say the least. The Cattery was given cause to worry about their form following a drubbing from Carlton the previous week, in many ways this left the door ajar for Sydney. This match gained extreme importance for the Swans who had to prevail to keep their 2009 finals aspirations alive. Gary Ablett displayed a match winning performance by accumulating 44 possessions while fellow teammate Joel Corey followed suit with 38 disposals. The performances from these men were pivotal to the Cat’s morale boosting 5 point victory. At each change the Cats were slightly on the better end of the ledger. Eventually their 22 point lead halfway through the final term proved too much for the Swannies who came back to fall abysmally short by under a kick.

Best Goal- Tadgh Kennelly 2005 Arguably the finest goal converted at the Olympic Stadium falls under the name of the loveable Irishman Tadgh Kennelly. In one of only two day matches at the venue, Kennelly shone brighter than the sun that rose above them on that warm day in 2005 booting the goal of the season against the Lions. Although the match was comfortably in Sydney’s keeping, Kennelly set about providing more entertainment for the Swans contingent. The Irishman gathered the Sherrin deep in the centre before sprinting through the corridor dodging and weaving opponents before nailing the attempt from the 50 metre arc.

Best Mark-Brad Ottens 2006 This infamous grab by the Geelong ruckman against the Swans at the Olympic Stadium was adjudged the Mark of the Year in 2006. Ottens timed his run perfectly behind the pack and judged the high footy accurately to take a towering mark while resting atop opponent Darren Jolly’s shoulders on centre wing. The big Geelong ruckman seemed to hang in mid-air for a week before eventually tumbling down to the ground

Best Hit- Barry Hall 2008 Although we don’t condone this type of violence, no analysis on the history of AFL Footy at the Sydney Olympic Stadium would be complete without one of the most controversial hits of all time. The Swans appeared to be on the way to producing a comprehensive victory over the Eagles in the first term however the scoreline did nothing to restrict Big Bad Barry Hall’s temperament. While inside his attacking 50, Hall received some old fashion niggling and jostling from West Coast opponent Brent Staker. Hall set about resolving the issue by sending a left fist spearing into Staker’s jaw effectively knocking the defender out in the process. Hall’s indiscretion led to a subsequent suspension of 7 games tarnishing his reputation again in the process. Some justice prevailed later in the game when Hall injured his wrist against the advertising board later in the game. The clip of Hall’s infamous punch was frequently viewed on the internet and TV stations, even achieving publicity overseas in nations such as the United States and Denmark. For the record the Swans comfortably accounted for the Eagles by 62 points on that night back in 2008.

About Damian Watson

Hey,my name is Damian Watson and I am 14 years old. My ambition is to become an AFL broadcaster/journalist in the future. I am a keen blues supporter and I live in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I play and write for the Knox Falcons U/16's.

Comments

  1. Steve Healy says

    Great piece Damo, definitely made me think back about some of those clashes.

    One thing i have noticed is a decrease in ANZ stadium attendances over the last couple of years, obviously the worst crowd of 19,127 was in the elimination final, you probably should’ve mentioned that game as the low point of the Stadium’s history

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