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Finals Week 1 – Sydney v Essendon: Sending your music into the Bradman twilight (fortissimo)



Elimination Final

Sydney v Essendon


All week, the wind had been blowing in Sydney. The wind of spring, insistent enough to stir pollens and seeds, to whip what has been dormant up into something that can blossom. They seemed to carry the story of the season and the intensity of finals, as we made it through a second week of waiting for September to begin.



The signs of change had been appearing all week in formerly unseen places. The gerberas in Woolworths were paired in red and white. A Swans scarf decked the dash of an ambulance in emergency mode. I arranged my ceramic Swans on the dining room sideboard. In the IGA on Friday arvo, the young guy aligning mushrooms was talking ‘if the Swans win.’ His colleague on carrots had worked out that, since GWS’s loss on Thursday night, the Swans couldn’t face them until a Grand Final now. In walked a guy with a tan terrier and a team beanie. I realised it was on. Sydney was paying attention. On Saturday morning, my Cygnet worked on his music homework, a three part arrangement of Saint Saens’s ‘Swan Theme’. He could change it to make it play however he wanted.



I arrived in Bay 3 just as the Swans had burst their banner. Here were the O’Reillys, lined up in the extremity of the Bradman! Gwen had done a bundle buy so we could all go through together. We embraced as I squeezed down the line, face to face not over the shoulder. With finals comes a shuffling of all that is familiar – position, pace, stakes. O’Reilly Max was nervous. He could hardly utter platitudinous hellos. We sat from the anthem and worked to reorient ourselves in the pocket on the plains, the sun on our right cheeks, eye-height with the likes of Franklin as he swaggered down to the forward line, eye height with Gary and Reid and Sinclair. I took a moment before the bounce to take in the beauty of a stadium sardine full, blushed by late afternoon.



Twilight is my favourite time. My laywoman’s understanding is that twilight comes in three successive stages: civic, nautical and astronomical, each step defined by just how far the sun’s centre has dipped below the horizon, each step carrying us further from what the naked eye can discern to something imperceptible. That’s what is precious in twilight, the way everything that is obvious or familiar is obscured. The detailed face value of things is dissolved into shapes and impressions, into more mysterious things. Our terrestrial point of view is forced into a more expansive sense of space that turns a single horizon into a cosmos of stars.



The Swans went all twilight on Saturday!



Towers went from hard working link man to possession getter and scorer. Sinclair went from back-up ruckman to a leading, leaping full forward in a defensive role on a back. The Mo was busy stopping the dash of another Tash rather than making Go! of his own. Lance went from the agile thoroughbred that no-one can contain to a corky with a triptych of goals in close. Rohan and Reid were shape shifting up the wings, while Zak, Mac and Lloyd made the play.



The players looked disciplined and balanced. They manned up beautifully, preventing lines but hitting targets of their own. They weathered the getting to know you of tackles and chances, gave up the stoppage game they are famous for and took flight off the clearances. I have never seen them so consistently and efficiently airborne! Heeney was up, as was Marksy Parksy! Even our Josh Kennedy was twisting into a leap. They refused to be terrestrial or trackable.



Spirit filled the Bradman. We adjusted beautifully to watching the game in cross section rather than from above. We eavesdropped on the backline organising and mapping the constellations of play. Mills and Smith made an exchange so perfectly timed, it was like they were swapping dance partners rather than opposition forwards. There was continuity in the play. Discipline and drill meant that as soon as we noticed Newman come in board, the ball was in his hands. As soon as we saw Harry float to the wing, the kick came straight his way.



By the third quarter, Sydney were a dozen goals clear. As the ball went around the Randwick end to make its way back towards us and dusk hushed even the noise, Bradman Max noticed how the ground looked like a huge disc, spinning and tipping in the last blue light, moving possession with the tilt of its axis through the Swans’ safe hands. Our cheers were as much exhalation as exaltation, a kind of relief that all the hope we had been holding would be safe tonight. The vividness of day and play disappeared into darkness.



During astronomical twilight when the sun no longer illuminates the sky at all, even the faintest stars become visible; the whole sky is filled with them. It might be something we don’t truly get to experience in our contemporary cities, but we got a glimpse of it on our SCG under lights. The flags had dropped and the week seemed finally still.



As the team tries to maintain stride into the next hurdle, we supporters wish we could write it just the way we want it to be. But we wait. We play our role, make our attentive contributions. I’ll mark the full spray of the white cherry blossoms with daubs of imaginary red. I’ll encourage my Cygnet to give his arrangement a fortissimo crescendo. We’ll toss our cat dinner titbits this week. We don’t want her too hungry.



We didn’t expect to find Mark Bayes doing a solo of Saint Saens’ ‘The Swan’


Read more of our Sydney v Essendon coverage here.

About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. That was exactly what the Swans needed, Mathilde. Iced the result by half time, then cruised home.

    Once again reminded how important Rohan is. He doesn’t do much in many games, but what he does is what no one else in the team can do.

    All the other teams have one eye on Sydney. Hopefully Geelong have both. They’ll need to.


  2. Can the spirit of O’Reilly fill the Bradman? I am hoping it can. And not grudgingly either.

  3. Hope the O’Reilly and Bradman are at opposite poles of the SCG. Geographically as they were personally and politically. Watching AFL 360 on the Interweb tonight I saw Sydney were 3rd faves behind Crows and Tiges. Other than having to win 4 weeks in a row (they have had plenty of practice) – I can’t think why.
    If I were a betting man………
    The Cygnet has many musical choices in coming weeks – Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake suite. Swan song?

  4. Twilight, MdeH. Blessed twilight.
    I knew not of three successive stages: civic, nautical and astronomical.
    Thank you.
    The scientist in me hides his head in hands now, but I like to imagine a fourth stage: enchanted.
    That chirpy mauve of possibility; the orange of whatever; the darkening of an unknowable night ahead…

    Interesting times.
    Happy twilights.

  5. Really enjoyed that MdeH. First saw the Swans play on black and white tele in the late 60s. First heard of Carnival of the Animals in Grade 8 music. The Swan was a mid-field finisher. The Elephant was easier to comprehend.

    Love that The Cygnet is enthused by his music. Our youngest is the keenest. She’s been playing Ode to Joy, Jesu Joy (‘What’s that one Dad? Like it’s a church one?’) and Silent Night. Each night after dinner.

    I’ve added a Youtube clip of ‘The Swan’.

  6. Mathilde- twilight is a marvellous thing. I love the notion of the three stages- there’s poetry in that science.

    The 2012 Hawks/Crows preliminary final was, I think, the first twilight footy final, and on the TV screens in Singapore’s Boomarang (sic) Bar it looked magical. I was an instant convert, but am not in favour of a twilight grand final.

    Loved many lines in this, but especially “the beauty of a stadium sardine full, blushed by late afternoon.” which put me in mind of Dylan Thomas.


  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Mathilde! Your writing is far too good to not hear from you now the Swans year is over! Can we have some more, please?!

    I agree with Mickey re the sardine line!!

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