To visit the Sydney Swans website click the logo below.

Round 1 – Sydney v Collingwood: An artful rogering


There are Swans connections where I work at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art; Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, the Director, is a Swans Ambassador. And as of the last ten days, the museum is showing part of the Sydney Biennale, a show with a potent name: The Future is Already Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed. Footy supporters feel connected to that idea on the eve of a new season. We know that, no matter what, by the beginning of Spring, there’ll be nothing even about the action and nothing distributed about the reward. And we know that the future is laid down from Round 1.


I told myself, this past week, that when it comes to footy, there is a productive uncertainty in both title and feeling. But in reality, it was pure apprehension that accompanied me all week. Could the Swans be anything without Goodes and the pace of Shaw? Would the still considerable injury list mean catch up for some rounds? Could Kirky really heal the forward structure with love? Would the kids be alright?


Then, on season’s morn last Thursday, the omens showed themselves. I stopped by the library at Circular Quay before work to pick up a title I’d reserved, a new collection of stories by Australian David Brooks. I carried the book across the forecourt of Customs House and flipped it open, for a quick glance, at the page marked by my name slip. It was the start of a story called … Swan. The first paragraph described—a large white bird, moving slowly, with a concentrated violence. Intense. So maybe a lack of pace could work for us? It felt ominously good but I know not to dabble in magic before the bounce. Or at least not to talk about it.


My North-loving barista rattled me at lunch when he listed the Easter fixture, most of the ins and outs of the Thursday night teams and requested all my tips. Aren’t we supposed to be cavalier about this stuff in Sydney? Maybe my vagueness was me not daring to look. Maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe we could put it off for a week or two.


When I arrived home an hour before the first bounce at the MCG that Thursday night, I noticed a grey plastic bag on the back step, full and tied off. My partner, my Cob, explained that it was a magpie he’d found dead on the road at the corner of our house. A paid-up member of the NSW Ornithological Society as an adolescent, he still feels a certain responsibility and gratitude to the creatures. He scooped up the fallen bird and wrapped it until dark when he could conduct a proper burial on the nature strip, under the tree by which he found it. Turns out the neighbours were walking their dog outside at digging time, so he returned to our yard, excavated the basil which had dried to autumn seed and buried the bird deep in our own home soil.




On Saturday night, it is dusty rose behind the light stacks at the SCG and the stairs are filled with a pressing crowd six or seven across: an elderly member in her longest red chiffon; a couple with new hers and hers red and white Converses; Dad in his moonboot negotiating members’ caps with his three year old daughter. A line of selfies is being set on the terrace. Capacity feels like fullness here in a way it never did at Homebush. Welcome home!


The boys are through the banner. The Big Bash have left their flame guns and fireworks behind. We hardly have time to greet the O’Reilly family and even if we did, we wouldn’t be heard. Tippett is spring loaded and we’re off—siren, a clearance from Jack, a mark to Buddy and a goal inside 15 seconds. I haven’t even sipped my beer! From that very moment, we unwind with cheers and will. And they play! The forward pressure is intense early, Heeney’s stabbing it in and despite his kicks being black and white magnetic, the play stays in our arc. Buddy misses but Rampe runs it back and centres and Jack strides almost onto it, but I have the sense that the tension needs to build a while longer yet. There’s a Swan looks gone, but he’s not ours.


Many of the early disposals are greeted in the O’Reilly with heads down, a glance at the record and the sharing of new names. George Hewett. Will we call him Hewett or George? That’s Mills in the 14. Did we know that Papley is Bloods royalty? 32 is Talia but Jetta was swapped for Sinclair. Gwen from Row T gets her first ‘chewy on the boot’ at Jarryd Blair’s expense. And when Papley marks on his knees on the opposing side, she turns to me: We might have to get a new badge.


The second quarter has all the movement that we dream of for our team. It’s got accuracy and creativity in spades. And a sureness I almost don’t recognise off the back of last year’s sunset struggles. There’s a three move clearance from centre to Towers and a goal. Kieran Jack looks a new man. There are hungry young boys in the middle: Hewett to Mills to Robinson and George (yes, he’s George!) scores on shot number two. They flock to him. Pies can’t touch it. Buddy has number three. These Swans are executing with a concentrated violence and intensity but there’s nothing slow about it.


The eleven goal buffer at the half means the O’Reilly family can do some happy sorting together. Over a bowl of chocolate eggs and biscuits passed in Tupperware, up the rows and back, over the shoulders and back. News of the granddaughter who is walking and singing short of her first birthday, of the mother who’s turned 91 and needs help, Christmas travel adventures and pending secondary education choices. This is end of summer, this is back to school. There’s a concentration and solidarity in beginning again together.


Ten minutes into the third quarter, the first of the Collingwood fans start to leave, while the rest enjoy just their second goal of the match. It can’t go on like this, can it? Cunningham’s greedy up front. Hanners is on the board and then off the ground. Buddy’s feeding on crumbs while Mitchell kicks the goals. It’s one of those magical nights when everything falls into place. Parker is everywhere. Tippett and Kennedy look like Lade and Burgoyne. Why? squabbles the Cob in full voice when Buddy’s bag is stolen by a crazy Collingwood free in the last. He turns to me surprised: I’ve had a quiet night!


The game never peters. It strides. All the way to the finish. Speed looks ok; the outs were not missed; the suspect forward line is full of love; and the kids look quite alright.


If preseason is like paddling around the park on training wheels enjoying freedom and movement, the start of the season proper is that first push-off sans fallback, that starting moment when the force on the pedal must be emphatic enough to find balance rather than fall. It can be a very fine line. Maybe the debutants are still young and unmarked enough to remember the risk afforded by support. And the olds are cherry ripe experienced to know how hard to push. That’s how it felt on Saturday night—perfectly balanced—and the ride was a joy!


We know how good this is. Not just because it’s Eddie’s men, not just cause the family’s back together, but because we’re up and away, in the best possible way. Shoulder to shoulder in Row U with the final siren sounded on an 80 point margin and the banjo about to hit its straps, the Cob and I wonder just what the future might hold, just what might be grown in our home soil on a foundation of lifeless magpie.



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. Peter Flynn says

    Hilarious change of headline from the Swans website Old Mate. Turned the AFL app on last Saturday night and couldn’t believe the score. Your boys may have regenerated and caught the comp napping. Wraps on Papley et al. Great read as per usual. I’m sure the Cob has a copy of Cayley’s What Bird is That?

  2. Super read.

  3. Like the new season upon us, it’s good to have you back Mathilde writing on footy. Might have to skip your report next week however.

  4. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I leave all titles to the subeditors, Flynny. I believe that one belongs to JTH. We have six or seven bird volumes. And the Cob’s a walking encyclopaedia himself. Give him the faintest call from deep bush and he’ll narrow it down to two options.
    Thanks Oatsy.
    Blues don’t look half bad DJL. But I’m not talking about it til next week …

  5. Mathilde I was sitting around a camp fire enjoying a cold beer. Someone got their phone out and checked the footy scores:

    “Swans are beating Collingwood by 50 points” was the report. It was a wonderfully relaxed and enjoyable evening thereafter.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Pie fans started leaving early in the 3rd quarter? They must have been the stoics, Mathilde.
    Grand night for the Red and White. Like the look of Heeney and Buddy overcoming his blues is a story that got lost among all the negativity.
    Cheer Cheer…

  7. Interesting about the magpie you found dead last Thursday. About three weeks ago one of our dogs collided with a low-flying one. It was stunned at first, but we found it dead later the following afternoon. My wife and I were pondering at half time if it was a sign.

    Have to say we were both stunned and delighted at half time. Stunned that Collingwood were playing so badly and delighted that they were doing so. The match did bring out the sadistic streak in me because how many times have Collingwood wiped the park with us? It was about time we got to return the favour!

    The drugs story did incluence some of the commentary from the crowd. Some wit sang out “You’ve lost the game, but you’ll score at the after party!” When Alex Fasolo came off after his head clash my contribution was “They’rextaking him off for some ‘special’ medicine. ‘Wink-wink,’ ‘Nudge-nudge,’ say no more!”

    If the new blokes keep firing like they did on Saturday night then the future’re looking bright indeed.

  8. Ross Treverton says

    Great to have you back Mathilde. I read the countless expert opinions over the summer months about the imminent demise of the Swans. The first time l can remember it happening was in 1995 ( we were genuinely poor and without promise before that) so that makes it the 21 st anniversary of pre-season negativity by our journalist friends- all of which have been proven incorrect. Many happy returns! Forgive this old South Melbourne supporter, but amongst all the highlights from Saturday night, watching another Papley (albeit 50 years apart) strut his stuff, was true happiness. Go you bloodstained Angels!

Leave a Comment