Round 1 – Sydney v Essendon: Hard work in the Sydney rain

By Tom Bally


Talk about doing things the hard way.

At half time the entire thrust of what I wanted to write had gone from triumph to alarm. At three quarter time it’s a horror story. The Swans have got off to the mother of all bad starts and I’m slumped in my seat in resignation. Has nothing changed since last September?

But wait. Back up. How did I get here? Why have I signed on for another season of emotional rollercoasters, freezing winter weekends and dressing up head to toe in red and white?

Curiosity is at the heart of it. After all that was what got me into footy in the first place years ago. Being from the UK I needed to know what was this game all about? Soccer and Rugby League were never in my DNA. We didn’t do dangerous sports at school.

But, when I arrived,  I liked the look of Aussie Rules so I went to a final round game against the Lions at the SCG. One game turned into five, turned into membership. I began delving into the rich history of the game. Experiencing the highs of 2012 and the lows of…well, we all know how last year ended.

So here we are again starting another tilt at the big prize. The Swans have pride to play for and if the memory of last September can’t be erased it must be countered. This afternoon represents one hundred coaching games for Longmire and Isaac Heeney’s debut, both milestone events. Yet I can’t forget that The Enemy are playing for redemption too. Their match fitness is questionable but sticking together as a playing group through this supplement scandal might count for something here.

It’s been raining non-stop for two days and as I take my seat on the lower level of the eastern stand the turf looks as green and waterlogged as a rice paddy. We need a strong start but it’s a grim and frustrating first quarter. The Enemy have cleaner ball movement and it quickly earns them six points. We’re taking unnecessary risks; panicked decisions as the pressure mounts. It’s wet out there but that isn’t explaining our lacklustre attack, poor disposal and inconsistency. Tippett’s rucking so Buddy’s being double-teamed; blatantly held at one point not that anyone caught that. Tippett takes a great mark on the wing but butchers his kick forward. Heeney goes up for a Capperesque fly but crashes down empty handed. Jetta fumbles the intercept from a kick out and later lays a late bump giving away the free. In contrast The Enemy are doing a great job shutting down our options.

OK reset, it’s just Round 1 nerves. Longmire will look at that quarter, switch things around and we’ll claw that lead back. And indeed it seems the Swans have more urgency in their game as Goodes gets out the back, unfortunately hurrying the kick for only a minor score. We press again but Parker’s run down going for goal. The Enemy’s rebound transition is much quicker and they soccer in a goal. They win a soft free but thankfully only earn a behind. The crowd lights up as Heeney has a couple of cracks at goal but he only registers behinds. Let’s hope his six point cherry pops quicker than Jetta’s. We’re being out tackled and out worked, and our structures unravelling. It takes eighteen minutes before Jetta spots Bird in the fifty who goals. Tippett crashes over the pack but can’t convert. Twenty two down at half-time. Not irretrievable but the signs are ominous.

The third quarter starts with us giving away two fifty metre penalties and a goal. We can’t make anything of our forward entries but somehow The Enemy rolls in another six points from an impossible angle. Buddy, caught high as he fights his way in, curls one in off his favoured left foot to make amends. From the stands it seems the umpires are helping The Enemy but we’re not doing ourselves any favours either. There are flashes of brilliance but no end-to-end reliability. Two Enemy goals in six minutes are heartbreaking. Goodes is subbed off for Lloyd. Cunningham sprays his set shot on the siren and with that it feels like the game has slipped away.

Rohan’s attempt early in the fourth is disallowed. Then as if things couldn’t get any worse Buddy and Parker collide and Parker goes down pole-axed. Eventually he gets up but he’s bleeding heavily and is carted off.

And now the game gets weird.

Whether it’s The Enemy’s lack of fitness or the Swans fire up, the tide is turning. Buddy kicks a goal. Jetta has a crack. Tippett gets one. The crowd are into it as the Swans work their way up the near wing. We’re leaping off our seats as Tippett takes one on the lead and goals. Roaring again as Buddy runs down The Enemy. Bird gets a miracle goal and we’re six points behind. Jack boots one and scores are level. Level! A glance at the clock, is there enough time? James Hird appears on the boundary line and warmly received by the home crowd. The ball is pinging around. Heeney stuffs a kick but somehow Buddy makes magic off the mistake. Six points up. My throat’s gone raw. Buddy to Tippett, no he’s dropped the mark! How much longer do we have?

And finally Heeney scores, a beautiful left footer that floats in to seal the game.

It was hard work though.



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  1. Jack Graham says

    Loved Toms review – right from the heart

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