Round 1 – Sydney v Essendon: Unknown knowns and known unknowns

When Donald Rumsfeld was US Secretary of Defense he would write memos asking for the meaning of words that he knew but didn’t really understand. If he had been out watching most of the Sydney v Essendon game, he would have asked the meaning of the word desultory. They would have told him:

Adjective: veering about from one thing to another; lacking purpose, method, or enthusiasm:

That would have described much of Sydney’s game. A word like deplorable would have described the weather, disappointing would have described the crowd and a word like uninspiring would have described the stadium.

An opposite word might have described the Bombers. They had gone through a lot in the last two years and you couldn’t blame the players for that. The punters didn’t rate them. They were underdone but they had a lot to play for and they played. Their first two minutes showed some longer term patterns. The Swans bombed it long and aimlessly but the Bombers were precise and the forwards kicked truly. The red and black looked sharper in the midfield; Cooney starred and Hurley stuck close to Franklin. And for the next two and a half quarters it was more of the same.

They kept Sydney to one goal in the first half. In the third quarter they sped away to be up at seven goals. The Bombers were four goals up at three-quarter time. Then the rain really started pouring; Parker got knocked out and it looked all over.

At that stage, my friend Neil agreed to drive his son to the Sydney FC game. I had seen him say a lot of terrible things about players and umpires but I hadn’t ever seen him leave a game early before. It was a really bad sign for the first game of the year.

And then finally the Swans awoke.  Buddy kicked straight from a distant free and you just got a sense that things might change. Then Pike kicked the ball forward and Tippett pounced. It was 20 points down and 16 minutes to go. The ball bobbed around a bit inconclusively until Tippett took a great overhead mark and bombed it long. And then the moment: with the ball in his hand, Joe Daniher was 40 metres out from an open goal and on the run. And Buddy ran him down. And then another big moment when Bird kicked the sharpest of goals across his body and there was one goal in it. Another minute and the Bombers turned it over in the midfield and Jack kicked one to draw level. And with four minutes to go, Buddy was passed the ball and the Swans were ahead. When new boy Heeney kicked another, they didn’t let go.

There would be words to describe that quarter but most of them would fall short. Those of faith would use words like redemption and resurrection given the time of year. Others would use words like culture and belief. Each would be partly true. As Rumsfeld said there are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are other things. Things that we don’t always know or things that we can’t always describe. All the stats and all the odds and all the player profiles won’t explain those things. We saw plenty of those things on Saturday night.


Ian Latham

Sydney 10.12 (72)
Essendon 9.6 (60)

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