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Round 16 – Sydney v Gold Coast: Rohan is the danger man


When the teams had been swallowed by the races and rooms on Saturday night, we said our goodbyes and I left the O’Reilly to walk the Trumper concourse alone. Past teenaged boys handballing to each other in the fray, past people in ponchos finishing their last sips, fans from the low bays rolling their flags, parents trying to hang onto their kids, three guys in Lederhosen high fiving two cops! Past the last-minute coffee cart and the almost done mascots, past the post-match spree at the Swans shop… I thought about buying Gwen from Row T the number 16 badge but the queues were too long. As they were for the buses to Central.


I rarely leave with the throng. It’s usually the Cob and me, weaving our way up the backstreets of Paddo to one of our sneaky spots. So I was charmed to be carried west and then, by accident, onto the Albert Cotter walkway I’ve never walked – a footbridge which sums up Sydney’s development madness, a rushed 38 million dollar sugar ribbon to nowhere, hundreds of steps to cross a single road. But it promised the path to Central by foot, so we followed – a part-time tribe leaching slowly away from its centre, lazy with a big win and a mild night. But I dodged the amble. Alone, I got to walk at my own pace.


All week, I’d been feeling the weight of co-operation. I’d been feeling the constriction of how much of life is philharmonic, requiring us to work together, play our parts, devoted to the music we make as a collective. Every once in a while I feel a spirited longing just to play my own tune, unaccompanied. I’d had a week or two of feeling that way, of wanting to be pinpointedly alone in the world. I was tired of compliance. Saturday twilight called.


Delving into the tunnel of the O’Reilly, I passed a baby just finding it’s feet, balancing in the world by its fingertips. The stairwells offered glimpses of the warm-up, golden pie slices of life. Up into the stands and into the fold. Sunset and all of our faces amber with anticipation. The Cob perfectly acknowledged the appropriateness of a twilight game against the Suns. I caught up with Gwen on granddaughter E’s Swans education. Two years old and playing with her periodic table blocks last week, she picked up the number 10 and turned to her Hawks loving science teacher father, ‘Number 10. Zak Jones. Just like at grandma’s place with the Swans book on the couch.’ Grandma Gwen has confessed to keeping the Swans book under the couch when her son comes to collect E and asks what they’ve been up to for the day. She doesn’t comply.


It was a textbook start – plenty of possession for both sides, pressure from both ends, early goals from the men you would expect. Kieren Jack flicked a ball on the wing to Gary Rohan. He seized, skipped through the tackle and stumbled but, like a Dharma doll, found his centre again and ran towards the sticks, turning Newman’s demand into an usher and slotting it truly for six. We loved it. We love him. We reset for the bounce but Lance had already snatched the clearance and lengthened the ball on a streamer towards Gary again, this time positioned neatly behind the 100 gamer McKenzie, directly in front of goal. Bells were ringing from Essendon’s recent visit, bells were ringing from the Tigers’ previous invitation. Nobody put it better than O’Reilly Max: ‘It might be Eddie’s pocket, but it’s Gary’s goal square.’


It didn’t pass me by, the irony of feeding my desire for non-collaboration with a game that requires the other – a kind of homeopathic approach. But if there’s one player who embodies the spirit and balance of orchestration without full compliance, it’s Gary Rohan. He’s a blissfully erratic player, a tightrope player balanced between disaster and brilliance. Every time he comes near the ball, we gasp and stiffen, waiting for one or the other. I remember the excitement of him starting his career alongside Jetta.


Darkness dropped down with its mauves and apricots, the departing jet planes silhouetted by the new night sky. The Cob left for the somewhere we were supposed to be. But I stayed. Free to sit in Row U, blood pressure normal for a change, enjoying the movement and the marks, savouring the repeat entries up our end, welcoming Gwen’s absurdly good footy biscuits, even alongside the ales. Gary turned an attempted possession by Towers into a shepherd for himself. He took a gift from Heeney for his third. He bonded to a delivery from Parker and kicked for an equal best fourth. He lifted Hewett to a super mark and goal, and flattened a kick for Papley to have one. He took a free in the goal square again and put it in a bag. I’ve spoken of my love for Gary before, of how I hold it back for all the ways it gets dashed. I know the stasis of the many months of his career we have awaited his return – the Odysseus to all our Penelopes. Tonight may just have been his homecoming… and our release.


As we left the O’Reilly, I told Gwen she’d better get E onto the number 16 this week. While E’s learning Swans, Grandma can learn the elements. I wondered what atomic 16 is. Turns out it’s sulphur. An odourless and brittle solid, essential to life. Found in volcanoes, meteorites and hot springs. Insidiously dangerous in high quantities. Sounds a lot like Gary Rohan.


Darting through the throng as it headed across Surry Hills, a bloke on his phone spoke of not being able to sleep at 5am, getting up to watch Murray trying to lose but surviving. I skirted talk of Tomic, of the AFL’s money making schemes, talk of house-sharing in this impossibly unaffordable city. I passed the smokers waiting for the ends of inhalation outside the Trinity Bar on Crown, past one guy’s conversation about burnout and another’s about babies, watching people settle into Mohr Fish for post-match dinner or bend into the Shakespeare for a bevvy. Often the best place to feel truly alone – safely alone – is in the belly of the unfamiliar crowd. While they dropped away, loosening their scarves as they headed indoors, I made straight passage down the line of Devonshire Street that’s gone quiet with light rail diggings, another stretch of Sydney that a two billion dollar lunacy has sucked the life out of. There was a skinny kid in Franklin’s jumper and a girl whistling ‘the navy blues’ and a workman at the end of Zone 16 Gate D in a white jumpsuit, waving a long bar of red light. The team felt fluid, bonded, joyous tonight, and now somehow so did I. Sometimes with footy, we’re trying to sate something well beyond the confines of the game. I threw my last coins to the man on the steel stringed guitar and his blue heeler, walked the long tunnel under Broadway and jumped the bus for home.



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. Always been a Rohan fan, Mathilde. And how I’d love to have his hair!

    And, yes, Surry Hills is a nightmare at the moment. We live just off Devonshire St so know all about the madness, especially when the machines start up at 5am and continue well into the night!

    Cheer cheer

  2. Is Rohan good enough to be simply called “Gary”? Is he the ginger Johnno? Lovely piece. Beautiful way to get the day started.

  3. Les Currie says

    Excellent reading again Mathilde. Gary certainly is the man of the moment. Maybe the bridge to nowhere and the ruination of beautiful Devonshire Street will all be resoved with the finalisation of the light rail which has torn this city and many lives apart.

  4. Rick Kane says

    Oh Mathilde, such a beautiful stream of consciousness. So many takeaways, so many delightful images and moments. I could picture Sydney; the place, the team and the metaphor. And at its centre, spinning, at his own desired speed is Rohan. Wonderful stuff.

    By the way (in case you don’t know), Lucinda Williams has a song called Side of the Road from her 1988 self-titled album. It has a similar theme to what you express here about just, for a moment, wanting to feel alone.


  5. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks for that journey through the urban environment to witness your ” beautifully erratic player” in Gary Rohan. Living in country Victoria like I do, it was nice to visit that part of Sydney as described by yourself.
    Twenty minutes east of my town is Cobden where Gary Rohan started his journey, so I have followed his career with interest.

  6. Peter Flynn says

    Old Mate,

    As you say every team needs a Gary.

    Sulphur indeed. I like it.

    From afar his 1st half pyrotechnics was akin to Na coming into contact with H2O.

    A highly exothermic reaction resulting in a ‘basic solution’ i.e. a Swans romp.

  7. A great read, Mathilde.
    Gary and the Swans; sounds like the name of a 60’s pop group.

  8. Many nods of sudden recognition – ” Often the best place to feel truly alone – safely alone – is in the belly of the unfamiliar crowd”. I love being in European countries where I don’t speak the language. Observing unencumbered by the camouflage of words.
    More nods of admiration – “feeling the constriction of how much of life is philharmonic”.
    And the creative leap of players by periodic table. Edward De Bono would applaud. Too many of my Eagles appear to be Lead (#82). Buddy should be Phosphorus. Eddie Betts = Tin?

  9. Mark Duffett says

    As #18, Eddie is argon, a noble gas. I think that works.

  10. Peter Warrington says

    i still don’t believe he’s only 6-2. he seems 6-4 and fast. it’s not fair. he’s as big as any two non-Jack forward line Tigers put together, and just as fast : (

    look good in yellow and black…

    easy to forget he was pick 6

    as they say, groan, his best footy may be in front of him.if he were mine I’d get him thinking about the dish-off more often, but hey, wtf would I know, I still think Reece Conca will come good. (at least I was right about Astbury.)

  11. Rulebook says

    Thank you Mathilde as always you took us along for the ride with a thought provoking piece which went in many directions.Rohan has X factor huge game re battle of the bridge this week

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