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Round 17 – North Melbourne v Sydney: A Little Bit of Hope

Sunday afternoon and I wasn’t feeling confident. The last two losses were gutting. This was a must win game. I made a steady stream of silent entreaties to the footy gods for a free-flowing match. For an absence of pedantic and dubious umpiring. And that all-consuming petition of hope that that we’d be singing the Swans song come the final siren.

 

When Kennedy returned to the bench late in the second quarter looking very sore and not likely to take any further part in the game that hope took a big hit. Despite him going down early in the term a revitalised Swans fought back from a two-goal deficit to reclaim the lead through a five goal to one haul. Truth be told it could’ve been more if not for a point-blank range miskick from Hayward and a bizarre decision from Papley to handball rather than kick over the man. Minor mistakes aside our tackling pressure had gone up a notch and our ball movement had purpose and fluency.

 

The first quarter hadn’t been entirely devoid of highlights. Goals to Ronke, Papley and Heeney. Repelling repeat surges from North. High tempo end to end action. But my main recollection was of North waltzing the ball unopposed out of every centre clearance. Aliir in defence; OK when he had the time and space. He was caught napping several steps behind his fellow countryman Majak Daw when playing one on one. Rampe was pinged for being stronger than Brown his opponent, and let the umpire know about it. Brown’s infuriating three-day goal kicking run up. Ziebell carving us up. Turnovers and missed tackles that without fail caused the hands to fly upwards, uncontrollable curses to spill forth and that ever heart sinking sight of North marking in their forward fifty again.

 

But back to that second quarter effort. Magnificent stuff. Aliir seemingly everywhere. Lloyd and Jones taking it on off half-back and through the middle. Rather than a collapse in structure Kennedy’s absence seemed to strengthen the Swans resolve.

 

You just knew North were going to come firing back though. And this was where I feared Kennedy’s absence could prove costly. Injuries to Jack, McVeigh, Hannebery and Grundy (a late withdrawal) was a hell of a lot of leadership to just evaporate from the side. I remember thinking misdirected youthful enthusiasm might end up overriding the discipline.

 

It certainly seemed that way early in the third. North were again straight out of the centre, bursting through the midfield, bang, mark and goal. Rinse and repeat. Jones, somehow finding space, ran too far. It took some Ronke magic to, if not put the game on our terms again, at least stem the bleeding.

 

And then there was Buddy.

 

Having been well held all game I was beginning to think we were not likely to see him line up for a shot.

 

I really should have more faith.

 

Getting on the end of a kick from Fox, the big man took his natural arc out and hammered through his 900th goal.

 

This magnificent milestone didn’t exactly rejuvenate our attack. North, through fair means and unjust adjudication, pushed us all the way through to the end of the quarter. Quicker hands. Slicker evading. Running in numbers and out to an 11-point lead.

 

I had to take a break. Time to calm down. Crack a beer. Prepare dinner.

 

Half an hour later I was back in front of the TV, ignoring the messages on my phone. Celebrations, commiserations or straight out one-eyed ranting, it could wait. My dinner guest was oddly silent. I suspected he’d looked at the final score but stones give more away.

 

It was a heart attack final term. Parker threw himself into the fray. Heeney lifted and scored a goal. First timer O’Riordan was defensively solid. Cunningham with composure to Fox and another six points. Two more bits of Buddy magic, one almost a laissez faire, for him, 55 metre bomb. The other a superb evade and dribbling goal.

 

On the edge of my seat and thinking could we pinch it here?

 

North had other ideas. Another easy entry, another three-day run up for goal. Minutes later Rampe was pinged for throwing. Another North goal and their noses were in front. As time ticked down the volume in the living room went up.

 

The Swans counter-attacked. A big back formed. Seemingly unnoticed, Ronke found space and banged one in.

 

One point behind. Another clearance. Ronke banged it forward. Missed.

 

Scores level. Three or four minutes to go.

 

A McCartin tap in the forward 50. Somehow Aliir was up front. Things were happening in slow motion and yet quickly at the same time.

 

Aliir, doubling back, collected the ball, took three or four steps into space and a kick.

 

And scored.

 

Pandemonium in the living room.

 

The clock wound down and we ran out victors. It was draining stuff. The North fans looked gutted.

 

Sometimes you’ve just got to have a little bit of hope.

 

About Tom Bally

Born in 1834 Tom Bally was instrumental in establishing the rules of the modern game. It's a little known fact and the rare times he talks about it all he'll say is "that bloody Wills chap got me full of grape one night and the next thing I know he's peacocking around Richmond Paddock like he dreamt up the whole thing on his lonesome. Still I got the last laugh didn't I eh? Introducing the Umpire and all that."

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