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Round 23 – Sydney v Carlton: The Pelican of the SCG


Most mornings for the past two weeks, I have been stirred before dawn by the strident call of a Wattlebird pulsing at my bedroom window long before I wish to come to life. It is unrelenting until sunrise. This honeyeater has read the change of season far better than the grid of our calendar can.


Sydney was glorious on Saturday. The sun came up with extra vigour and the house filled with an unfamiliar warmth. It was the first morning I opened the back door before making coffee. The first morning I hung the washing out in bare feet to the smell of an early Blue Mountains hazard reduction. Signs of spring. And with them, the sense of a happy ending. And beginning.


Although the ‘should wins’ always creep in me.


I am never ‘on time’ in Sydney theses days, but I hoped that Saturday’s traffic was indicative of the sort of numbers and squeeze this city is becoming more and more famous for. Striding towards the SCG, I noticed a crackle of cockatoos gathering on one of the large lampposts that watch over Moore Park Road. It was to be an afternoon for birds.


Arriving late into the O’Reilly, into the echoed roars of something I assumed was good, I marched through the underbelly and up the stairwells, catching the score on the box at 2.2, until I turned onto the familiar climb to Row U and found our whole O’Reilly mob basted and aglow in rose gold rays. There are few sweeter feelings than shuffling through, patting knees, tapping the shoulders of our beloved Row Ts, sitting quickly down as Reid marked in front. I was just orienting myself to an afternoon of play when Tippett went down and three sets of binoculars went up. He lay prone for long moments. And then hopped to the sidelines. It was nine minutes and two behinds worth of ‘ruckman watch’ as the quarter wound to a close.


The sun set behind Light Tower 5, streaking the sky with its beacon of peach. Just as it dimmed, O’Reilly Max noticed a bird overhead, a pelican in full soar. It crossed from Centennial Park and glided slowly across the width of the ground, over the Ladies Stand and into the bruised and backburnt sky beyond. We watched it in silence together. It could have been an omen, but somehow felt like peace. That huge bird with its beak built for abundance, aloft against the odds of its size.


Lloyd kicked what looked a perfect goal but was reduced to a ‘definitive’ behind by Ray’s review. Pickett slalomed towards their goal and fell short, flat on his face. Heeney glory marked at our end. Rohan flicked it to Lance for a straight set shot from the pocket and goal number two, Then Jones got to George got to Lance for a right pocket repeat. Then Sinclair followed Tippo to the rooms clutching his left ankle. O’Reilly Max wondered if they could at least fashion and return one ruckman from the parts of the broken two.


Carlton gained. They found quick turn and run and plenty of new space to work in. They made re-entries aplenty. The margin disintegrated. The crowd deflated. Like the band of purple deepening behind the Members, we hoped it wasn’t trouble we were smelling. Tippo returned but looked grounded. Jones was competing with the zeal of the kid at the birthday party, undistracted by the fairy bread, determined to win every game and take each and every prize. Hayward made it one goal from one touch. It all felt a bit like chaos.


‘This is midsummer madness,’ I exhaled to O’Reilly Max in the break.


‘Spring fever,’ he corrected.


It’s this time of year, this final round, which always carries something other than play. The dénouement for some supporters, do or die for others or a rev towards finals for the lucky ones. Swans supporters feel extra lucky this year after the what-are-the-odds turnaround. Gwen had made her best batch of footy biscuits yet. They were as short as can be and fragrant with ginger. I finally waved to Connie two rows down. We mouthed a hello over the hum as she mime-wiped her brow. ‘I came here tonight to relax!’ she wailed.


O’Reilly Max announced he’d cleared Grand Final weekend in the diary. And we worked out that between our Row U coterie we’ve been to the three losing affairs. Wounded by the last two, O’Reilly James spun into a superstitious blue hole. We’d have to lose some time and wouldn’t it be better to go down now rather than in September? He would serve the team and barrack for Carlton.


‘Fight back,’ he called after Hayward’s goal to start the second half. But there was nothing he could do about Lance’s fourth – a bit of back heeled brilliance. There was shambles play from both sides as each tried to take control. Free kicks and missed opportunities, dropped sitters and super smothers. Glittering Gary made an autobahn of the corridor and tracked a long ball to goal, overtaking Heeney and Armfield in the square and even the boundary fence into the bleachers. ‘Pick him up!’ called James. Lance kicked his fifth – a straight low slot – while Row T called for seven. Max raised them to eight. And on the end of Zak’s thread, he had six. As he held his arms outstretched, I thought of the birds and the boundlessness we see in them.


With the last quarter underway, Lance U-turned number seven from the pocket. And then banked Max’s eighth. The game began to gallop to how many he might get. It was a romp of ‘could he?’ chances, a comedy of ‘behind you!’ warnings. It was fever loud in the crowd. And while Rohan cameoed and Grundy held strong, while Kennedy fed and Parker pounced, while Tippo reclined in the hyperbaric boot and Newman showed his class and Heeney banked his efforts, the combo deal of Zak and Lance came up with number nine. It was the most orthodox kicking we’ve seen from Lance this year! And he finished with ten by just staying down, crumbing the kick, turning off one step to snap it perfectly through. Chaos is fun when it’s all on your terms!


There may be a man this team already knows as Pelican, but in his numerically twinned round 23, Lance Franklin was it. Built for abundance. Soaring with minimal effort. He is one of those players who inhabits that bird space between earth and the heights of the heavens. He works in the realm of different perspectives. He is rare and beautiful to watch. The on-field debrief told us he’s just the tenth man to kick 850 goals. O’Reilly Max was right about the night. It wasn’t yet the full bloom of summer, just the exquisite budding of spring.


We said our goodbyes in the O’Reilly. Until soon. Or later. Until next winter for some. On Sunday morning I woke in Marrickville to the singular call of my bedroom window bird. Somehow the ‘honey’ of its family seemed sweeter than the inconvenience. It occurred to me as I brewed the morning coffee that the local Cadigal, Kameygal and Bidgigal people of Sydney’s inner west know the precious Cook’s River as ‘Goolay’yari’ or ‘pelican’. It’s a walk down the hill from my home. It’s a life force place. And Saturday was a life force experience.


By evening Lance had the Coleman and the Swans had a home final date with the Bombers. A happy ending and a happy beginning. Bravo Lance and c’mon Swans! Keep spreading those wings!




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. Ross Treverton says

    If you are not writing for a living Mathillde, you should be! As always, just superb. Our Swans take flight!

  2. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Cheer Cheer Ross!
    Can they migrate all the way to the big day? Apparently the pelican can’t afford to flap very much at all in flight, but can glide a long way.
    Very much looking forward to Sept 9.

  3. Wonderful rhythm here, Mathilde. You’ve conveyed a real sense of spring on the way.

    “basted” – What a wonderful use of that word.
    “denouement” – Harmsy will love that!!

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