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Round 23 – Sydney v St Kilda: A thrill to witness

This story by Mathilde de Hauteclocque was first published on the Sydney Swans website.

Sydney is a city familiar with light pollution, with the loss of true darkness and its attendant glimmer. And Sydney is a club that, at all levels, has become familiar with the brightness of sustained success. I was thinking, as the final round of the season approached, that 2019 has gone some way to restoring an environment with more shade for Sydney Swans supporters. I was thinking that as the glow of the heyday has dimmed, the benefit has been the coming into view of new stars. I was thinking that this would be the nature of the final round, that the season’s punctuation mark would likely be an ellipsis.


And then came the announcement that Lance Franklin would play his 300th game in the numerically perfect Round 23. And that Jarrad McVeigh would join Kieren Jack for a pas de deux swansong. And all of this would take place in the rainbow coloured context of the Pride Game! Suddenly my gentle ellipsis became a heady regiment of exclamation marks. The final round of footy burst into a meteor shower of feelings.


Sydney didn’t disappoint on Saturday afternoon. The sun was out on a fancy-dress crowd, rimmed in rainbows and punctured by oversized badges for Lance’s 300. We piled into the stands. All of the O’Reillys were there, juggling beverages, plying on sunscreen, sifting summer travel plans and pre-filling the months ahead knowing they won’t be reckoned with ‘til March. O’Reilly Lisa was calling for the binoculars, but it wasn’t to watch the ball. Play got underway, almost incidental.


Early goals from the Tommys and Nick matched the festival expectations of the crowd. McVeigh had his first meaningful possession, landing it to Kennedy who honoured it with a gong and a hug. It was going to be that kind of afternoon. Towards the end of the first, Lance slid it wingwards for Rowbottom to finish with aplomb. I smiled with the delight of watching real-time apprenticeship. Until the master stepped up to mark it directly in front.


‘He’ll miss this,’ I said to O’Reilly James. ‘It’s too straight.’


He tidied it through.

The Saints took it all in the second – clearances, intercepts, pressure and scores. The feeling sat under all the halftime chatter – what if they couldn’t do it? Nobody said a word but the buried sense of just how much we longed for a buoyant hurrah was wrung in the pages of our Records. Little moments threatened to ignite – Dawson’s triptych of tackles in the back and his sweet, elite kicks. The coltish gallop of Blakey busting out of clutches. The beaverish Rowbottom who we’re loving in Row U. But this wasn’t the time for the drill of a new system that could carry us through to next week. This was the time for showcase.


It started halfway through the third. Like a ramp inclining, the crowd warmers went to work. Lance on the end of a long kick into the pocket. Tommy McC was two minutes behind him and Tommy P only two minutes behind him. He sensed the occasion perfectly to Parker who goaled and the fists went high, just long enough for the sun to reach our row of the O’Reilly and for Tommy McC to twist and kick it through again. Spring was here! The Record played its new role of clapper. The Tommy Toms were thrumming up some crescendo.


Then it came. In three enormous booms!


First McVeigh. On the end of a Rowbottom, Florent, Papley chain. Intent and direct he kicked it as if he’d always been waiting for that particular kick. Through 325 games, he went from a Curly-the-Clown kid damaging loosely up the wing to a captain of tight composure with a fastidious brand of skill. His seriousness, originally read purely as standards, came to be seen for the guard it was against the level of investment he had. The team had a different mettle when he was steering, whether he was there or not.


Then Jack. Captain Complementary. Sent forward by Kennedy. Lurking opportunistically and unmanned outside 50. He landed the lollypop from Ronke, bustled somewhere close to possible range and dared the ball between the posts. Jack, who went from tagger to terror with all the smarts of a rugby league-bred kid, with all the toughness of someone who had a Masters in backyard. And a smile just as lethal.


Then Lance. I remember seeing a photo of the skinny, puppy cheeked, green-eyed kid the week after he debuted against us and saying to a dear friend, ‘This kid is going to be a superstar.’ I committed to calling him Lance when he came across from the Hawks. As a point of differentiation. Plus it’s French for ‘launch’ which is what he has always done with that worshipped left foot. In his 300 games Lance has contested the relationship between height and ground ball, between size and pace. He has stormed more than Florida. He has broken the textbook on hyperbolic geometry. And if the arc wasn’t in the kick, it was in the run around to get the kick he wanted. Which is what he did with two minutes to go.


In that final quarter, as the rocks of this club changed atmospheres, they exploded and left us on our feet, privilege to the glittering spectacle. There might not be finals, but we got a finale!


It seems appropriate that we call them stars because every so often, in these milestone or retirement games, their experiences deliver us an encounter with a deeper sense of time, one that lasts over generations of players, over eras. It’s a different sense of belonging than the thrill or doldrums of a weekly win or loss. Everyone stayed to witness Macca and Jack, Smith and Reg ring the SCG one last time. Thank you 3, 15, 39 and 40. O’Reilly Max voiced our sadness that the great Goodes never got this moment. And that we never got it with him. Footy can be genuinely emotional.


In the Sunday calm, I woke briefly before dawn. The sky was dark, the waning crescent moon framed perfectly in my window. And beside it, just enough clear sky to see young stars finding their place in the expanse. We look forward to Season 2020.


SYDNEY             6.2      6.3        11.4     17.7 (109)
ST KILDA            2.5     5.9        7.12      8.16 (64)


Sydney: Franklin 4, McCartin 3, Kennedy 2, Papley 2, Parker 2, Blakey, Rowbottom, McVeigh, Jack
St Kilda: Bruce 2, Ross 2, Membrey, Long, Steven, Steele


Sydney: Kennedy, Parker, Dawson, Mills, Lloyd, Franklin
St Kilda: Hannebery, Dunstan, Ross, Marshall, Steele, Clarke


Sydney: McCartin (quad)
St Kilda: Nil


Reports: Nil


Umpires: Dalgleish, Findlay, Gianfagna


Official crowd: 33,722 at the SCG


Read more from Mathilde HERE


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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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

    Thanks MdH. Short of being at game, reading this was just about as good as it gets in terms of soaking up the atmosphere. As it was, l was part of a red and white packed throng at ‘The Riser’ in South Melbourne. Jan would have given anything to have been with all her Reilly mates, but she had plenty of company at our Melbourne spiritual home. Plenty of cheers, even more tears! Enjoy the summer…

  2. Jan Courtin says

    Sydney certainly didn’t disappoint on Saturday afternoon, Mathilde! So wish I could have joined you all in the O’Reilly.

    Take good care and look forward to swing you again next year
    Cheer cheer

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