To visit the Sydney Swans website click the logo below.

Round 7 – Sydney v Geelong: Today and Then and Football

Today and Then and Football


Doing my Oral History of Footy book, I’ve come across so many old timers, legends of the game, who hate footy now. Some can barely watch. Some don’t. Others worry about its future. Those still involved in the game, as coaches or committeemen, tend to think it’s better than ever. They argue there are still one-on-ones, everywhere, they just don’t last as long. They argue the game is more physical, requires greater courage, than ever.

Then there’s all the international footy that comes across in the old time player’s stories. Right back to when St Kilda used to play scratch matches during the 30s and 40s, in New Zealand in front of expat sheep shearers. Listening to their tales, there’s been far more Aussie Rules overseas matches that I ever imagined – The first game proper, after the ’63 Grand Final, Geelong versus Melbourne in Hawaii, that turned into a 120 minute fight when Polly farmer charged his Melbourne opponent at the opening bounce. Harry Beitzel’s All-Stars versus Carlton across Europe, finishing up with a hungover game in Greece, on a soccer oval, with Ron Barassi having to hold up temporary goal posts. At one stage they were even going to play in Cold War Russia.

Sometimes I try to watch the game through the eyes of a foreigner, as if I didn’t know the rules, or the strategies. Just to see if it’s entertaining as a spectacle. If it’s peanut butter and jam, or vegemite. I know in the 70s and especially the 80s it was spectacular. Free kicks were paid. Holding the ball was paid, players held their positions. All of this meant there were far fewer packs, the ball flowed, up and back, yet compared to today many of the player’s skills were woeful.

That’s how I took on Sydney versus Geelong on the weekend. In a pub, by myself, shit 80s songs in the background for somebody’s 40th. No commentary. Imagining it through the eyes of a foreigner. Not as it was, but as it is today.


It was breathtaking! The tackles, the pressure. The speed with which handballs were shot out, the skills with which the ball was delivered, the crunch of the impacts, all spectacular. If I was from overseas I would have bloody marvelled at these supermen who went so hard for so long, and at least three times knocked each other out and fought through the pain to rise again, then kept going. I’d wonder how nobody got killed playing the game? I’d wonder how it was possible to be so fit? Or to be so quick with your decision making? Or run so hard and close to a person? It was inspiring!


In the back of my head I couldn’t help but ask why? At the start Geelong out-Sydneyed Sydney. The Swans got their fair share of both the ball and the contested possession, but they weren’t used to such pressure – to a mirror coming back at them in a Geelong jumper. They held onto it for two long, looking for the perfect option. They waited until they were under the pump before constantly handballing to a Swans teammate wearing a second skin. They all thought they were Sammy Mitchell. And they aren’t.

They relentlessly overcooked it.

For three quarters there were shades of last year’s Grand Final.

But three quarters isn’t enough. Or, 2 ½ to be exact. Sydney’s midfield got on top, Tippet was unseen, but just by being there he made it impossible to double-team Buddy. The Swans had more grunt, better linkage. When Rhyce Shaw and Jetta started to find room to run and deliver off the half back, Geelong’s lines of grit were broken, it was all over.

I would have loved to have shown Selwood to a supporter of yore, or a Japanese first-timer. But not this time. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was down, beaten on the night, or is fading? Even superstars have been known to come down a peg or two when there are no longer superstars around them, spreading the opposition.
Anyways, Sydney got on top momentum-wise before poor Dean Towers got rid of that bloody vest, and put on a lot of finishing touches.

I went Parker, Richards and Buddy for the 3, 2, 1. Yes, an on-baller, a backman, a forward. Kennedy and Johnson the ball puncher unlucky. And yes, the game was far, far closer than the last quarter indicated. The result did the game no justice.

As someone who plays, watching as if I’d never seen the game before, I would think it was a freakshow of fitness and brilliance. The best show on Earth!

As someone who loves the game and always wants its best side represented, in a dream world Buddy would have kicked 7.1, not 4.5, Geelong were two goals up for much of the first half. In that dream world, when the Cats were pressing, would have had the injured Tomahawk there, someone to match Buddy, who seemed to be on the receiving end of Sydney’s momentum swings, rather than instigating them. Momentum is everything. It looked to me like Sydney were lucky Geelong were just that one particular star short. The bloke to turn a 2 goal lead into a 4 goal break and really put on the pressure. With big Tom playing it would have been a shootout.

I also would have got Levi Casboult to play on the wing, in his Carlton jumper, and fly for all those long bombs when the backman had a kick but no running options. There were brilliant marks from in front, but none from behind, no Cloke or Cameron, no pack marks.


I grew up in the 70s and 80s. I used to hate the selfishness of the forwards with their u-turns and snaps over the shoulders and refusal to handball, and be filthy on the coaches who wouldn’t call them out for it. From Barassi down to my level. But I loved hating them. I was born a backman!

I miss my youth less than I miss 70s football. The problem with many people is they tend to blur the two when forming an opinion on the state of the game today.

Sydney versus Geelong was intense, physical, close for most of it, the collisions were brutal. Both of Sydney’s baldies slayed it, Buddy showed his motor, just not his high marking. All that was lacking was some of the pack clunking Levi is so good at, and I’d sell the game proudly to anyone, at any time in history.


But in no way, ever, would I try to explain holding-the-ball, or what is and isn’t a handball these days to them.


I think the biggest changes of all in the modern game lie in how we perceive it. The one-on-one duels and high marking and low percentage goals have been replaced by the highlights of gobsmacking tackling and defensive skills, the quickness of hands and gut running. Things that drop your jaw in their moment, but are not as spectacular, that are harder to imitate in a concrete school yard, and don’t linger as long in the memory.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    The old-timers who have given the game away can’t appreciate the different skill-sets of the modern era.
    All very understandable from someone who is rapidly moving into old-timer territory.
    For some reason when I think of the good old days of footy, I think of the Richmond sides of the 60’s. Particularly Fred Swift kicking out from full-back with his long drop-kicks and their centre-line of Burke, Barrott and Clay. Like I said ,different skills and with players appointed to play on and beat one nominated opponent. Hawkins versus Dipper was another example in the 80’s.
    Now if you look at the team- selections on a Friday morning, the rucks, ruck-rovers rovers and wings are listed as one big cluster of ‘ mid-fielders ‘. No wonder the oldies are confused.
    With the pace and pressure of the game increased so much from the old days no team can risk a drop-kick or just be responsible for one opponent. It must be hard for older supporters to appreciate the fitness levels of today’s players required to run all day and not just beat their opponent on that day.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    i agree, mate.

    I also see their point in what they miss most is one-on-one. The personal element of beating your man, or him beating you.

  3. Another great feature of the past which seemed to be disappearing was the pack mark, though on the weekend a couple of beauties were taken, Joe Danihers especially brought back memories of a halcyon era.


  4. Matt Zurbo says

    Yep, Glen, that’s exactly why I love Levi Casboult!! Clunk! Pods was good for a few, too. Lake is still the king.

  5. Great way to watch a game Matt. Untethered. The opposite of love isn’t hate, its indifference. Lets hope we never become indifferent to a game of footy like the Swans V Cats.

    The Cats did have the opportunity to go 4 goals up but young Kersten missed two easy ones. Not sure Hawkins would have made the difference but the itch in the Sydney underpants may have lasted longer. It was a tough encounter. I was happy with how the young Cats went (mostly).

  6. Fascinating speculation Matt. I grew up playing Rugby League in primary school and Rugby Union at high school and loved watching both, as far back as Clive Churchill and Jack Rayner.
    We moved to Melbourne in 1990 and after grumbling for a year about the lack of football on TV, decided we needed a team. Sydney seemed a natural pick, so we took it on board.
    Now League looks too much same/same, although we watch the State of Origin, and Union seems to my oldtimer eyes a far more technical game than it was back when I was playing it, wasting valuable time setting the scrum straight, hoisting for the throw-in etc.
    We (wife and I) have become Swans tragics with all the zeal of the convert and think we have never seen a better game than the one we watch now. Last Saturday night was a cracker; it is always a relief to beat Geelong, because it looks for long stretches that it could go the other way.

  7. Mark Ferguson says

    Your conjecture is dead on, Matt.

    I am a foreigner who found your indigenous game by accident, and was hooked right away by its astonishing athleticism. The action is fierce and relentless, and as far as I can tell without any close parallel in sport. And skill: Geelong of a few years ago drew me right in (before I found out how good they really were, fwiw) with their bang-bang-bang corridor blitzkriegs.

    The round-ball-kickers make endless noise about the fitness required to play their game; the fittest soccer player would be rolling on the grass, tongue out before the middle of the 3rd quarter, even without having to have handled any of the full contact of the Australian football contest.

    The few offenses to this foreigner’s eye: The way tacklers were not rewarded (at least up until this year) , the way marks are paid with only tenuous and fleeting control of the ball having been established, and the way that 7 meters is 15 when kicking and 30 meters is 15 when running with the ball (Saturday, Gary Rohan had run 12 strides with the ball – that’s about 26 or 27 meters at his pace. And the complaints about the unfairness of the call still ran apace.)

  8. Matt Zurbo says

    Corker point Dips. The opposite to love… so true.

    Don, thanks heaps for crossing over! haha! If you barrack for Sydney, get my mate Dean Towers out of that career ending vest and into the 21 will ya!!

    Mark, stoked you are on board with our great game! Geelong’s corridor blitzs as you called ’em, have been one of the all time highlights of modern footy, I reckon. And agree with you passionately on all of your offence list, except the mark. As a bloke who still plays and loves to clunk them, (though far less regularly that once upon a time), I’ll take whatever they offer.

Leave a Comment