Swans Capitulation and Condemnation: Please Explain

It’s not unusual (hat tip to yesterday’s performing artist) for an aged citizen like me to be confounded by events. It’s particularly unsurprising that the way football matches pan out should bewilder someone whose recent active involvement in the game has been as a field umpire.

Yet I find myself mystified by how the Grand Final evolved. I confidently predicted a Sydney victory, and thought it likely to be by a comfortable margin (4+ goals). This assessment was based on Sydney’s superior consistency and form sustained over 5 months after their early season failures. During that period they lost twice (Hawthorn 10 points, Richmond 3 points), and they played with an intensity and application that seemed bomb-proof.

Hawthorn’ during the same period were racking up victories for the most part, yet they did so in less convincing fashion. In fact, they lost during the regular season to the other five teams who made up the top 6 (although they did reverse those results for three of their conquerors). Yesterday, in contrast with the two teams’ prior form, the Swans were feeble, their game plan fell apart under sustained Hawthorn pressure, and everything the Hawks touched turned to goals.

In prospect, I felt it possible that Hawthorn might prove competitive throughout the 120 minutes, and that if it came down to a late lucky break that they may sneak a narrow win (mirroring the way the cards fell for Sydney late in the corresponding match two years previously). I thought it inconceivable that the Swans would capitulate in the fashion they did after the ten minute mark of the first quarter, and even when the tide began to run solidly against them, I assumed that Sydney would mount some sort of comeback – however futile that would be once the margin was out beyond six goals.

I take some minor comfort from the fact that when I am so comprehensively wrong, I have quite a few mates. I note that the bookmakers were offering as much as $5.80 for Hawthorn to win by a margin of 25 points or more, and as much as $12 for the margin to be 40 points or more in their favour (which was settled early in the second half). I did not record the princely sum that might have been available to anyone brave enough to risk a Hawthorn victory by greater than 10 goals.

So, well played Hawthorn on a dominant performance which was as close to football perfection as one is likely to see between teams which are (hypothetically) evenly-matched. The evenness, the 22-player commitment, and the brilliant planning and execution made one marvel. It’s also particularly worth noting that Alastair Clarkson has demonstrated a Bart Cummings’-like capacity to have his charges peak on the right day.

Milton captured the essence of the Bloods’ pitiful performance:

“With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout,

Confusion worse, confounded.”

While I watched disbelievingly as Saturday’s events unfolded, I was also bowled over in the lead up to the game. I regard Peter Baulderstone as a wise observer of many aspects of the human condition – with a minor qualification on matters relating to West Coast Eagles and Fremantle. Even on the rare occasions when I find his observations challenge my long-held prejudices, I generally consider that it is worth re-considering my position.

Mr. B. was categorical in his assertion that Hawthorn were the good guys, and he seemed to have quite a few mates, who are clearly resentful of Sydney’s ability to manage (manipulate?) the system in their favour. This was too much. While I respect those whose commitment to the brown & gold dates back to the days of the Mayblooms, their being spoilt by success since 1961 means that it is hard to love them irrespective of the opposition. Match that with a variety of lucky breaks during that half-century – an excellent country zone (which was effectively in the metro area), acquisition of Waverley, first as a home ground then as their administrative and training HQ, the gift of Tasmania, even bottoming out at a time when (with a leg-up from Richmond) they were able to obtain Franklin and Roughead in the draft. Now I don’t doubt that this has been an effectively administered club, and this has enabled them to maximise the advantages which came their way, but it is easy to envy these various strokes of good fortune. The other element of my unabated hostility to the horrible horks is a “take no prisoners” playing style, which has marked even their most proficient players and teams.

Now I know that contemporary Hawthorn support is a broad church. Even within the Almanac community that is apparent. However, I can’t escape my class-based bias that sees the overwhelming Hawks family (official and supporter) as being from that private school cohort, of whom Manning Clark wrote:

“they expect that on the day of judgment, they will have reserved seats in the front row of the Members’ Stand.”

Truth is that all effective teams manage the rules and licence conditions as well as their circumstances allow. The resources available to different teams are grossly unequal, notwithstanding laudable (if occasionally cack-handed) attempts by the AFL to level the playing field. It is also true that some well-endowed clubs are poorly administered, with varying levels of explanations/excuses. However, Sydney, in maximising the advantages they have been granted, are doing nothing that hasn’t been done at different times by Collingwood, Essendon, Carlton, West Coast, Adelaide, Brisbane, and I dare say other clubs.

In an ideal world, a minimum objective should be to ensure a level playing-field for all, or even compensatory additional resources for those handicapped by limited support base, geographic disadvantage etc. Inevitably, we all fail to see the beam in our own eye of our self-interest. Club trumps the game for all but the most generous-spirited of the engaged.

About Peter Fuller

Male, 60 something, idle retiree; Blues supporter; played park/paddock standard football in Victoria's western district until mid teens, then Melbourne suburbs; umpired for approximately 20 years (still engaged on light duties - occasionally fieldie, regularly on the line). I thank the goddess at least weekly, that I was born and grew up in the southern States of Oz, so that Aussie Rules was my game from earliest childhood. I still love it with a passion, although I can't pretend to a thorough understanding of the tactical complexities of the contemporary game.


  1. This private school alumnus loathes Hawthorn and is utterly befuddled by any unaligned fan who barracks for the Hawks in a big game. I know quite a few fans who barracked for Hawthorn over Geelong in 2008 because they thought Geelong had been too successful and Hawthorn were the good guys who deserved a flag after years doing it tough. What, a million flags not enough for you?

  2. Todd Allison says

    The bewilderment at the Hawks dominance over the Swans in this game is surprising. I, for one, took the $12 on offer for the Hawks by 40 plus and was fairly confident at that.

    The reason – the last time they met, with the Hawks fielding a near reserve grade side, outscored the Swans by 8 goals in the last quarter and a half. In the first quarter and a half of the GF, it was 7 goals. Basically, they beat the Swans by 15 goals over 3 quarters. With the Swans having essentially the same team as last time and the Hawks having welcomed back several stars, the logic said the Hawks should start warm favourites.

    But, just as everyone jumped on the Freo bandwagon last year after the PF, people are constantly looking at why Hawthorn can’t win as opposed to why they can. The fact is they have one point of difference from every other side, they score heavily and quickly, meaning they are never really out of a game.

    I for one am thankful the best attacking side won the comp. Hopefully more sides will try to replicate their attacking brand of footy and people who hate footy and only care for their jobs (read Paul Roos and Ross Lyon) are hounded out of the game as anachronisms to the bad old days. The two worst grand finals of recent memory were 2005 and 2006 and they were horrible because the football was so bad and boring (forget how close the result was). This year’s GF was much better than those as we were blessed to see a side that had overcome every adversity a side could be inflicted with, play the near perfect game of football. Thank you, Hawthorn, it was a privilege to witness that performance.

  3. With the beam firmly in the eye, not sure when Adelaide has ever had a granted advantage to exploit. Taylor Walker is the closest I can think of but everyone had access to the NSW scholarship system didn’t they?

    But to the question of the article, why were Hawthorn the good guys and Sydney the bad. The answer, whether fair or not, is Tippett and Buddy. In 2012 Sydney was everyone’s second favourite team because they were a champion team that played honest and accountable football. The no d’heads policy actually resonated with non-Swans people. Since then, again whether fair or not (the question is why are people thinking that why, not is it reasonable), Sydney have gone and recruited the two biggest and highest paid d’heads in the league. They are no longer the underdogs against anyone, therefore no longer loved.

  4. Peter Fuller says

    Thanks fellas for the comments.
    Tony, you capture my sentiments with surgical precision.

    Todd, well done with your analysis, and I’m pleased that you were able to profit from your sound judgment. Like you I’ve been impressed by Hawthorn’s capacity to surge and rattle on the goals. However, impressionistically, they often seem to then lapse and allow opponents back in. On Saturday, even when their scoring rate eased, they defended with absolute intent and commitment, and Sydney lacked whatever was required to respond. Note the contrast with the 2012 GF, when each side scored multiple sequences of goals.

    Dave, your explanation for the Swans passage from universally admired to almost pariah status is plausible. I think the widely-shared attitude has something of the character of the parent faced with two children, one particularly virtuous and the other a serial delinquent/prodigal son. While the latter enjoys perennial absolution for his faults, a minor transgression by the former is met with a visceral reaction “Oh we didn’t expect that of YOU.”

    As for Adelaide’s “benefits”, I’m thinking more of their foundation, when the “Pride of South Australia” were able to exploit their approximation of a State team and in particular to have the come home factor operate in their favour – Darren Jarman, Tony Hall. Tony McGuinness, for example. I wasn’t intending to suggest anything untoward, I stress. I also note that some SA Almanackers argue that the Adelaide fishbowl is a significant disadvantage in contemporary football.

  5. Yeah, that’s an interesting one Peter. Graham Cornes argues the Crows were at a distinct disadvantage on foundation. Licence fee aside, they were only allowed to select from a league that had been thoroughly plundered by the VFL and could recruit just 3 existing VFL players. Then to add insult to injury Hawthorn nicked D. Jarman from under them because the Crows had not yet been given access to official AFL approved contracts.

    That said, as a 14 year old I was convinced the best of the SANFL would romp in a premiership in 91 and the fact that it was a team of almost entirely South Australians gave them an appeal they no longer have. In hindsight that it only took 7 seasons to actually happen seems a remarkably short wait.

    Back to Saturday’s game, no doubt Sydney got the unpleasant end of the pineapple to be cast as the bad guys (surely either end is unpleasant) but it is probably the pantomime nature of the game that makes us demonise one side and glorify the other. It says something that in the AFL most non-aligned fans were cheering for back to back while in the SANFL most were cheering for a threepeat.

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