In early onslaughts of rain in a September clash between two minnows, the retirement home bettered the homeless when it mattered most, taking the 2nd half by the balls and jettisoning Shannon Grant from the AFL.
Much like this time last year, many thought the dinosaurs in the red & white were watching their dynasty come to an end with the window bricked up as we speak. Never make the same mistake twice. Only the fickle memory of the media could do that. The swans, despite being against it after the first half, blasted the favoured kanga’s out of the flag race with a 2nd half onslaught.
The only other final between the 2 sides was for a special centenary flag, a match that north won. Both coaches played off in that match. But in a night of hammering rain in an AFL backwater, the crowd of fewer than 20,000, regardless of result, was a biting insult to both clubs, and NSW Aussie rules in general. A storm-riddled elimination final at the same venue in 2004, the opponent then WCE, had still managed a large crowd. Rain can’t be blamed. The Kangaroos being the opponent can, but then again, the lack of swan supporters looked unappetizing. But the ones that did come were in for a treat.
Come match-time, issues of tunneling and the 19 man fiasco from earlier in the season hanged on the match like dead weights. The kangaroos were also entering uncharted territory, never having been to ANZ Stadium. The poor crowd hid behind an army of ponchos, trying to resist the bucketing onslaught of rain. Noah’s Ark was sighted floating past the stadium.
After a double-bill national anthem that left the players a little frustrated, courteous of H&C’s footy anthem ‘Holy Grail’ insistent on sticking around to its end, making ‘Advance Australia Fair’ wait its turn, the game was eager to just begin.
Early it was an interesting tussle. Hale notched one early, whilst a pack flew, but like Icarus fell to earth worse for wear, with Brent Harvey & Nathan Thompson nursing some tender spots. Moments later, Brent Harvey was gifted a goal by an extremely generous goal-umpire, who after seeing the replay was no doubt sweating buckets, as it appeared very unlikely that Harvey got boot-to-ball in time. Amon Buchanan as usual was getting Oscar-happy after every contest.
Jess Sinclair trys to create something, and fails miserably as Mattner wraps him up like a hapless ragdoll. Hall’s dark side makes a cameo, gifting North a 50 free. Harvey soon scores his 2nd, whilst O’Keefe finally gets Sydney on the board. The Kangaroos are running circles around their opponents and have a slight edge, but aren’t hurting Sydney enough. Nevertheless, Leo Barry, Crouch & Everiit are looking old, unwary and well past it.
Come the 2nd quarter, and the momentum was still tossing & turning like a guilty conscious. Like a god that still hadn’t quite decided who to favour. Kieran Jack started getting into things, including an early goal, whilst McVeigh continued a fine season, being a good contributor. Veszpremi was lively. Grant got himself 2 goals late. As the siren rang to signal half-time, Sydney had outscored the Kanga’s and closed the gap to 10pts at half-time, with a late goal to Moore keeping the swans right in it.
When the 3rd began, the floodgates opened. Goal after goal to the home team rained in. First hall, then Goodes, and McVeigh. Barry Hall was eating Josh Gibson alive. As Sydney started to take control, North’s flag hopes began to stutter. Several minutes later, and Hall & Jack had struck again, with Veszpremi also scoring. It was now the swans commanding proceedings by 19pts. Brett Kirk by now was tearing the kangaroos apart as he always does when its gets hard, dragging his team across the finish line. The Kangaroos, were like a man hanging dearly for life to the back of a moving car. One slip-up, and it was all over. Enter Ed Lower, rejuvenating the contest with 2 quick goals, and the crowd thought they might be in for another epic swan final. If for a second anyway.
Malceski goaled, and then Adam Goodes knived kangaroo hearts, with a great mark & goal. Straight after, he ran into an open goal to seal the deal. He missed, and Hale snuck a goal in for ¾ time. 14pt margin, game still on. As recently as 2004, the kangaroos had overcome a 40pt ¾ time deficit to the swans. Things weren’t quite over just yet, despite the swans being more impressive.
The Kangaroo’s had a few early chances, and then the nailed started to be hammered into their coffin. 5 straight swan goals brought them to an unassailable 37pt lead. Goodes, Hall, Jack & Moore once again were getting into it, whilst Ted Richards brought the house down with a 60m classic.
From there, the contest coughed & spluttered to the inevitable. Shannon Grant’s face said it all. The final siren sang to the faithful crowd, echoing a 35pt swan win, and the end of Shannon Grants AFL career. A career that started with the swans, including the ’96 GF loss to his now beloved North. He went on to win the 1999 Norm Smith, a B&F, and over 300 goals in a great 301 game career. An inconsolable Jess Sinclair gave the impression that Grant wasn’t alone, and Sinclair’s after was decided already.
Meanwhile the ever-defiant swans yet again stood up to an AFL system always predicting an inevitable bottoming out. Yes, they have some old players (that stood up), but they also have burgeoning young talent in Jack, Moore, Veszpremi, etc that get around in the system with little fuss compared to their Victorian counterparts. Plus the peak-age players like O’Keefe & McVeigh have played their best seasons, whilst Adam Goodes still has a few good years in him. But like ive always said, it’s more the style than the cattle that is behind the swan’s success. Roos is one of the better coaches around, whilst his team is the only interstater still alive, an achievement in itself. The Bulldogs are the next assignment for the evergreen swans.
Meanwhile the Kangaroos, who only a fortnight ago were believed to be a flag chance, have died with a whimper with 8th for 2008. A Disappointing end to the season, and unfair to the fans.
However, after another impressive September showing where the swans yet again have defied their critics, I think the horrid crowd will be the main talking point in what was the worst finals crowd since 1924. I can already hear the NRL scribes orgasming over their keyboards.
Sydney Swans 1.5 4.6 12.7 – 17.8 (110)
North Melbourne 4.1 6.4 10.5 – 11.9 (75)
Sydney Swans: Hall 3, Jack 3, Goodes 3, Moore 2, O’Keefe 2, Malceski, McVeigh, Richards, Veszpremi
North Melbourne: Grant 2, Hale 2, Harvey 2, Lower 2, Petrie, Sinclair, Thompson
Sydney Swans: Kirk, McVeigh, Goodes, Jolly, Hall, Jack, O’Keefe, Richards
North Melbourne: Harvey, Petrie, Pratt, Harris, Lower, Hale
Sydney Swans: Bird replaced in selected side by Veszpremi.
North Melbourne: Hansen replaced in selected side by Urquhart.
Umpires: Vozzo, McBurney, Chamberlain