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The time of my life and the tie of theirs…

Attending my first AFL final was everything I hoped it would be. From the minute we hit Central station the swarm of red and white was evident. The closer we got to the ground, the thicker the crowds became and it was clear it was the place to be.

The queue to get into the stadium was insane. It took a ridiculously long time to make it through the gates and the first bounce occurred before we were able to take our seats. I wouldn’t have had it any other way though. There was not a spare seat in the house and the effect was amazing.

The atmosphere was incredible. The first quarter was a lot closer than it should have been, with our defensive efforts (or lack thereof) keeping them in the game. Fortunately their inaccurate kicking kept them from converting any ascendancy into scoreboard pressure. The few Essendon fans in the stadium were bravely piping up and letting us know they were there.

Let’s just say the second quarter silenced them. Sadly, the game was all but over by half time. With Buddy kicking a few and almost everything we touched turning to goals, there was not a lot of fight left in Essendon for the rest of the game. It was a dominant performance and one that highlighted just how far we have come this season. As the Swans left the field at half time we gave them a standing ovation. They had essentially gotten the job done and we couldn’t be more proud.

When a win is effectively secured so early, you cannot help but start to worry about injuries. As Rohan was forced from the field with what appeared to be a leg injury, I was more than a little concerned. It happened right in front of us and while play continued, our eyes were fixed firmly on Gary and the attention he was getting from the physio. As he got to his feet and began to run it off along the sideline, we applauded and cheered. It seems we all know just how important he is to our finals campaign.

When the final siren sounded we all got to our feet and belted out our song. It was an amazing performance and they are undoubtedly a team filling their fans with pride. I am nervous but hopeful about Geelong next week, but given the nature of our season, we are already winners in my eyes, no matter where our season ends.

Living the hard life of a dual code footy fan, I had to hurry home for my next instalment. I missed the first 15 minutes or so of the rugby and wasn’t surprised to see only penalty goals had been exchanged. It was to be expected playing South Africa. Going into the match I wasn’t sure which way it would go, but I think the ending was fitting.

Our attack was good and seems to be improving. Beale is really stepping up and his kicking around the field has really improved. He seemed more capable of getting us down the other end of the park than Foley and I am pleased to see those duties getting shared around. There were still more errors than we can afford and I feel our work at the breakdown leaves a lot to be desired. Both New Zealand and South Africa have stolen too much ball and we don’t seem to be returning the favour.

With very little between the two sides it could have gone either way. We had our chances and so did they. Our set piece was not as reliable as it should be and their dominance is ultimately what kept us from capitalising on our opportunities. If we could insert their set piece into our game, we would have a side that could take down the All Blacks. If only.

As tough as it would have been for the players, I think it was the right result. No team deserved to win and no team deserved to lose. In another bizarre turn of events, after the rugby finished I turned my attention to the other AFL final. With a few minutes to go the possibility of a tie was being discussed. I thought it unlikely given how easy it is to score a point in AFL. I was wrong.

With scores tied at the end of the fourth quarter, they went into two extra time periods. An amazing effort prevented a behind during regular time and off to extra time they went. With Port Adelaide three scoring shots ahead I thought they had it won. West Coast however, kept refusing to lie down. In a ridiculous turn of events they kicked a goal after the siren to win by two points. All I can say is good luck to GWS next week.

After a weekend off from footy last weekend, I must admit I loved having it back. There is nothing more interesting or unpredictable and completely and utterly addictive. Here’s hoping the Swans get up next week, because I am not ready to give up my weekly dose just yet.

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You two have got to stop meeting like this

With the Swans kicking off at 4.30 and the rugby slated to start around 5.30, it was guaranteed to be a weekend of divided attention. I had high hopes the Swans would have things well and truly under control by the time the rugby started, relieving some of the pressure. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

After a strong start we allowed Carlton to get back into the game in the second quarter, giving up much of our substantial lead. Unfortunately for them though, it seems that was all the fight they had left in them this year. So finals here we come. It was a dominant performance that built as the match progressed, ending in an 81 point victory.

Just as interesting as the result of the game itself was Buddy’s attempt to chase down Josh Kennedy in the race for the Coleman Medal. He gave it a fair shake. 10 goals shot him from fourth place to first by the end of the match. Kennedy needed to kick six goals in the game against Adelaide last night and he managed only one, despite West Coast getting the win and sneaking into the eight.

It will undoubtedly be an interesting finals series, with Adelaide, despite sitting on top of the ladder, falling to both us and now West Coast in the lead up. No matter what happens from here on in, it has been a remarkable season for the Swans. From 0-6 to one of the most formidable teams in the comp heading into finals, they can deservedly take a bow. With a final against Essendon at the SCG I have high hopes it won’t end there.

After last week I had no idea what to expect from the rugby on Saturday night. Once again, it was completely bizarre. A Wallaby try within the first 30 seconds was not something you can ever predict against New Zealand. Let alone scoring the first three tries and leading for most of the match. Our intensity was much improved and our tackles were actually sticking. What was more surprising though, was how many mistakes the All Blacks made.

You won’t get a better opportunity than that to beat New Zealand. Uncharacteristic errors riddled their game, with Sonny Bill in particular struggling to gain composure. Sadly though, we still weren’t good enough. Missed opportunities to punish them with seven points for every try kept them in the game.

As we looked set to score with 15 minutes to go I was actually willing us not to. It was too soon. Way too soon. Hanging on to a tiny lead like that is hard work against anyone, let alone those guys. Don’t get me wrong, I celebrated every one of our successes but I knew I had to enjoy it while it lasted. Sadly, it didn’t last.

There were plenty of efforts to be commended though. Kuridrani was outstanding, delivering his strong running that always makes ground. Our defensive effort on the wing was also noticeably improved. Pola Ta-Nau made a huge difference when he came on and reinforced my argument for bringing him into the starting side. While it was a good effort, it wasn’t enough.

It was an admirable effort when you consider what our preparation was leading into these games. With dismal performances all round for our Super Rugby sides, with the Brumbies the only side to feature (if only briefly) in the finals series, it was always going to be a tough ask. The Crusaders nabbed yet another title this year and the New Zealand teams starred all season. I still believed that a united front could triumph though. Maybe next year…

In the meantime, I will be thankful for the AFL and rugby to simply stop meeting like this.

 

Whirlwind weekend

It was always going to be a big weekend of sport. With the Swans spending Friday night at the Adelaide Oval trying to bring down the top team and the Wallabies welcoming the All Blacks to Sydney, there was a lot of work to be done. Sadly, only one team delivered the result I was after. At the end of the day, though, it was better than two losses.

I was scheduled to return home early on Friday evening and had made plans to settle in front of the TV and watch the swans play what I suspected would be a cracking game of footy. High winds and an airline stuff up saw me settling in front of a TV in a Melbourne hotel room. It was annoying, sure, but I could still watch the game, so I wasn’t too upset.

I couldn’t have predicted the great start that we got off to. It was exactly what you always hope for but rarely get. It is not by mere luck though that Adelaide sit on top of the ladder. I was more than prepared for them to fight back and turn it into the close game everyone was hoping for. And fight they did.

Throughout the match the crowd had a pretty massive impact. Adelaide Oval is far from a friendly place for opposition teams and you couldn’t help but notice the influence the crowd had on the umpiring decisions. Hilariously the commentators claimed to have been oblivious to any bias, however were brought back to earth when the stat of 28 free kicks to 14 was presented to them.

While it was our composure that ultimately won us the game, our goal kicking was impressive. With only 5 behinds kicked all night, it was really what proved the difference, with Adelaide struggling to convert their set shots. Sam Reid was again outstanding and finds himself in just the place at the right time.

With four minutes to go my heart was pounding. A three point lead is far from sufficient with any kind of time left on the clock. I was completely prepared for my heart to be broken but amazingly it wasn’t. It was hardly surprising that in the closing stages Rohan was there to collect the ball and ensure it was up the right end of the ground when the final siren sounded. All I can say heading into finals is guys, look out. We’re coming.

Saturday saw me finally return to Sydney and I was able to settle in for a night of rugby. Or something. I am not sure what I was watching in the first half but it definitely didn’t feel like a test match. It was nothing short of embarrassing. Following an early passage of play where we put together 16 phases and got a measly three points for our efforts, we patted ourselves on the back and then lay down.

The All Blacks steam rolled over us. Over, and over, again. Our defense was non-existent. We seemed to politely step aside as they ran in try after try. You could have been forgiven for thinking you were watching a first grade side taking on a fourth grade side; the skill level was so disparate. I was counting down to half time, willing the pain to stop. Thankfully it eventually arrived, but not soon enough.

With the game well and truly lost it was not surprising that Cheika made changes in the second half. Kuridrani, Polata-Nau and even Phipps made a huge difference when they came on. Kuridrani is the sort of solid and straight running player we need, especially with Beale back in the side. Both he and Polata-Nau injected a sense of urgency in defense and the team as a whole lifted.

With their backs to the wall they did well to outscore New Zealand in the second half but there was a lot that factored into it. With nothing to lose, our players felt free in taking a chance with their attack. New Zealand on the other hand had played an entire match in the first half, so were really a little tired and aware they had already won the game, didn’t have the same level of urgency as us.

While the first half was horrendous, the second was not bad viewing. Sure, we let them score more points against us than they ever have before, but it was a game unlike any I have seen before. The pace and intensity was ridiculous, even for New Zealand. All we can hope is that the next match is a little slower and we find our way into it earlier on. I haven’t completely given up hope and if we can improve our defense we stand half a chance. As Cheika said, “It is that simple, we just need to make those tackles.”

Finally, a relaxing Friday night

Friday night games can really set the tone for your weekend. Last week, I was heart broken. I went to bed feeling angry and disappointed and woke up feeling pretty down. Last night was a whole different story.

The team we fielded would have no problem taking care of almost every team in the competition (barring Hawthorn, but we won’t mention that). There was so much talent on display and so much to be optimistic about as finals draw near. McVeigh was as brilliant as ever, calm and considered and steering the ship with confidence.

Heeney and Reid demonstrated just how special they are, having amazing moments throughout the night. Rohan made the most of every touch and contributed as he always does. One couldn’t help but notice Hayward, as he stood up and kicked three impressive goals.

It was an even more impressive victory when you consider that we were without Josh Kennedy and Buddy kicked only one goal. The side on display last night were a complete team and Geelong didn’t have the answers. Granted they were without Dangerfield and Selwood went off injured for a while, but they really didn’t have what it took to work their way back into the game.

It didn’t help that they failed to capitalise on the opportunities that arose for them in the third quarter. Kicking behinds didn’t make much of a dent in the margin. At times we also struggled in front of goal but ultimately we found them when we needed to. A string of goals soon crushed Geelong’s hopes and I could relax.

The game was wrapped up pretty quickly, allowing the commentators to reflect on the game and the implications of its result for the last 12 minutes of play. I was finally able to enjoy a relaxing Friday night in front of the footy. Last week we saw the Hawthorn effect on full display, but when you look at the record, it seems Geelong suffer from a Sydney effect. Let’s hope it’s contagious.

The Hawthorn Effect

Tonight was beyond frustrating. It is only now that I can even contemplate sitting down and writing about what I witnessed. The score line was nothing unusual for a Sydney Hawthorn game; it seems almost compulsory now that our games be decided by a goal or less. What was unusual was the poor standard of football played by both sides.

The team that played half of the match this evening was one we hadn’t seen since the early rounds of this season. They were disorganised, almost listless at times and had no sense of direction. If I had a dollar for every ‘kick and hope’ that took place tonight I would be very rich. Watching them fail to adjust after time and time again it proved a fruitless tactic was infuriating.

The team we have come to be so proud of over the last few weeks were gone. It seems form means nothing when we enter into a match against Hawthorn and it is starting to get ridiculous. We are more than capable of playing footy that would have destroyed Hawthorn tonight. Yet we didn’t even get close to that kind of performance.

This strange hoodoo that holds us back against them is a classic example of the anomalies that exist in sport. We were the team going from strength to strength, sitting higher on the ladder and with the talent to get the job done. Yet they won. Why? The Hawthorn Effect. We take to the field against them and suddenly we feel rushed. We second-guess every move and we make mistakes.

It appeared that tonight the monkey had returned to the back of Buddy Franklin, his own personal Hawthorn Effect. Whenever he received the ball he was unsure what to do with it, fumbling and generally making a mess of it. It was painful to watch. Tonight was a night we desperately needed him to rise and do those impossible things that only he can do. Aside from a few well-placed kicks, the extraordinary Buddy was really very ordinary.

Thankfully at least one Swan appears to be immune to the Hawthorn Effect. McVeigh never ceases to amaze me, with his cool head and excellent decision-making no matter what pressure he is under. Tonight was no exception and he helped keep us in touch despite our dismal performance. Now if he could only share some of that immunity with his teammates, we might stand a chance.

Tonight also made me acutely aware of how vital Rohan is to this side. All across the ground he contributes, whether it is his great tackling, pace through the middle of the ground or ability to take strong marks and boot goals. He was missed. Oh, was he missed. I can’t help but think that the Rohan Effect could have been enough of an antidote to overcome the Hawthorn Effect.

Overall the game was fairly unimpressive. Hawthorn are far from their best and it was their inability to kick goals in the back end of the game that gave us half a chance to win. Sadly, we had neither the time nor the conviction to get the job done. At half time I knew what would happen – we would fight back, get close but ultimately lose. It is a script well rehearsed and as fans we know every line. It is a steep climb home now but thankfully not one likely to be further hampered by the Hawthorn Effect.

The red and white army

What a Saturday night. I will never tire of the joy that comes with decking myself out in my red and white and joining my fellow fans as we converge upon the SCG. One of the great things about live sport is that the atmosphere extends beyond the ground and across the city.

As I climbed off the train at Central I had little need for the signs directing me to the shuttle buses that would take us to the ground. All I had to do was follow the sea of red and white streaming out of the station. There was a nice mix of first timers and seasoned professionals, with one woman’s membership gear making her the called upon expert when someone wasn’t quite sure which side of the street the buses left from.

Standing on the bus for the short trip to the ground didn’t worry me, as my excitement by that point was palpable and unlikely to be contained within a seat. As my comrades surrounded me I was given a lesson in the power of belonging. Brandishing my red and white scarf I had the pass to their club, our club.

Once we arrived at the ground the atmosphere kicked up a gear. St Kilda fans were few and far between and really had little to cheer about. It was an impressive crowd of nearly 36, 000 and despite the game never really being close, the crowd were really engaged in the game. Further testament to the great footy we are playing at the moment.

I was worried early on when we appeared to be rushing a little, making quick decisions when we had more time. Eventually though we found our rhythm and got the job done. Importantly we were able to answer almost every goal they kicked with one of our own shortly after. It’s the kind of play that really gets your opposition down and sends you a long way to victory.

I cannot help but marvel at the athleticism of these guys whenever I watch a game live. On the TV they look impressive, but they’re on TV and hardly seem real. When faced with them just metres from you, it becomes impossible to deny that they are real and they are seriously impressive. Witnessing brilliant marks close up and seeing Buddy’s ridiculous goal from close quarters was an experience I am unlikely to forget.

In choosing our seats last night, we really struck gold. Not for our view of the ground, but for our complimentary commentary, courtesy of two members of the red and white army behind us. They were classic, pointing out Buddy prefers to kick goals on the run, at every chance they got. “Oh it’s a set shot, he isn’t likely to get this one – stick him a few more metres out and on the run and he’d have no worries.”

My favourite comment though came towards the conclusion of the game. The wind had picked up and those sitting in the rows in front of us had headed home. The guys behind us were enjoying the cool wind as much as we were and we could all have been forgiven for heading off before the game was done. When one of our neighbours asked if they should stay to sing the song, his friend replied, “Of course, bloody oath we will.”

In a match celebrating pride, the Swans inspired just that. As the final siren sounded and we belted out the song, I couldn’t have been more proud to be a member of the red and white army. I’ll leave it to my comrades to charge the MCG next week. Look out Hawthorn – we’re coming.

We’re looming large

After watching the Swans on Saturday night, three words came to mind. Here. We. Come. Sitting in sixth at the end of this round we are looking likely to be taking part in the finals series and everyone else in the comp should be scared.

After St Kilda went down on Friday night I knew we would be looking good if we could get the win. Despite the discrepancy in our positions on the ladder I was quietly confident we could get the job done on GWS. Playing out games for essentially no result can really take its toll on a team and I feel the draws have really damaged their confidence.

It was a much closer game than last week and really entertaining. At no point could we really count them out and at no point was I able to get comfortable watching it. We kept our noses in front but didn’t really secure victory until the closing stages of the game. It was a good test for us, as we were forced to continually find the answering goals as GWS hit back.

Our defensive effort really impressed me and makes me excited for the coming rounds. The intensity we are bringing to games is what is getting us home again and again. Our victories are about so much more than kicking goals. It’s the hunger in the eyes of our guys as they hunt down their opposition and demand possession of the ball.

While it has been nerve-wracking sweating over every game for fear of blowing our season, it has brought out the best in this team. They are everything I love about the Swans – brave, passionate and committed. Our season started so much worse than we ever could have imagined and yet here we are. It could have been over weeks ago and somehow, it isn’t.

Like any game of AFL, it really isn’t over until it’s over. Momentum can swing in an instant and it appears we now have it all. We have some challenges ahead of us but I believe we are up to the task. A win next weekend would further cement our place in the eight, but I am wary of St Kilda after their big loss this weekend.

It’s a game I will be sitting in the stands for and when I planned it all those weeks ago, I feared it would be nothing but pride we were playing for. How very wrong I was. Saturday night can’t come soon enough and I will be donning my red and white with pride. It’s time to give those Saints their marching orders.

 

The first one that counts

We reached an important milestone tonight, chalking up that victory that puts us at eight wins, seven losses. The first one that doesn’t simply neutralise our shocking start to the season. We definitely have the chance now to build something and it will be interesting to see if we can. It has been an interesting round of football already; with the GWS and Hawthorn draw surely finally dashing Hawthorn’s hopes of a miracle finals appearance.

Tonight was the kind of easy win that we really needed, something to give our percentage a bit of a boost and let us cruise through the latter stages of the game. It was sad to see how quickly Gold Coast rolled over and basically gave up. By half time, we pretty much had things under control. It was really only a contest for one quarter and a timely reminder that in AFL, winning the first quarter means very little.

It was an impressive display across the board but as always some earned a special mention. There is no ignoring Rohan’s contribution – a personal best of five goals is hard to overlook. He truly has become the star he always promised to be, adding a real strength to complement his speed. When he isn’t taking amazing marks, he is laying fantastic tackles, truly a complete player.

Franklin contributed three and is looking confident, which bodes well for our mission going forward. Another guy who stood out to me tonight was Grundy. Week in, week out, he stands guard, honourably defending our goals and making life that bit more difficult for our opponent. He inspires confidence – I know if he is there it will be okay and he will do what is needed of him.

The prospect of next week scares me, offering us a chance to mix it with the top end of the ladder. While we can dream of finals, until we defeat those guys sitting at the top, they will remain dreams. We can form scenarios in our head and will results to go our way but the key remains simple – keep winning. A draw is not an option. Our mission is clear: turn that eight into a nine and continue to climb.

Finals footy in June

The AFL ladder this season is nothing short of confusing. With no team standing out or able to perform consistently, nobody really knows what the finals will bring, or who for that matter. We lost our first six and Hawthorn have been inconsistent performers all season as well. That takes out the two teams that have so consistently dominated the top of the ladder over the last few years and shakes up the entire competition.

Tonight was a big test for us. Coming off a few close games we had to get the job done against Melbourne, who have been performing better than they have in years. To top it off we had to do it in a Friday night game at the MCG. No pressure. It was an interesting game from the outset, but not for the reason Melbourne would have been hoping for.

A blow was struck early on that left Mills sidelined for most of the match, and dominated post match discussion. Part of me can’t help but question a system that allows someone to intentionally land a blow that sidelines their opponent, then continue playing for the rest of the match. I know he will undoubtedly miss several weeks once it has been reviewed but to watch him continue to run around, knowing we were down a man due to his actions, really stung.

It didn’t hurt us too much. Really, Melbourne were never in it. The scoreboard however, took a while to get the memo. The amount of behinds we kicked was beyond belief. We were dominating every aspect of the play, all over the ground, except for the bit that counts. 14 behinds and one goal. It was ridiculous. For some reason we were rushing, acting as though we needed a fast finish at the beginning of the first quarter.

Thankfully, it didn’t last. I really enjoyed watching the game tonight. I loved watching McVeigh slot back into the side, bringing his cool head and accuracy at just the right moments. I enjoyed seeing our defenders stand up and deny Melbourne again and again. I loved watching guys like Rohan and Reid taking strong marks with confidence. It was also a relief to see our midfield humming again. Parker and Kennedy were everywhere and absolutely killing it. It was good to see Buddy kicking goals again too.

Honestly, I challenge anyone to watch how we played tonight and say we don’t look like a team that belong in the finals. I know the odds are against us, but I really think that if we don’t play finals, it is not just us that will be missing out. We bring a special brand of footy to the competition and without us pushing our opponents to be tougher and want it more, finals footy just won’t be the same.

In our current situation, we are forced to play every game as though it is an elimination final. It truly is finals footy in June, and I have to say I love it. If this is as close as we get to finals footy this season, then so be it. I will be here cheering until our season’s end.

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