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4 sports thoughts

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.

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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.

New Zealand can hardly wait

After a stressful Friday night I was hoping for a settling and comfortable win from the Wallabies on Saturday. The score line might suggest it was, but I found it far from comfortable. Once again I found my team frighteningly close to losing. With five minutes to go, Italy found themselves within one point of us. One point. Five minutes. Really guys?

I didn’t understand the changes made to the team during the week and after the game I still don’t understand them. There didn’t seem to be any logic or reason to any of it. What resulted was a team that have never played together before and boy, could you tell. We started poorly and our game was punctuated with errors all the way through.

It was really our errors that kept Italy alive and let them draw to within one point of us. Defensively they were poor and it took little more than simple catch pass to open them up and score, as we did on a number of occasions. However our lack of communication gave them ample opportunities to strike back and they did. Their attack is quick and given half a change they punished us.

This is what scares me – every one of those moments we mess up will be turned into tries against New Zealand and worse still, their defense is airtight. What was worrying was how flat our attack was. Upon receiving the ball our backs had little room to move before running into the Italian defensive line. I could almost see the likes of South Africa and New Zealand rubbing their hands together with glee. They will pounce on that ball and with a simple intercept, punish us severely.

Our attack showed plenty of pace and capitalised a number of times on the wing, but really, I wanted more. There were very few who were willing to try straightening our attack, which was what so badly needed to happen. Our lateral movement was painful to watch and frankly uninspiring.

Yes, we held on in the end and managed to score twice, making our win somewhat convincing. I, however, remain unconvinced. Italy had no right to get that close to us and it was through our own errors that they did. It is simply not good enough. I found myself shaking my head and asking how, at this level, these simple mistakes could be made?

I can imagine New Zealand can hardly wait to crush us, and if we put in a performance like that, they will. I will continue to have faith though and hope against all hope, that come August, we rise. And just maybe, win.

 

Probability is nothing

I had tonight in the diary as a relaxing Friday night sitting at home watching the footy. More fool me. There is nothing relaxing about watching the Swans at the moment. With their season hanging on every match it is enough to send me completely insane.

It was a close match from the get go. Nobody really looked like pulling clear, until we built a small lead but were unable to really put on serious scoreboard pressure. It seemed for most of the match that someone had (unbeknownst to us) modified the objective of the game, making it instead to kick behinds. Neither team were accurate in front of goal and even the likes of Buddy struggled to get between those two pesky middle posts.

Essendon were impressive. When the lead was built they didn’t lie down, capitalising on their chances and executing their game plan well. I was really impressed by their speed and ball movement throughout the whole match. Once they hit their purple patch and started drilling goals we looked positively ragged in comparison.

We had our moments of brilliance throughout the match and going in I must admit I was hopeful of a win. At half time I was still quietly confident, believing if our kicking in front of goal could be tidied up, then we could get the job done.

Kennedy was outstanding as always, with impressively impactful touches all over the ground. Reid battled valiantly all night and the marks Heeney took were outstanding. To see him crashing to the ground in an awkward landing and then go on shortly after to kick a thoroughly impressive goal was a real highlight of the evening.

Sitting there as the Bombers kicked clear and the momentum had definitively swung in their favour I began to reflect on the match. Where we had really lost it was in the speed of the play. The little moments were killing us as Essendon swiftly punished us for our mistakes. I was sitting quite calmly, sadly ruminating on what was now surely a lost season.

19 points down with 3 minutes to go, you can safely write the game off. Or so we thought. The Essendon players were ecstatic, celebrating what was surely their climb into the eight. Swans fans were heading home, ready to admit defeat. Only their team weren’t. I am still questioning how exactly it happened.

Even as the goals sailed through I wouldn’t let myself have hope. There wasn’t enough time. But the points continued to come. As I watched Papley smother Essendon’s kick I noted how admirable his effort was right to the end. Then Rohan found himself on the end of a kick. With less than ten seconds left in the match. And he just happened to be directly in front of goal.

I was in shock, unable to move. I knew he had to kick it. It was directly in front. But kicking it meant we would win and that was as improbable, as his kicking it was probable. As it sailed through we were given an education on sport once more. Probability is nothing.

Longmire’s reaction mirrored my own, his head in his hands in complete disbelief. How Rohan can have done it two weeks in a row stuns me. He really is made for the big moments.

Tonight was undoubtedly one of those nights we will point to in weeks, months, years to come and say this is why we do it. This is why we take the journey with our teams, through the heartbreak and the pain. We do it because nothing can compare with the ecstasy that is brought by a come from behind, one point win, in the dying seconds of a game. Nothing.

Forget multitasking, try multi footballing…

Saturday posed something of a challenge for me, as you can imagine. By now you would know that there is only one thing I love as much as watching football and that is watching football. Never have I had a greater appreciation for half time breaks than when the Wallabies entered the sheds on Saturday afternoon.

I must say the start of the rugby was also welcomed, as the Swans floundered against Richmond. I was able to give my undivided attention to the first half of my beloved AFL but the team I was watching did not resemble my beloved Swans. I was seriously unimpressed. They were hopeless. I was almost beginning to wonder if once again they had been unable to find their way off their flight to Melbourne. I hate to say it but I found myself having a few grand final flashbacks.

One thing you must always remember as an AFL supporter though – it isn’t over until it’s over. That third quarter is the real teller. Fortunately for us, we arrived. Meanwhile, I was activating my rugby headspace, as the Wallabies failed to do likewise. The first half was seriously uninspiring. The game was controlled by what felt like a never-ending stream of penalties.

We helped it along by a delightful combination of poor decision-making, apparent lethargy and a serious lack of composure in critical moments. The ball being received from Genia was seriously slow. Scotland were praised for their impressive line speed but I was screaming at the TV more often than not, as the ball sat, waiting for Genia to pick it up and give our back line a chance to create something.

Granted, there were some very entertaining moments. Nobody could deny the impressive skill of Folau leaping onto the end of Foley’s perfectly accurate kick to score a try. I had to laugh at the contest between two fullbacks for a high ball being described as a ‘mismatch’, a term usually reserved for when a lightning quick back finds themselves outpacing a lumbering forward.

As half time began I switched to the Swans to find them drawing very near, dangerously close even, to Richmond. I was forced to realise we could actually win this thing. And win we did. I couldn’t look away, as every minute was so precious. So many times has my heart been broken as in the closing moments the opposition kick that final goal to seal our fate. Only this time, Rohan kicked that goal. And my heart soared.

Switching back to the rugby I was unsurprised to discover I hadn’t missed much. They continued in much the same fashion as the first half and with a number of chances to secure victory, couldn’t. I must say I was surprised by the results this weekend. I thought the Wallabies would win and I feared the Swans would finally rule out our hopes of playing finals footy.

Sadly, my nerves must endure more rounds of AFL with finals still a distant possibility. The Wallabies clearly need to sort themselves out and quickly, or we are looking at serious embarrassment against more impressive opponents. I really wouldn’t recommend multi footballing, and my heart probably agrees. Two close games in the same time slot resulted in more stress than even I could handle.

Job done, but a little wobbly

And so the test rugby season has begun. It is bound to be an interesting one for a code in the midst of what can only be called confusion. If we are honest, we must admit that this Super Rugby season is one best forgotten for all Australian teams involved. The Waratahs have been consistently inconsistent and all save the Brumbies, quite frankly forgettable.

With an answer on the fate of our Australian teams nowhere in sight, it is bound to be an interesting time for those wearing the green and gold. With no stellar team performances across the Super Rugby competition, talent can really come from anywhere. I can only imagine the importance of earning a place in the squad when your future is clouded by such uncertainty.

The team fielded against Fiji on Saturday was a little surprising to me. I know Genia played well but I cannot help but question if the opportunity to give someone younger experience at the top level was wasted. Another selection I have to question is that of Hunt at 12. Are there not scores of young guys, specialists in that position, who would kill to play at that level?

There is no doubting that Foley is our best 10 and not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. I want to see that 10 and 12 combination developed into a real strength. We have plenty of talented, quick guys that can be unleashed by a solid platform in centre field. Throwing an in form fullback in at 12 is not the answer, proven by the Folau experiment undertaken by the Waratahs.

There were a number of great performances. Foley stood tall and seems to have maintained his confidence, vital to giving those around him faith in his decision-making. Hooper was valiant as always, in everything and having an impressive impact wherever he went.

Surely the time has come for him to be given the captaincy on a permanent basis? What more does he have to do? He is one of few guaranteed a spot in the starting side and has now gained experience as captain of the Waratahs. Moore has always given his all, but the time has come for Hooper to be rewarded for his consistently stellar and inspiring performances.

While we got away with the win there were certainly a few kinks that will need ironing out before facing tougher opponents. I would have been happier with a bigger score posted and Fiji denied any tries, but I will take the win. Next week will require a much more polished effort and I believe we can deliver.

Australian rugby might be in a state of flux but now is the time for our players to come together and stand tall for our country and our code. The winning feeling may have eluded us in the Super competition but this is our chance to chase it. Go well boys, for Australia and for Australian rugby.

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