The Sydney Swans lay scattered across the MCG. A lifeless Josh Kennedy, head in hands, lies on the grass wondering if he could’ve done more than kick three goals and have 34 impactful disposals. The entirety of the 2016 season had led to this moment. A team that had arguably been the best team for the entire year had just lost in the most important game since their disappointing Grand Final loss in 2014.
The game started just like the last. Sam Reid shot through the first goal within 30 seconds of the first bounce. A huge clearance from Zak Jones got the big forward in the position to be able to take a highly contested pack mark. The Swans early intensity shows how much last week’s loss to the Power hurt. Travis Cloke gave the Swans a few early chances as he kicked two behinds in the first five minutes, to which Sydney punished with three goals in the following five minutes. The Swans were immediately dominant out of the centre, with the first ten clearances going their way.
Sam Reid. What a story this guy has written for himself. After the injuries he has suffered over the past few seasons, he deserves to have an uninterrupted year. In his 100th game, he looked in great shape as he slotted his third goal of the first quarter.
The first four goals to the Swans didn’t come without a severe cost. Kurt Tippett went down with an ankle injury only 10 minutes into the first quarter for what was the end of the night for Sydney’s number one Ruckman. Zak Jones demolished Travis Cloke with a high hip and shoulder, which gifted the Dogs their first goal of the evening. The Zak Jones bump unleashed a wave of confidence from the Dogs, who quickly got themselves within striking distance of the Swans.
It was on. There were only seven points the difference at quarter time, and the fire from last year’s grand final was rekindled.
Rob Murphy was surrounded by his teammates as he kicked the opening goal of the second quarter, and a 23-point first quarter lead had dissipated. Murphy had missed the majority of last season and went on to see his team win their first flag since 1954. In his second game of football, Oliver Florent set out to get his team up and running again. An incredible inside-50 chase down tackle of speedster Jason Johannisen (Yes, Johannisen) allowed Florent to slot his first AFL goal from the pocket. It’s without a doubt a goal that meant so much for the 18-year old, who lost his father to cancer just last year.
The debutant trio of Nic Newman, Will Hayward, and Robbie Fox show just how good the Swans academy is with a combined 27 touches at halftime. They couldn’t, however, stop the run of Lin Jong as he continuously extracted the ball from the stoppages and helped the Dogs to an eight-point halftime lead.
The Swans serious forward weapon, Sam Reid, answered the Bulldogs first goal of the third quarter. He slotted his fourth goal of the match, and the thought crept into my mind, what if Sam Reid played in the Grand Final last season? It may have been a different encounter. Meanwhile, Lance Franklin had had a negative impact to this point, having six clangers for the game just going into the third quarter. The intensity the Swans had started the game with had begun to be overrun by the polish, speed, and talent of the Doggies. They were allowing Sydney to win the inside ball while waiting to maul their prey on the outside, which, combined with a goal by Marcus Bontempelli worked them into a 27-point lead late in the third quarter. Sam Reid kicked his first bag since Round 15, 2012, but provided a costly turnover, which resulted directly in a Jake Stringer goal. The Swans were throwing every ounce of effort into getting a goal, but it seemed that every time the managed to conjure one, the Dogs would answer shortly after. A late snap by Buddy Franklin gave the Swans hope as they pulled within 22 points entering the final term.
Buddy opens the final term with a big goal after a Kieran Jack somehow won the ball in a three-on-one situation to get the ball inside-50. The ball barely leaves the Swans forward-50 for the first 7 minutes of the quarter, and finally, Buddy kicks a signature goal from 60 meters out on the boundary. You better watch this video, because it is one of the best sequences I’ve ever seen in a game. Buddy gets the look of a madman in his eye and splits the middle from the exact same spot to get the Swans with two points. Brian Taylor likens Buddy to Steph Curry, and suddenly we have a game on our hands.
The Swans finally hit the front as Sam Reid puts through his sixth goal of the match and the Swans third goal in as many minutes. It would be unnatural for the Premiers not to respond, and through Bontempelli they do just that for the seventh lead change of the match.
Callum Mills falls victim to the newly introduced and much misunderstood rushed behind rule from a controversial call by the umpire. Mills was running towards the Dogs goal, a meter inside the goal square with Picken trailing close behind. Mills punches the ball through with to rush the behind, and with little explanation from the umpire Mills is penalised with a free kick against him. Picken goes back and steadies with a beautiful goal from the boundary for the Dogs. The momentum had shifted the way of the Swans, and after a controversial free kick against them, it had immediately swung back. The Bulldogs burst out of the centre with another goal through Jake Stringer, and the game was over.
The Grand Final rematch didn’t disappoint for a moment. The result is one that hurts the Swans, who are now 0-2 on the season. There is no shame in losing to the reigning premiers, but honourable losses are still losses that may hurt when a win decides whether or not you’re playing at home in a final.
All of a sudden next week against Collingwood becomes a must-win match.
The Western Bulldogs run away with it – 16.14 (110) to 13.9 (87)