Hawthorn were gone. In the second quarter, the AFL world was all rosy for the Sydney Swans. A double chance looked a simple formality as the goals flowed. Who needed Lance Franklin and Luke Parker as Will Hayward and Tom McCartin nonchalantly missed gettable shots on goal which would have closed the door completely on the Hawks. Instead this gritty, multiple premiership winning team who knows never to give in especially against Sydney, hunkered down. After a complete mauling, the Hawks still managed to score a goal before the main break via tough-nut goal sneak Paul Puopolo. It was the beginning of an improbable 9 point win and the securing of the all important double chance. For Sydney they simply blew an absolute golden opportunity. It was the Swans sixth home game loss. Yet again they finished the season at sixth position and will now have to win every game to be premiers in 2018, a task which I cannot seem them completing.
At the post-game presser, I asked Alastair Clarkson how did his team just pull off a sensational road victory against the Sydney Swans. Clarkson coolly and calmly explained the reasons “We’re probably lucky we’ve got a nice blend at the present time of some experienced heads at the club who have been in those circumstances before. We were down and out in the first half, Sydney outplayed us in a lot of areas of the game. That’s why you need the Burgoynes, the Gunstons, the Strattons, the Roughheads, these type of guys, to just keep composed. Then of course you’ve got a nice blend of youthful energy. They haven’t been in situations where they know nothing else but to keep playing, keep having a go at it. That’s what we said at the players at half time just hang in there”, said Clarkson.
Sydney began the game straight out of the blocks and were all over Hawthorn as Clarkson alluded to. The Swans were without Lance Franklin and Luke Parker but despite the key outs, they were able to freely score and hold a three goal buffer in the first half. Isaac Heeney, Tom Papley, Josh Kennedy and Oliver Florent kicked goals and it should have been much more but for errant kicking by Sydney. In defense it was a welcome return for Heath Grundy who was getting plenty of the ball which helped to stop the Hawks from scoring.
For the Hawks, James Worpel and Jarman Impey were working hard to keep their team in the game and after a slowish start midfielder Tom Mitchell began his usual disposal farming and ended up with 24 disposals and an impressive 11 tackles. Ben McEvoy was absolutely dominant in the ruck. The “Big Boy” provided plenty of useful tapwork to his crumbing teammates who were starting to shut down the Sydney midfield dominance and run.
The second half saw the Hawks come out firing as they launched a 3 goal blitz in a matter of 16 minutes of heavily contested football, goals to Schoenmakers, Gunston and Puopolo saw the Sydney lead evaporate. Tom Papley stemmed the damage with an outstanding snap at the Randwick end, before Gunston replied, then Harry Cunningham kicked the Swans back into a six point lead, setting up a dramatic, fast finishing final term.
The final term began well for Sydney with Tom McCartin kicking truly to open up a 12 point lead. Yet again the Hawks were able to quickly reply with a superb pocket snap at the Randwick end from Paul Puopolo who slotted home his third goal. The experience and youth that coach Clarkson alluded to after the game, began to take effect. Jarryd Roughead who had been relatively quiet would begin to stamp his class on the game. He kicked the next goal to tie the scores. Callum Sinclair responded with a goal and the Swans were back in the lead fighting desperately for the win. It was during this time that the match winning skills of Lance Franklin and Luke Parker were sorely missed, as the Hawks kept up the pressure.
The youth of Hawthorn stood up with Harry Morrison goaling and then Ricky Henderson putting Hawthorn into the lead. The game was iced when Jarryd Roughead found Luke Breust in the goal square for a easy goal and a 9 point lead that would be the winning margin. For the Hawks it was massive result with a top-four finish and the double chance. For Sydney it was a case of what might have been. They would be bitterly disappointed in the result. It should have been a win, but they were unable to close, a problem that has haunted this team for several seasons.
Coach John Longmire despite the loss, was pleased with effort of Sydney “I thought we played pretty good footy to be honest. I thought we had a real go. They (Hawthorn) ended up having a surge in the third quarter, good teams do that. We made a couple of errors in the last quarter and didn’t kick as accurately in the second half. A bit of that all rolled into one and we sit here as losers”. When we asked coach Longmire about the achievement of making the finals yet again he said “It’s not an easy thing to do, you’ve got to improve every year just to make the finals. I was really pleased we were in a position to play for a top four spot. We’ve had some challenges throughout the year that have been well documented with other clubs, but we’ve had a few as well and I reckon our blokes have had a real crack to get the most out of themselves. As a coach that’s all you can ask for,” Longmire said.
So to the business end of the season, the 2018 AFL Finals Series begins on Thursday September 6 when Richmond (1st, 18 wins, 4 losses) play Hawthorn (4th, 15 wins, 7 losses) at the MCG. On the Friday night, in the first elimination final, Melbourne (5th, 14 wins, 8 losses) play Geelong (8th, 18 wins, 4 losses) at the MCG. On Saturday, there will be two interstate finals with the Sydney Swans (6th, 14 wins, 8 losses) playing the Greater Western Sydney Giants (7th, 13 wins, 1 draw, 8 losses) in an elimination final at the SCG. Later that evening, the West Coast Eagles (2nd, 16 wins, 6 losses) play Collingwood (3rd, 15 wins, 7 losses) in Perth for a chance to play in the preliminary final.
SYDNEY 2.3 6.7 8.8 10.14 (74)
HAWTHORN 2.4 3.6 7.8 12.11 (83)
Sydney: Heeney 2, Papley 2, McCartin, Jack, Kennedy, Florent, Cunningham, Sinclair
Hawthorn: Puopolo 3, Gunston 2, Henderson 2, Schoenmakers, Worpel, Breust, Roughead, Morrison
Sydney: Heeney, Grundy, Lloyd, Papley
Hawthorn: Impey, Worpel, McEvoy, Shiels, Mitchell, Puopolo, Gunston
Sydney: Hannebery (corked thigh)
Umpires: Ray Chamberlain, Simon Meredith, David Harris
Official crowd: 39,660 at the Sydney Cricket Gound, Moore Park, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia