Swans turn back time with display of grit
by Rohan Connolly
reposted from realfooty.com.au
YOU don’t play in 11 of 13 finals series without building huge reserves of character. Which helps explain why Sydney is alive into week two of yet another September campaign despite even its coach Paul Roos at times this season all but conceding that a long and proud era was at an end.
They might be ageing, they might lack pace and some of the skills of their top-order rivals, but the bottom line is the Swans are playing for a spot in a preliminary final next weekend, whatever happens against the Western Bulldogs, having placed higher than 12 months ago, when the first of the many obituaries that have been written since were penned.
And last night’s win over a North Melbourne outfit that will rightly be shattered at its immediate exit from the finals was vintage Sydney, more a taste of what Roos’ team was turning on back in 2005 than the battle-scarred, weary team it has resembled more recently.
The fly in the ointment of the dour, grinding Sydney stereotype in its premiership year was always its capacity to mix its defensive steel with bursts of free-flowing high-scoring football that applied the knockout punch to teams that had already been softened up.
Last night was like a throwback. For a half, Sydney did little but hang in there, with only four goals to half-time, its forays forward inevitably to a crowded front 50. In the second half, the contrast couldn’t have been more stark.
The Swans not only won the clearances, but worked the ball to the goal face not just in hope but with real expectation. Four goals in a matter of minutes changed the shape of the entire contest. By three-quarter-time, and an eight-goal burst, Sydney was within a couple of scores of a win.
The transformation was stunning, and swift. And it was led from the top. Suddenly, there was room to move in the Swans’ forward line. And Barry Hall and Adam Goodes exploited it to perfection.
After a year from hell, this was a performance Hall will be entitled to bask in. There was the first goal of the second half, then a brilliant left-foot snap that put his team two goals clear. Then a brilliant assist, banging the ball into space for Kieren Jack for another.
Goodes’ mark and goal going with the flight of the ball was the sort of inspirational act that wins games. That put Sydney in front for the first time. It never looked likely to relinquish the lead thereafter.
The Western Bulldogs certainly have some thinking to do about this Friday night. Yes, they’ve beaten the Swans twice this season, but not by a lot, and only with the sort of concerted attack on the contest that Sydney was able to produce last night. If the Dogs don’t deliver a lot more intensity in their third meeting of 2008, they’ll follow North out of the finals, after having only weeks earlier seemed a legitimate flag chance.
North Melbourne will be a gloomy place this morning. The Roos were on a real high after their defeat of Carlton in round 20, the coming clash with Geelong a potential grand final preview. Now it’s all over, the bottom line a finish three spots lower than in 2007.
Questions will be asked, particularly after last year’s similarly inglorious exit. But Dean Laidley has marshalled his troops as well as could have been expected.
It’s the players who will come under most scrutiny, Corey Jones’ future under a cloud after his omission from last night’s team. Shannon Grant bid an emotional farewell after the loss, Jess Sinclair will be the subject of speculation, as will Shannon Watt.
But that doesn’t mean North can’t continue to contend for the top four in 2009.
If the Roos want any consolation, they only need to study the example of the team that knocked them over last night.