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Spirit of the Bloods leads to premiership

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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Front & Centre: Celebrations in Sydney, recriminations at Hawthorn

AGE footy writers Caroline Wilson and Martin Blake cast their eyes over the epic Grand Final victory by Sydney over Hawthorn.

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The Sydney Swans will never know how they won this premiership, except that it is the way they always win.

Swans present the Grand Final cup to their fans at Lakeside Stadium.

Swans present the Grand Final cup to their fans at Lakeside Stadium. Photo: Joe Armao

They won not in spite of what was against them, but because of it. There was Sydney's abysmal record at the MCG. There were injuries. Shane Mumford tweaked a hamstring during the week, became progressively more hobbled and early in the last quarter was subbed out.

Talismanic Adam Goodes hurt his knee in the first quarter, was nailed together by trainers and in the last quarter dabbed a crucial goal.

All-Australian centre half-back Ted Richards had only partially recovered from last week's ankle injury, yet unhesitatingly accepted his mission on Lance Franklin and, although left floundering at times, in the last quarter beat Franklin in two vital contests as this epic grand final built to its screaming conclusion.

Sydney celebrate their Premiership win. Click for more photos

AFL Grand Final Sydney v Hawthorn

Sydney win the AFL Grand Final over Hawthorn in a tense battle. Photo: Pat Scala

There were other painful blows; to Dan Hannebery, to Alex Johnson. You get the feeling that like Monty Python's Black Knight, they would regard amputation as merely a flesh wound.

There was the idiosyncratic composition of the Sydney team. In an era in which team-building supposedly is a science, the Swans have acted on a lot of hunches.

One was gangling ruckman Mike Pyke, who hails from that hotbed of AFL, Canadian rugby. He played his best game in his four speculative seasons. Never before has he marked so authoritatively. As Mumford became lamed, Pyke became what he has never before been in AFL, pivotal.

Mitch Morton was too enigmatic even for Richmond, and perhaps even for Sydney. He languished in the reserves most of the season, but forced his way in for the finals and played his part. Twice in a row in the second quarter, he wriggled free to kick goals, strengthening what would become a run of eight for Sydney.

In the last quarter, when momentarily double-teamed, he contrived to make himself appear to be in two places at once, leading to a goal for Kieren Jack. Jack, of course, should be playing rugby league. And Josh Kennedy should have been playing for Hawthorn, but is now a Sydney premiership hero. The curse of the Kennedys lives.

There was the quality of the opposition. No team that has Sam Mitchell and Brad Sewell at its heart and Franklin in its vanguard can ever be declared beaten.

Twice Franklin seized personal control of this match. Twice in the third quarter, he took marks outside the 50-metre arc, and both times swinging immediately onto his left foot as if not to allow another thought to intrude. Both sailed home.

There was the shape of the match. The free kicks ran against the Swans 27-10, incongruously. Hawthorn dominated the inside-50 count 61-43. But this is how contrarian Sydney likes it. Their first final against Adelaide also was played mostly in a state of siege.

The Swans invite attack; it allows them to play what they call slingshot football. Cool-headed defenders absorbed wave upon wave of Hawthorn attack, coiled, then sprang the ball forward into the MCG's empty plains, where historically the Swans have been lost, but now became their killing fields.

This way, they kicked eight goals in a row in the second and third quarters. It takes an indomitable spirit to play as Sydney does — it laid a punishing total of 109 tackles — and it takes nerve, and makes its record as the best defensive team of the year all the more admirable.

It is also a draining way to play. The toll told in the third quarter, and Hawthorn surged back, kicking seven of the next eight goals to lead by two themselves.

But in modern footy, surges also peter out. The previous meetings of these clubs this year were characterised by grand oscillations, and in this match, one lurch remained.

The Swans has made an art of form of desperation, and by it, they kicked the last four goals of the season. As much adversity as was arrayed against the Swans, one phenomenon was in their favour. Not for the first time this season, Hawthorn squandered the chances it made. Franklin missed more than he kicked. At the death, Sewell missed two snapshots.

As much as Sydney might not know how they won this game, the Hawks will wonder forever how they lost it. Countervailing the sundry powers against them, the Swans have one, but it is indomitable.

Condensed, it is the spirit of the Bloods, exalted again by Jude Bolton on the premiership podium. It courses through this team, and this club, and from generation to generation, intangible, yet as miraculous as Lourdes water.

It moved former Swan Tadhg Kennelly to tears at the final siren. It leaves even opponents to think that they must be a great club to play for, and barrack for. It was the nectar of a remarkable premiership.

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