Swans break free from the Collingwood spell
THE story of last night's finals football was told in one post-modern moment in the first quarter at Sydney's ANZ stadium. When the ball came to the Swans' Lewis Jetta on Sydney's half-back line, he looked up and saw not a single player from either side ahead. So Jetta - an onomatopoetic name if ever there was one - sprinted 90 free-as-a-bird metres to goal. He was pursued, haplessly and hopelessly, by Collingwood full-back Nathan Brown. It was a play straight from the rugby pitch. The only difference was that Jetta took three bounces.
By night's end, Sydney, playing in Sydney, had soundly prevailed at Melbourne's game and won the right to play in next week's grand final in Melbourne. In a simultaneous NRL preliminary, Melbourne, playing in Melbourne, triumphed by a handsome margin over Sydney's Manly to earn passage into next week's grand final in Sydney. Simple, isn't it?
Sydney's victory left one other quirky mark in history. It was its first win over Collingwood since 2005, breaking a run of 11 defeats, the longest live club-versus-club streak in the competition until last night. In its moment, the one fully counterbalanced the 11. The Swans' timing was deathless. The last time they beat the Magpies, they won the premiership.
Swans on song: Adam Goodes and Lewis Roberts-Thomson celebrate a goal last night against Collingwood. Photo: Quentin Jones
The Swans began this season as warmly regarded as ugly ducklings, but advance to the grand final with the football world's unconditional admiration. The early portents last night proved prescient.
For Collingwood, Chris Dawes emerged with his suspect right leg encased in strapping so elaborate that it almost qualified as a cast. It became emblematic of a Collingwood team that for all bar one four-goal burst either side of three-quarter time looked tired, sore, ragged and devoid of inspiration. The six-day break since they last played became a manifest force last night. The least consolation the Magpies will draw is that in a year of fits, starts and distractions, they at least made it this far.
Sydney's precursor was much more promising: a gold-spangled banner to celebrate the totemic Jude Bolton's 300th game, to which he will now add at least one more. For Sydney, tinsel is so yesterday. The Swans under John Longmire combine blind, almost insulted, fury at the fall of the ball with icy efficiency when they have it. Josh Kennedy characterises them in this incarnation. If Ferrari made a bulldozer, it would be him.
Preliminary Final, Sydney v Collingwood
Sydney Swans and the Collingwood Magpies clash in the Preliminary Final. Photo: Brendan Esposito
The Swans this year have been as settled as Collingwood was at sea. Eight of its list have played every game, four others missed only one each. It showed in their cohesion; they could sense the shape of each passage of play even if wearing blindfolds. So it was that Sydney swarmed all over Collingwood from the start. Its dominance was characterised in contrasting ways, by a series of smothers, but also by Jetta's goal. Later, he would add another for the archives, this a cute creation with the outside of his right foot.
If the Swans were to be marked down at all, it would be for profligacy in goal-kicking; they should have won by at least the same ratio as Melbourne Storm did. They got away with it last night, but will not in next week's grand final, almost certainly against Hawthorn. That is today's business, and tomorrow's speculation.
''Go Sydney. Make this an AFL town,'' GWS coach Kevin Sheedy tweeted, and as the Swans swirled to victory before nearly 60,000, the deception was plausible. But last night ANZ stadium again becomes a rugby league stronghold.