Sydney bridges gap
HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson has nominated Sydney as a premiership threat after the Swans completed a fifth consecutive win for their best start to a season since 1998.
Clarkson was disappointed with his own team's second-half fade-out but was shocked by the improvement of Sydney, which recovered from a 25-point first-quarter deficit to smash Hawthorn after half-time for a handsome 37-point win to celebrate Adam Goodes' club-record 304th game.
The Hawks were premiership favourites not so long ago but are now 2-3, having endured a tough draw to start the season.
Swan Ted Richards gets ready to handball as Adam Goodes arrives in support. Photo: Getty Images
Clarkson's team also had to suffer the embarrassment of another best-afield game by Josh Kennedy, grandson of a club legend and the player they traded away in 2009.
''I came out of this game thinking that Sydney are an outstanding football side,'' said Clarkson last night, adding that the Swans' defensive pressure was top shelf. ''There's a key reason why they're five-and-zip. I think no one really knew until today just how good a side they're going to be.''
Lance Franklin went goalless for the Hawks against Ted Richards, but captain Luke Hodge got through his first game, and Jarryd Roughead (five goals) produced his best game since returning from serious injury. Grant Birchall (leg) was a late withdrawal but is a chance to play against St Kilda next weekend, as is Josh Gibson, who rolled an ankle yesterday.
Yet they were all overshadowed by Kennedy's 28-disposal game, Goodes' three goals including the sealer, and the perennially undervalued Sydney, which has already beaten Fremantle and North Melbourne among possible contenders.
Bull-at-a-gate Kennedy, whom Clarkson described as ''one of the stellar midfielders of the competition'', keeps punishing them for considering him surplus to requirements at the end of 2009.
''We always knew Josh had talent,'' said Clarkson. ''It was just fitting [him] into our midfield. You look at it in hindsight now and say 'how couldn't you fit him in?' But the bottom line at that point of time was Sydney were able to lure him with a three-year contract at significant money, more than Hawthorn were prepared to pay him at that particular time. Where there's opportunity and good coin and security in terms of contract …''
Clarkson said the hype surrounding Hawthorn was not of his making. ''You [media] guys are the ones who create the speculation about who are the best sides in the competition, not us.''
At the start of the season it was the AFL captains who gave the Hawks the biggest vote of confidence, with 11 of them saying Hawthorn was the team most likely to win the flag.
Sydney is $11 for the premiership, with the Hawks still second favourites behind Carlton.
''We think we're a better side than two wins and three losses to this time of the year,'' said Clarkson. ''But we know there's some outstanding football sides out there and every year, you're going to have to work really, really hard to give yourself a chance.''
It was a breakthrough win by Sydney, but coach John Longmire reacted without too much emotion. ''We have got off to a good start. I said it before the game and I will say it again, it is a good start and that is all it is,'' he said.
Poll: Who was the player of round 5 in the AFL premiership season 2012?
- Dane Swan (Collingwood)
- Kade Simpson (Carlton)
- Ryan Griffen (Western Bulldogs)
- Andrew Swallow (North Melbourne)
- Nick Dal Santo (St Kilda)
- Tom Hawkins (Geelong)
- Josh Kennedy (Sydney)
- Daniel Kerr (West Coast)
- Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide)
Total votes: 11982.
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Poll closed 4 May, 2012
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