SYDNEY 5.3 7.8 9.8 11.13 (79) ESSENDON 1.1 3.4 6.6 8.9 (57)
Goals: Sydney: A Goodes 2 B McGlynn 2 K Tippett 2 G Rohan J Kennedy J McVeigh M Pyke S Reid. Essendon: P Ryder 2 B Howlett D Heppell D Myers J Carlisle M Hurley P Ambrose.
BEST Sydney: Parker, McGlynn, Goodes, Kennedy, Pyke, Grundy. Essendon: Hurley, Ryder, Heppell, ZMerrett, Hooker.
Injuries: Sydney: L Jetta (leg), S Reid (hip).
Umpires: Troy Pannell, Robert Findlay, Ray Chamberlain.
Official Crowd: 36,804 at SCG.
No $10 million man, no Buddy worries. Lance Franklin’s load was spread wide as flag favourites Sydney vindicated John Longmire’s gamble to scratch his marquee man - barely - as the ladder-leading Swans edged past the Bombers by 22 points at the SCG on Friday night.
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Sydney have outlasted a hard-fighting Essendon side by 22 points at the SCG to hold on to top position on the ladder.
Franklin was withdrawn just over an hour before the first bounce with knee soreness, coach Longmire, nicknamed Horse, preventing the possibility of Buddy going amiss in a lead-up before the real race begins in September.
And his absence arguably stymied the turnstiles more than his teammates as the hosts made their coach uneasy at times in a 11.13 (79) to 8.9 (57) win.
"He's got that bit of tendonitis and we expected him to play," Longmire said. "I spoke to him [Friday] morning and we fully expected him to play, but he was still sore and we thought he was better off not to play as he was concerned about getting through the game.
"He's a pretty good judge of when he can play and when he can't. He's been able to play with a sore knee and contribute really well during the course of the year so when he said [Friday] morning it was too sore to play you knew that was the case. We move on."
Barring a third-quarter rally from Essendon, who peeled off three lightning-fast goals to trim a 28-point half-time deficit back to 10, the Swans always seemed like a side who would consign last week’s streak-snapping loss to Hawthorn to the memory bank.
And Longmire, while afforded a few nervous moments, would have been somewhat happy in the manner it was achieved. The Swans’ unrelenting pressure was again to the fore, but what would have pleased most was his side’s various avenues to goal minus Franklin.
Kurt Tippett - who most noticeably struggled in the blustery conditions - Adam Goodes and Ben McGlynn finished as the only multiple goalkickers with two each as the Swans found eight different sources of majors.
Patrick Ryder (two goals) provided Sydney with a few headache-inducing moments, but Heath Grundy largely kept Jake Carlisle, goalless in the first half, to a murmur as his highlight-reel day a fortnight ago never looked likely to repeat.
McGlynn’s own highlight reel moment, curling home on the run from deep in the pocket late in the third quarter, snuffed out any chance of a nail-biting final quarter and halted the Bombers’ winning run at three.
At least coach Mark Thompson will be content with knowing the one imposing obstacle littering their finals path has been cast aside. Their run home features Richmond, West Coast, Gold Coast and Carlton - sides neatly packed between 10th and 13th - varying from finals optimists to also-rans.
Thompson was left particularly frustrated with his side's opening half, which was blighted by similar doses of nervous and reckless moments when in possession.
"I wish we could come out and move the ball the way we wanted to at the start," he said. "If we make a mistake and it doesn't work for them, so be it. At least they've tried, but we didn't do it until we had to do it when we were desperate.
"You'd imagine if we did it for the whole night how good we could have been. We almost get to the point where we say, 'boys, you need to do this, look where the game is'.
"[But] I haven't lost too much because there's no shame in losing to Sydney up here. We've got four matches to go, we have to play well but I reckon we can get back into some good form really quickly."
While news of Franklin’s 11th-hour withdrawal might have kept a few Buddy devotees away, Swans officials will rue a bitterly cold Sydney evening for cruelling what mid-week ticket sales forecast as a Friday night full house but topped out at 36,804.
Regardless, they had another tattoo-bearing forward to enjoy up forward thanks to Franklin’s absence in Tim Membrey, pick No.47 in the 2012 draft and a boyhood Essendon fan. His impact? It was near immediate, grabbing a couple of touches within the first couple of minutes to ease any nerves.
"I spoke to him [Friday] morning and he said, 'I've just picked up mum and dad from the airport' and I said, 'that's good because you're playing your first game'," Longmire said.
"He was an Essendon supporter as a kid and Dustin Fletcher went to him at the first bounce. I don't know whether he went to shake his hand or sit down and worship him."
The Swans shared Buddy’s burden in the opening half, racking up seven different goalkickers to suffocate the life out of an in-form Bombers. Essendon’s incursions inside 50 were near non-existent, relying on a sole Ryder set shot to avoid a goalless quarter.
Goodes stole the show in the second term as the Swans coasted to a 28-point lead at the main break.
That was about as healthy as the Swans lead would be, but it needn't matter. Buddy's boys can win ugly without him.