In an AFL Grand Final that will be long remembered, the Sydney Swans beat the odds and the favourites to snatch the Premiership and take the title to Sydney for the second time.
The battle between Sydney and Hawthorn was a classic that will remain long in the memories of AFL fans. The lead changed regularly and neither side was completely out of contention until the final siren.
Swans snatch victory in classic grand final
The critics said Hawthorn was the best team all season, but Sydney’s famous pressure was matched by admirable poise in a wrenching final term as the Swans took out the premiership by 10 points.
The grand final surprised no one with its intensity – it was a game of bursts, and savage swings of momentum, with first one, then the other team looking down and out, before the Swans won 14.7 (91) to 11.15 (81).
Both teams found kicking for goal difficult in blustery conditions, although thankfully earlier predictions of heavy rain and hail proved unfounded.
There was a symmetry to Sydney’s grand final, as Nick Malceski kicked the Swans’ first and last goals of the day.
In between there was only slightly-controlled chaos at the MCG, with six lead changes – each more improbable than the last.
After the game, Hawks captain Luke Hodge was gracious in defeat.
Hawks Captain Luke Hodge Gracious in Defeat
“Congratulations to Sydney, you’re not only a well-respected side, but you’re a well-liked side in the AFL,” he said.
“To my team-mates throughout the year I couldn’t be more proud of the way you fought back. With the group we’ve got I know we’ll be back next year.”
Swans’ coach John Longmire, who won a premiership flag in only his second season as a senior coach, praised Hawthorn and his counterpart Alastair Clarkson.
“You’re a fantastic club we really admire the way you go about it, we’ve had some fantastic tussles this year, this was another one – I’m sure there’s more to come,” he said.
“Thank you to our fans, we saw that much red and white at the parade on Friday we knew we would have big support (today) and we have … Lastly, I’d like to thank our footballers led by Macca and Goodesy … never say die is a great attitude, and you did it boys.”
By the usual metrics, Sydney should not have won the game – the Swans were beaten at the clearances (by 23), in contested possessions (by 26) and forward entries (by 18).
The missing piece of this puzzle was Sydney’s defensive pressure and rebounding out of defence, which kept the Hawks much-vaunted attack quiet for long enough – just – to get over the line.
Sydney had 46 rebound 50s to Hawthorn’s 26, and a massive 110 tackles to the Hawks’ 84.
The Swans’ defensive line absorbed the wave of Hawthorn attacks and more importantly did damage on the way back, with counter-attacking football that created goals at key points during the game.
There were many game-changing moments, but if one encapsulated the reasons behind Sydney’s win, it came at the 14-minute mark of the second term.
The Hawks had appeared unstoppable, with goals from Lance Franklin, Luke Breust and Jack Gunston threatening to break the game wide open.
Sydney had regrouped, however, with three on the trot from Josh Kennedy, Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh to regain some momentum.
The Hawks needed to stop the flow, and they looked likely to do so, delivering the ball deep inside 50 to a contest.
Standing in their way was 20-year-old Alex Johnson, who corralled the ball and pivoted quickly to turn defence into attack.
He switched the ball to Malceski, who went straight up the corridor and found another Swans’ young gun Daniel Hannebery, who booted it long to spearhead Sam Reid, and the 20-year-old bounced the ball clear from 40m.
Within 15 or 20 seconds the Swans had engineered an effective 12-point turnaround, and they would go into half-time 16 points to the good.
There were real and logical reasons why Hawthorn was favourites going into the grand final, and their playing group proved why in the third term.
Goals to Kennedy and Roberts-Thomson had pushed the Swans out to a 28-point lead in the first 10 minutes of the quarter.
Cue the usual suspects for the Hawks, with two goals to Lance Franklin along with majors to ruckman David Hale, forward Jack Gunston and Isaac Smith, as Hawthorn gave a vivid display of the kind of football that had made them the highest-scoring team in the league in 2012.
There was a point the difference at three-quarter time, and the tension switched to the Sydney side of the equation.
Dual Brownlow medallist Adam Goodes had jarred his knee and was struggling to run, ruckman Shane Mumford was limited by a hamstring problem, Jude Bolton was running on empty thanks to partial tears of his knee ligaments.
The bangs and dents of a physical grand final were beginning to take their toll on the Swans, and when Luke Breust and David Hale opened up the final quarter with goals for Hawthorn, a second premiership in five years was on the cards for Alistair Clarkson’s men.
But as the bounce of the ball began to elude tiring muscles on both sides, Sydney found another effort.
Daniel Hannebery was the first to score, followed by Kieren Jack – the son of Sydney rugby league royalty – and when Adam Goodes chopped a kick into the ground which bounced agonisingly slowly over the line, the Swans were seven points in front again two minutes into time on.
There was still time enough for the Hawks, and they had their chances, but misses from Breust, Gunston and Brad Sewell – whose 33 touches and 11 clearances could easily have made him Norm Smith medallist in a Hawks’ win – cruelled their chances.
Finally the ball fell to Malceski, who snapped truly to seal the game.
The victory gave Sydney its fifth premiership (including three as South Melbourne), joining triumphs in 1909, 1918, 1933 and 2005.
Veteran Ryan O’Keefe took the Norm Smith Medal, with 28 disposals and an amazing 15 tackles.
There were enough sub-plots to fill a book.
Canadian rugby international Mike Pyke was an unsung hero, taking vital marks in defence and spelling the injured Shane Mumford in the ruck.
The crowd of 99,683 had an early highlight, with the real running of the grand final sprint, as Sydney’s Lewis Jetta raced down the boundary with Hawthorn’s Cyril Rioli in hot pursuit.
Jetta proved he had the faster legs and disposed of the ball, with Rioli giving away a cheap free for a push in the back after the ball had gone.
On the Hawks side, captain Luke Hodge had his face cut open in an early contest, and played a brave match swathed in bandages.
Once again for Hawthorn it was a mixed match for Franklin. He showed his superstar status with huge, team-lifting goals, but again his kicking arc was a worry on set-shots, and his five misses could have made the difference.
Hawks forward Jarryd Roughead summed up the heart-breaking game for his team.
“Grand finals ebb and flow, unfortunately for us when the siren went we were gone,” he told Grandstand.
“If Buddy had kicked that (third quarter) goal puts us up by three goals … but they’re all what ifs at the moment.
“I think we had 60-odd inside 50s but only six or seven marks. That just proves how good a defensive side Sydney are.”…More at Swans snatch victory in classic grand final
Both sides will be in contention for the title again next year, but the horse trading as already begun in the AFL with several players already moving and the draft yet to come.