It’s Round One, and absolutely anything could happen. I was excited just to have something on the TV that didn’t look like Australian cricking incompetence, for a change. The build-up to this game may have gone a little unnoticed but through the loud noise of the general first-round hype and the excitement around bigger fixtures, but as we drew near to the bounce, a little whisper was offered to remind us that Gold Coast have beaten Sydney in four out of their last six occasions and that this could be a pretty fantastic game. And for Swans fans, it probably was a great game. For the rest of us, it wasn’t.
I can’t imagine how the poor Suns fans are feeling after their 61-110 loss. But I imagine they’re pretty numb to these games by now.
Here’s the quarter by Quarter by Quarter:
Quarter 1: 2.1 13 – 5.4. 34
The first quarter (well, the entire game really) told us little about the Swans, because when you’re dominating a game, you don’t tend to reveal anything we didn’t already know. Somewhere in my notes, amidst various statements which shouldn’t be repeated about the Suns, the words “training drill” were scribbled. And that was what the first quarter was for the Swans. Franklin scored the first two in a row, easily outmanoeuvring and outrunning Collins. Every exit the Suns defenders attempted was too easily sent back over their heads.
We did learn some things about the Suns, though, and none of them good.
When the chips are down, Gold Coast simply do not put enough effort in.
When Stephens kicked the Swan’s fourth goal in a row, the inside 50 count was 12 – 2. If I was drawing the possession heat map, I’d have drawn penguins in the Sun’s forward half. The lack of effort from them was evident: watch closely about five minutes into the game, into the season, and you’ll see that Papley has the ball on the wing. Look past him and you’ll Suns players who are lightly jogging in their zone defensively. You’ll see more players directing traffic than a lollypop lady convention. You won’t see anyone with any actual intent to stand up and make something happen. When McDonald slotted Sydney’s fifth, the Swans had 15 more contested possessions and ten more tackles, which is a sin against the football Gods.
Noah Ainsworth, who had about three disposals (the same as Miller and Rowell at the time), defibrillated his team in the last minute of the game, snapped a goal and then set up Flanders to kick their second after the siren. Maybe we’d see the better version of the Gold Coast Suns in the remaining three quarters.
Quarter 2: 3.2.20 – 7.7.49
I don’t know what Stewie Dew said to his troops at the break, but I imagine Ron Barassi might have enjoyed it. Whatever it was, it worked…for a while. The first few minutes of the quarter saw the Suns put some effort in, with three holding the ball frees awarded to them in the first two minutes. Ainsworth kicked his second goal early, and the Suns looked like a totally different team. For ten glorious minutes, the casual observer was treated to a competitive game of football, between two competitive sides, and a comeback looked on offer. But that was about all she wrote.
There are two styles of team in the AFL: those with rigid systems and structures, and those who play freely and take risks. The good teams do both. Sydney did both. The Suns had little structure (that I noticed), but started bringing some enthusiasm to this quarter – especially without the ball. The Swans didn’t need much flair because their system was working so well. Sydney, who have structure, maturity and some kind of will to win games of football, simply lifted their effort a little, trusted their systems, and took back control of the game. They matched the Suns’ energy, halted momentum, and began to extend their lead. The penguins began to re-emerge in the Suns’ heat map and without the same quality of structures, needed to bring some dare, risk, and some run and carry to find another spark. There was none of this, and the Swans extended their lead.
Quarter 3: 5.4.34 – 13.9.81
I am not going to lie, but if I wasn’t writing the review of this game, I’d have probably switched off at this point. Papley started the quarter with an immediate goal, as the ball waltzed out of the midfield (training drill again). Jeffrey replied quickly, benefiting from a smart tap from Chol (who did not even touch the ball in the first half), but after that it was all one-way traffic again.
I’ve spent much of the first half talking about how bad the Suns are, but a small win for them was Lukosius finding King inside 50 with a nice bit of footy. In truth, it was a pretty normal kick, but the bar was so low at this stage, I’ll settle for anything. King kicked a nice goal from the boundary which is good to see after 12 months or so out of the game.
It was simply another quarter of domination from Sydney At three-quarter time, Stephens, Rampe and Warner has already racked up 24, 23, and 22 touches respectfully, as the Swans continued to share the ball around, almost playing keeps-off with the Suns players,(despite the Suns ending up with more contested ball). Led by the aforementioned three, the Swans mids and flankers worked to find space, and drove the result home. When Gulden received the ball from a clever toe poke of Mills, he ran through the middle of the ground, slotted the goal from 55 and the party had truly begun. When the siren went, although the Swans had half the number of hit-outs, 8 fewer clearances, and less possession time for the quarter, they just worked and worked and worked and worked and worked and then partied with goal after goal.
4th quarter: 9.7.61 – 16.14.110
I don’t think there’s much more to discuss. Even the stoutest Sydney fan might have switched to automated cheer with every possession as they watch their team continue to be a proper AFL side slice and dice through a Suns side containing maybe 4 players whom they would put in equal standing.
There were a few junk time goals to the Suns, which always gives a bit of a positive for their fans: at least they had some fight, right? In reality, the Swans spent the final quarter with one eye on the plane, and yet still managed to look the better side.
The better players:
- Warner was terrific for the Swans. We often look at disposals as an indicator of performance, but I prefer to look at score involvements. 14 of Warner’s 30 disposals resulted in a score. Make 12 of those touches contested and throw eight tackles into the mix, there’s your best on ground.
- Charlie Constable was about the only Sun who gave four quarters of effort. A good effort from him. He got his 28 touches, but to compare him to Warner, only two of his 28 touches ended up in scores. I don’t think he’s entirely to blame for that, though. Miller and Rowell also battled hard for the Suns, after their horrific first quarter
- Jake Lloyd was everywhere, with 28 touches and eight score involvements. He teamed up beautifully with Rampe (25 – 7 Score involvements) and Stehpens (27)to drive the ball forward with beautiful efficiency.
- Witts battled hard in the ruck, with 51 hitouts and 25 touches. Can’t fault him, except to say he is not the guy you want snapping goals from a clearance.
- Will Hayward: 19 touches, 11 score involvements, and 1.3. Probably the ‘.3’ part being a slight diminish on what was an otherwise terrific game
- Tom Papley with two goals was dynamic across half-forward. Like Ainsworth, he popped up when the Swans needed him to, but unlike Ainsworth, did it for the entire game.
The players that would rather play in the magoos:
- Chol did not touch the ball in the first half. Not even a hitout. Came into the game later, but meh. Getting the ball six times in a game and offering a measly two ruck taps in support of your lead ruck is just not worth putting the boots on for.
- Ben King and Levi Casboult. I’ll give King a pass, he’s been out for a while, but still. Try get yourself into the game a bit. Casboult has been around too long to go completely missing.
- I could probably list about 15 other Suns players here.
The injury and suspension concerns:
Gulden had a calf taped at three-quarter time but continued playing on.
Sam Collins came off worse for wear after receiving a high bump from Lance Franklin. Collins performed a concussion test which took until the last few moments of the game, so was subbed off regardless.
The Swans get the face the Hawks at home. I think they’ll enjoy that almost as much as they did this game, though we’ll let the Hawks play tomorrow before judging them too much.
The Gold Coast travel down to Melbourne to face Essendon. They are going to want to do a lot of soul-searching between now and then, and ask themselves whether they really have what it takes to be an AFL side.
The Swans came into this game with two small monkeys on their back: a bad record against the Suns, and a bad Grand final defeat. Their fans likely enjoyed watching their team remove the first monkey, jump on it, burn it, and then put throw it into a lake. I think they’ll wait until their beloved team comes up against some quality opposition before they’ll be convinced of grand final redemption
I’m no Suns fan, but I’ve always had a soft spot for them because they’ve so many doubters that I want them to prove everyone wrong and become a good side. And tonight, they did not convince me we share the same feelings on that matter. The monkey on their back is eternal mediocrity and I think they adopted him and called him Jeff.