Grundy Steals The Show On Debut
Frank Ienco reporting for AFANA from Sydney
Sydney have put a controversial fortnight behind them to put their 2006 season firmly back on track and remain in the top Eight with a convincing 48-point victory over Richmond at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday night (AEST).
Two weeks after coach Paul Roos dismissed his side’s chances of defending their Premiership following a loss to Adelaide and the subsequent fall-out of Nick Davis’ demotion after that match, (which has since dominated the Sydney media), the Swans returned to some semblance of the side that won them last year’s flag, playing committed, uncompromising football to rip the Tigers apart in the third quarter on their away to a 14. 17 (101) to 7.11 (53) win.
On a heritage weekend where the young stars of the AFL have dominated, the Swans may have also unearthed their latest young star in 20-year-old debutant Heath Grundy. A last minute inclusion for Ben Matthews, Grundy bagged three goals and was the focal point of the Sydney attack ahead of stalwart forward Barry Hall.
With both sides on the cusp of the Eight and separated only by percentage, tonight’s match loomed as an early mini-final and an indication of the desperate stakes the next few weeks of the AFL competition will provide. Like a Simpsons repeat, the opening minutes suggested the match Sydney would again commit to another rugby-type scrap at the SCG with large numbers around the ball and endless stoppages. Richmond should’ve expected no less; how their young bodies would cope was another thing.
In wet and slippery conditions that would further aid the Swans’ efforts, Ryan O’Keefe got the ball rolling for the home side when he goaled on the run five minutes into the match. Jay Schultz equalized for the Tigers minutes later when he got the better of Lewis Roberts-Thomson as the Tigers tried desperately to match the Swans’ early intensity.
It quickly became The O’Keefe and Schulz Show as both forwards again traded goals amongst heavy flooding by both defenses. While Richmond relied on the counter, the Swans appeared to have the better artillery to break the shackles and they finally translated on-field pressure onto the scoreboard when Hall, who had endured a rough time on his home track, and Grundy, with his first goal in league footy, both kicked goals late in the term to give Sydney a handy 15-point lead at the first change.
On a night where goals would be difficult enough to come by for the visitors, Schultz missed a gettable chance for the Tigers to respond in what would set the tone for much of the quarter. Down the other end, Grundy used a wonderful dummy to set O’Keefe up for his third inside four minutes of the second term.
With Richmond’s number one defender, Joel Bowden, missing through injury, the Swans forward line began to toy with their opposition. Adam Goodes kicked a goal from a set shot from the 50m arc a minute after Grundy’s effort. A further goal to Hall mid-way through the quarter stretched the margin beyond five goals.
Sydney’s woes in front of goal during the season continued as they missed a number of chances for the rest of the term to effectively kill the match off by half-time. The Tigers’, who themselves had kicked five straight behinds for the term, kept their fans and neutral observers interested over the main break with late quarter goals to Nathan Brown and Dean Polo. Polo missed a further chance near the death to give his side a reasonable chance of mounting a comeback, the margin still a sizeable 20 point lead to the Swans at half-time, 7.8 (50) to 4.6 (30).
With the Swans celebrating their 25th year in Sydney and sporting their 1982 jersey from that inaugural season, it was ironic that the star of the show tonight hadn’t even been born yet for that historic year. Grundy kicked two straight goals inside the opening seven minutes of the second half to ensure a Swans win and a week’s worth of media interviews.
Far from having a lucky debut, Grundy became a popular forward target for his team-mates, who were well and truly dominating the clearances and putting the Tigers under constant pressure with their pressure in defense. Michael O’Loughlin bagged a quick double of his own as the Swans applied the blowtorch to the Tigers. Despite winning last year’s flag on the back of shutting other teams down, Swans fans could be forgiven for wondering why their side doesn’t play these glimpses of free-flowing attacking brilliance more often.
Another youngster, Simon Phillips, the last-minute villain of last week’s loss to West Coast, snapped a similar goal to the one he missed at Subiaco deep into time-on, before Patrick Bowden saved his side from the embarrassment of a goalless term with a set shot goal after the siren.
With the match well beyond doubt the final quarter turned into a fizzer as both sides shared two goals apiece. Co-captain Brett Kirk showed his amazing courage in the first minute of the quarter when he copped an sickening boot from Shane Tuck in the face- not too dissimilar to Melbourne’s Jeff White knock in last year’s elimination against Geelong.
As if to prove the World Cup will have a lasting impact in this country, Amon Buchanan saved the best goal of the night until last when he not once, but twice, soccered the ball to ultimately kick a spectacular goal and secure a convincing win for the Swans in front of an appreciative crowd of 28, 371- just their second win at home in five starts.
After criticism this season from coach and media alike that the Swans players had become selfish, tonight was a typical team-oriented performance that we have come to expect from Sydney. Winning hard ball gets, sharing possession stats around and kicking a sizeable score are all factors that will make Paul Roos regard his 100th game as coach as one of his most important.
Aside from Grundy, Jude Bolton (24 disposals) and O’Keefe (20 disposals, 3 goals) again turned in impressive performances, while Tadhg Kennelly (17 disposals) has finally returned to sort of form that will give the Swans’ valuable drive from half-back come season’s end.
Sydney’s win now only leaves them a game out of the top Four and some security inside the top eight, while Richmond have again fallen apart against stronger opposition as Wallace’s men look at least a couple of years away from being consistent enough to press for a flag. Too many poor skill errors, lack of contested possession and an inability to handle the Swans’ intensity proved the Tigers’ Achilles' heel tonight; everything they needed to beat Sydney at to win. If there were any positives for the Tigers to take out of the match it would be that they had improved from their earlier 114-point thrashing by the Swans in Round 7.
Despite the defeat, the Tigers are far from buried in this year’s finals race and have some very winnable games on their run home, though they face St. Kilda and the Western Bulldogs over the next fortnight. Their greatest setback will be a weak percentage and they will need a greater number of wins than their rivals to make the playoffs. Sydney, too, has some ‘comfortable’ matches ahead of a likely finals berth, beginning with Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium next Saturday night.
Final Score- Sydney 14. 17 (101) d. Richmond 7.11 (53)
Goals- Sydney: O’Keefe 3, Grundy 3, O’Louglin 3, Hall 2, Goodes,
Phillips, Buchanan. Richmond: Schultz 2, Brown 2, Polo, Bowden, Meyer.
Best- Sydney: Grundy, O’Keefe, Bolton, Kenelly, Goodes, Barry.
Richmond: Johnson, Schultz, Deledio, P Bowden, Kellaway
Changes- Sydney: Matthews replaced in selected side by Grundy.
Richmond: Pattison replaced in selected side by Rodan.
Injuries- Sydney: Kirk (head). Richmond: Nil.
Umpires- McBurney, Allen, Woodcock
Attendance- 28, 371 @ the Sydney Cricket Ground
Article last changed on Friday, July 28, 2006 - 10:22 AM EDT