In a tight and closely fought struggle, reminiscent of the great battles between these two clubs a decade ago, West Coast held on to smother a desperate Sydney attempt to post their first win of the year. The Swans, who were the favorites to win last year’s Grand Final, will now have to perform an astonishing revival to make the finals, let alone the Grand Final.
It was expected that West Coast, with only a five-day break since losing to Richmond in Melbourne, would not be playing their best football. West Coast’s defense had also been suspect, leaking goals through holes that had coach Allan Simpson worried. Simpson fixed the defense problem by demanding his midfield players run to every contest and pressure the opposition ball carriers. The result was that very few of the Sydney forwards had easy marks as most players under pressure cannot deliver perfect kicks. The majority of Sydney’s attacks relied on their midfielders bombing long kicks downfield, which left Lance (Buddy) Franklin and Sam Reid vulnerable to the Eagles’ defenders. Franklin also received a crunching bump to his ribs from Eagles’ captain, Shannon Hurn, and clearly suffering, struggled to have his usual impact on the game. Sydney’s midfield responded by applying enormous on-ball pressure, which made things tough for the Eagles’ main goal kicker, Josh Kennedy. Kennedy was forced to fly with packs, where the ball was routinely knocked clear by the by Aliir Aliir who used his athleticism to good effect. Sydney initially did well to silence the partisan Domain Stadium crowd by getting on top of the Eagles early. They locked the ball in their forward line for the majority of the first quarter but were not rewarded, due to poor use of the ball. The Eagles dropped a spare man into defense to try to stem the tide and then kicked two breakaway goals against the flow of play. The Eagles pressure on the Sydney ball carriers forced some of Sydney’s younger players into error and the Eagles took full advantage, giving both Andrew Gaff and Josh Kennedy goals. Sydney fought back at the end of the term with a strong mark and goal to Harry Cunningham and then Jordon Foote was infringed by Will Schofield, which resulted in Foote leveling the scores.
The Eagles lifted their work rate in the second quarter, but could not break free at the scrimmages. Sydney continued to lay more tackles, win more contested possessions and launch more attacks through strong work by their captain, Josh Kennedy. Luke Parker assisted in the midfield and George Hewett provided strong drive from half back. The game developed into a dour arm wrestle and the teams were only separated when Eagles’ small man, Chris Masten, delivered a sublime kick to Jeremy McGovern, who booted the first goal of the quarter, after 12 minutes of congested play. The West Coast full back line was well served by good defense from Shannon Hurn and youngster Tom Barrass. West Coast attacks focused mainly on their own Josh Kennedy, who had kicked 2-2 by the main break to move the Eagles to a twelve point lead.
In the third quarter both teams slugged it out in ugly rolling packs. Neither team was willing to give an inch. Sydney’s Josh Kennedy and Shane Parker willed their team forward from stoppages. Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff and Matt Priddis did the same for West Coast. Elliot Yeo was the shining light of the West Coast defense, using his marking skills to advantage. Buddy Franklin briefly overcame his rib pain to kick one goal and set up two others when Sydney looked like falling off the pace. By the end of the quarter, the Eagles had outscored the Swans for the stanza by six precious points.
Sydney threw everything they had at the Eagles for the first ten minutes of the final stanza. They had superior numbers to the ball and young players Will Hayward and Jake Lloyd finished off the good work of Dan Hannebery and Sam Lloyd by kicking a goal each. At the 11-minute mark Luke Shuey received a soft free kick and kicked an excellent fifty meter goal from the boundary. McGovern then lifted for the Eagles to snap from a pack to score a major. He followed up by marking and handballing to Cripps who kicked the Eagles’ twelfth. The Sydney players were beaten, but they did not stop trying. Sydney’s Sam Reid registered the final goal of the night after strong ground work and a clever kick to signal that 'the Bloods' spirit was still alive. The young Sydney team had given their all, but it was not enough to beat West Coast at home.
Next week, the Sydney Swans face the Greater Western Sydney Giants at the Sydney Cricket Ground. A zero-five start to the season for the Swans is likely. West Coast travel back to the MCG to meet their MCG tormenters, the Hawthorn Hawks, in what promises to be an intriguing and crucial game for both teams.
Scores: West Coast Eagles 2.2 5.9 9.10 13.13 (91) Sydney Swans 2.2 4.3 7.4 10.5 (65) Best: West Coast Eagles: Yeo, Shuey, Priddis, Gaff, McGovern Sydney Swans: Kennedy, Lloyd, Parker, Hannebery, Aliir,
Article last changed on Friday, April 14, 2017 - 12:30 PM EDT